Many small business owners view marketing as a necessary evil. I personally see it as the lifeblood of a successful business. If you want to stay fit and healthy in this less-than-healthy economy, you definitely need to have some full-blooded marketing strategies coursing through your veins.
There are a couple of common misconceptions about marketing:
- It’s expensive.
- You never know what portion of your marketing spend actually works.
Both of these statements are untrue. You should never look at marketing as cheap or expensive. It is much more appropriate to examine it in terms of efficiency. Even the lowest cost marketing strategies are expensive if they don’t yield a return. You should also be able to track and monitor the success of any marketing spend. If you are running campaigns and are unsure of whether or not they are working you should stop them straight away and put some simple measures in place to track future efforts. This could be as simple as training your staff to ask customers where they found out about your business.
A small business should familiarize itself with two basic types of marketing strategy. The first is demand generation or acquisition marketing. This is marketing that draws attention to your brand or product and helps you acquire new customers. It can be conducted over a wide range of media, from newspapers, magazines, radio, events and trade shows, and all the way through to more modern techniques such as pay-per-click advertising (PPC) on Google or the use of online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon.
The second marketing strategy is customer relationship or retention marketing. This allows a business to re-market to newly acquired customers and help build long-term and profitable relationships with them. Retention marketing is often conducted using low-cost, high-return marketing techniques, including direct mail and email marketing (using services like iContact).
A Growing, Healthy Business
A growing, healthy business will want to exploit both types of marketing. In an ideal world, acquisition will feed your retention, which in turn will drive your profits. Remember, if you are relying on acquisition marketing to drive repeat business, you are effectively paying to acquire the same customer time and time again. This is the one such occasion you are permitted to believe marketing is expensive.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can offer a blend of both acquisition and retention marketing by harnessing the power of your existing client base to spread the word “virally” to their wider network of friends and followers.
All advertising should be targeted toward your particular audience. If you work in a specific niche, this might mean advertising in the local media (no matter how reasonably priced) is not an effective method of targeting new business. In this case, you should focus on the specialty press and on the Internet.
I’m staggered by the number of specialty shops I walk past every day with staff standing glumly behind their counters waiting for trade to walk in while ignoring the opportunity of mail order and Internet shopping. Thanks to modern technology, your business is no longer limited to the town or city where you are based. Online, even the smallest business in the most remote corner of the world can now serve customers on a global scale.
You can track the success of traditional marketing campaigns (such as newspaper or magazine advertising) by using voucher codes or coupons, specific telephone numbers or by featuring a unique website or email address. Every campaign should have a specific call to action. You want a potential customer to pick up the phone, visit your website or call into your shop. Don’t rely on pretty product images or low advertised prices to do this. Setting a deadline (i.e., “Sale ends this Saturday”) or suggesting the perception of scarcity of a product (i.e., “Last 20 items in stock”) is an excellent motivator to bring the customer in.
You should also use every touch point (i.e., telephone call or email conversation) to collect client information. This could be a telephone number, postal address or email address for the purpose of re-marketing. By creating a database of people who have an active interest in or are actually buying your products you are effectively building a valuable resource for establishing long-term, profitable relationships. On this point, don’t neglect to ask people who simply visit your shop for their contact details. I often wonder how many relationships must be lost on the high street every day due to lack of engagement at the cash register. If this feels awkward or intrusive why not sweeten the deal by offering a discount voucher to everyone who gives you their email address?
When you collect customer data it is vitally important that you segment it into specific groups or product interests and target any future campaigns accordingly. As a business, you might have several different product ranges. If you understand which customers are interested in which specific product ranges you can target them with more focused marketing campaigns, which will improve your chances of converting more sales from your marketing activity. Also, by improving the relevancy of your marketing campaigns you can increase the frequency of them. People rarely object when they receive something that is both relevant and interesting to them.
So remember marketing is only expensive when it is untargeted, untrackable, lacks a specific call to action and fails to help you collect customer data. If this all sounds too simple, that’s because it is. Successful marketing for small- and medium-size business is more about common sense than creative ideas.
Who’d have thought that such common sense ideas could get the blood racing?
This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.