Marketing 101: How to be a Marketer when you don’t know where to start

Most of the people I know who do marketing didn’t go to university to study marketing. They pretty much just fell into it either by joining a small startup who needed someone to “do a bit of marketing”, or because they were running a small business of their own and couldn’t afford to hire a specialist. And with a bit of experience and creativity those people became just as good as many of the people out there with degrees in the subject. So for you people who may also be starting out on that journey of discovery, here are some useful basic tips to kickstart your efforts.

The Three Level Model of Marketing

Marketing can be broken down into three levels of things you need to concentrate on:

  1. Brand
  2. Technology
  3. Products

Successful marketing needs to work on all three of these levels.

Brand

This is how your company is perceived as a whole — who you are (or at least who your customers think you are, which is often a very different thing). It’s about designing and presenting the company’s values and overall “feel”. As such, this is beloved by high-level corporate managers who always want to feel that they are “leading a world-class brand”; and it’s beloved by marketers because it’s so bloody vague that no-one actually knows what it means or how to track how much your marketing actually matters to it. But it is definitely important, because it can massively influence how customers approach everything you are and do. You probably couldn’t tell me the exact differences between the approach of RyanAir and Lufthansa, or between a Ford and a Ferrari, but I’m sure that as soon as I mention those names you instantly have a feeling about them in your head that differentiates each one clearly from the other.

Technology

You may not work for a tech company, but no matter what your product is, it (hopefully) is built on something that your company does better than your competitors — it has some kind of special sauce. Even if you are selling dog food, that dog food needs to have more vitamins, less horse meat, or just “dogs love the taste!”. This Technology level informs both the level of your Brand perception and your Products perception (“that company have great stuff!”), so it’s important to get a good grasp of it and what it means, even if you aren’t the most technical of people. Make the effort.

Products

The bread & butter level. This is where the rubber hits the road, because it doesn’t matter how good the other two levels are, if your company can’t sell its products, its time on Earth is probably very limited. So you need to be able to tell people why they should buy your products instead of the other guy’s. This is the level that most marketers hate most, because it’s often a hard slog and even worse, your results are easily trackable — if you do a marketing campaign for a specific product and over the next weeks and months sales of that product go up, you can easily draw up a chart and show people how good you did. But conversely if you spend a huge amount of time and money marketing a product and the sales go down, you will have a lot of uncomfortable explaining to do.

Getting started: identifying your campaign strategy

If you are working for someone else’s company, chances are that somebody with a C-level title or VP title will be coming to you with what they call a “marketing strategy”. They are probably wrong. What they will present you with is some idealised nonsense about what they wish the company was that will make them look good. Now, I’m not saying you should ignore that (you can’t — they are your bosses) but you need to take it with a grain of salt. Do not accept it blindly, especially if you are in a big corporation, because generally speaking very few people in a company have any real clue what the company is about and how it is really perceived by users. That’s where you come in: you need to find out for yourself. That means doing some serious legwork before you even think about a marketing campaign.

Market Research

There are 5 groups of people you need to communicate with in order to get started:

  1. Senior management
  2. Product managers
  3. Sales agents
  4. Customer service and support representatives
  5. Customers

And all of these are equally important. Now that’s a heretical statement according to most corporate propaganda bullshit, which gives both senior managers and customers mythical importance. The old adage is that “the customer is always right!” — whereas in reality they usually aren’t, because by and large they often have little clue what they are actually buying. And the myth of the visionary CEO is indeed just that — mythical. Most CEOs are just as clueless as you are, they are simply better at bluffing their way to the top. But you do need to take their opinion into account because they are the ones paying you!

Product managers are important because their job is to know and understand not only their products but also the user needs that the products address. So they are vital to any marketer. Take your product managers to lunch frequently and get them to talk about the products they oversee— there is nothing product managers like more than being ask to talk about products, especially if there’s a free lunch involved.

Sales agents are important because they are out in the field talking to distributors and retailers, and you need those guys to buy into your marketing otherwise they won’t stock and proactively sell your products — and then the company doesn’t get paid, and neither do you.

Customer support reps are usually considered the lowest people on the totem pole in any company, but they are one of your best resources. They are the ones who really know what your customers think because they spend their entire days dealing with them face-to-face. It’s a tough job, because 99% of the people they speak to are people with significant problems with your products (otherwise they wouldn’t be calling you). So bear in mind that when you talk to support people in your company you are going to hear a lot of negative things. But that’s useful — because you don’t want to try to market how reliable a certain widget is when all your customers already know it’s a steaming pile of poo. So use customer support information wisely!

Note that I am deliberately avoiding the classic “customer focus groups”. I have never seen one of these that was at all useful to a marketer. Let the product managers run these and then you talk to the product managers. It’s their job to understand and collate information about what the users want and need, so use their expertise for that. It will save you a lot of time and energy.

Unique Selling Points

OK, you have identified who to talk to, now all you need is to figure out what you need to know. By far the most important thing, and what your future marketing campaigns are going to hinge on, is finding out your Unique Selling Points. USPs are what makes your company’s stuff better than your competitors’ — what you have that they don’t. This applies at all three levels of marketing. Grab a pen and a notepad and draw three columns from the top of the page to the bottom. At the top of each column write down each of the three levels of marketing, and then list the USPs for each level underneath. Note that some of these USPs might be shared across two of the levels. For example, you might have really great technology and your brand is built on a reputation for that (e.g. Apple, Google) — if so, write a USP of that type so it spans both of the appropriate columns.

  1. Brand — what makes your company so special? Do you “care more for your customers”? Is your brand loved by important people? Do you have a reputation for always being cheaper than everyone else? Are you more “street level”? Look for these kinds of identifying aspects that come into people’s minds when they think about your company and get them all into a list.
  2. Technology — what’s your company’s special sauce? Are your products bigger/smaller/faster/lighter/cheaper/tastier than anyone else’s? Which parts of your tech are important, and how much better are they than your competitors’? And how much does that matter overall to the company?
  3. Products — which products are most important at this moment in time? What is selling well? What needs more of a push? What products are coming up over the next six months and when are the release dates? And most importantly, why is this product special? (And if it’s not, you are going to have to work very hard to make it seem special…)

Creating your campaign

[Details on this coming Real Soon Now — this is a big subject to deal with.]

Putting it all in play

Now that you have created your campaign’s messaging, you need to get it to the public. There are various ways of doing this, but for now let’s concentrate on doing it the Internet Way. You have two main avenues to focus on:

  1. Mailing lists
  2. Social media

Mailing lists

Directly emailing customers is often looked down on these days, but it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool, especially if you have a database of registered customers already. If your company doesn’t have a mailing list tool already, get one. I recommend Mailchimp, it’s very widely used and extremely powerful. If you don’t already know how to use this program or whatever other program your company uses, then learn it. Print out their documentation and work your way through it, no matter how much of a slog it may seem. Or watch YouTube videos about it. This is not optional. You need to be able to play your mailing list tool like a fine piano.

Once you know how to do it, figure out how often you are going to mail your customers and what you are going to put in there. There’s no hard and fast rule, except make it interesting. Don’t spam people with the same old crap every single week. If you don’t have enough material for an interesting mailout, don’t send it until you do.

If you don’t have a decent mailing list of names and email addresses of your customers and potential customers already — get one. Figure out some way of getting people to sign up to hear from you. Offer a contest to win something. Do a giveaway. Arrange a sales promotion with a voucher you can get by email. You know the sort of thing, you’ve seen it a thousand times already.

Social media

If you don’t already know what Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are, you are in the wrong job. Seriously. Let’s assume you have a basic understanding of social media as a user at least. But you need to be aware that using these things as a marketer is a completely different experience.

Let’s look at Facebook. It’s the single biggest and most powerful marketing system in the world, bar none. There are three types of Facebook presence:

  1. Profile
  2. Page
  3. Group

You as an individual need a Facebook Profile. Your company does not, and should not have one. Note that your Profile needs to be really you, not something like CompanyX Marketing Department. Never, ever do that, you will end up in a world of pain later.

If your company doesn’t already have a Facebook Page, set one up. Or if one already exists, get whoever is in charge of it to give you Admin access from your personal Facebook account. Once you have that, read the excellent Facebook guide to using Pages, and follow the very detailed instructions given there.

At the top of your Page you’ll see a bar like this:

The section marked Insights if going to become one of the most useful tools in your marketing armory. Click on it. You will see a whole pile of graphs and metrics. These will show you every possible piece of feedback you need on your campaign. Take some time to read about what Insights do here and then when you are done, read it again and work your way through the process until you get a basic grasp of it. The metrics that you get from Insights will not only help you understand how well your marketing activities are performing, they are a great resource for putting in your reports and slideshows when your manager asks for feedback on how you are performing.

Important note: when you make a post to your Facebook page, most of the people who are following your page will not see it. This is intentional by Facebook in order to make you pay for the opportunity to market your own content to your own followers. If you have the money to do this, it’s often worth it — Facebook is one of the best bang for the buck things you can spend money on. If not, you’ll need to increase your Organic Reach. That’s when people Like and Share your content so that their friends see it and come to your page as well. To increase that Organic Reach you basically have to post content that people want to Like and Share — so make it interesting!

So where does a Facebook Group come in? If you have to ask what a Group is and how it works, then just forget it. Don’t set up a Group unless you really know how Groups work and have actively participated in them before. The reason is that Groups (as the name suggests) tend to be places where there is a lot of discussion between people about your company and your products, and unless you are comfortable in those kind of discussions, stay well away. It’s very easy to come over looking like an asshole if you don’t know what you are doing.

On the other hand, a user might set up an unofficial Group of users or customers to discuss (or bitch about) your products. Some corporations think this is a bad thing. They are wrong, it’s a great thing. Join up and watch what’s going on there. Resist to the utmost the temptation to join in, unless it is to be positive and offer assistance with stuff. Even then, keep that to a minimum until people get used to your presence and learn to trust you. Above all, do not come in to a user Group and start repeating company slogans and marketing buzzwords. You will get torn apart if you do (and rightly so). But if you can just be a real human being and talk and listen to your users respectfully, this can be a great way to gather feedback from your customers.

YouTube

People hate reading manuals. But they love watching videos. Make videos about your products. Make videos about your technology. Make videos about the people in your company talking about themselves and who they are. Even if they are only 30 seconds long, make lots of videos. You don’t need a big budget, just a mobile phone, some cheap video editing software on your computer, and a little bit of creativity. If you do have budget, then hire someone young, smart, and not too expensive and get them making videos for you. Or you can hire an advertising agency and get them to assemble a complete team for you, while charging you grossly inflated prices for the privilege (pro tip: don’t).

Once you have made your video get it up on YouTube and put it on Facebook too. And do a mailout telling everyone about it.

[Authors note: there will be a lot more coming here later, but this is enough to start with :-)]