Many people often equate marketing with sales and advertising. These can be important elements of a marketing strategy, of course. But there is a host of promotion tools and tactics that can increase both the visibility and attractiveness of your business to potential customers. And, as with your overall business structure and strategy, successful marketing also requires careful research, planning and a wise use of resources.
The key is to think of marketing not as a single action but rather a combination of steps designed to identify, attract and retain profitable customers, and to differentiate your business from the competition. To do this requires research on the industry you are part of, your potential customers, competitors in your industry and sometimes the suppliers. It will end up encompassing everything from your company name, logo, product, pricing and service support to promotion that can include advertisements, public relations, presence at trade shows and community involvement.
While its helpful to use comparable businesses as a guide, what works for them may not be appropriate for you. Marketing strategies need to be tailored to your business and target customer base. To prepare yourself for developing a marketing message, create a detailed profile of your ideal prospect. As you create your marketing message, aim it at them and list the key benefits, features and possible support they will receive. Be certain your marketing message highlights the special knowledge and expertise you offer. Emphasize what you offer that you think distinguishes you from your competitors without explicitly noting those competitors product or service shortfalls.
Look for ways to make the buying process easier for your customers. What roadblocks can you remove to make it easy to buy from you? Simplify everything. Eliminate potential interruptions in completing the sales process, and make decision-making as painless as possible for your customers.
Put your marketing budget in proper perspective. You might, for example, think of marketing as your special weapon rather than merely a cost. Try to set a budget and a pace that lets you market continuously. Customer memories are short, and they are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages and images daily. You will make a more memorable impression by knowing the target customers and what makes your product or service especially appealing to them.
Match your marketing to your primary market. If its a local market, then thats where your marketing focus should be. Broadly focused newspaper or radio advertising, for example, might be the wrong choice. Instead, consider marketing neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Perhaps an ad in a local weekly or monthly community paper circulated in a few neighborhoods would be more visible to your target customers. Understand where your target market is most likely to see or hear about your products and services.
Often forgotten is that word-of-mouth marketing is the lifeblood of small businesses. A recent survey of small businesses indicated that more than 80 percent of their new business came from referrals. Social media play a major role in referral marketing, adding public visibility. A recent book, Engagement Marketing by Gail Goodman, describes how to connect with existing and new customers.
Another good place to find marketing help is the American Marketing Associations website, MarketingPower.com. The sites Best Practices section contains valuable guidance in areas such as research, Internet marketing, advertising, public relations and customer service.
C. NORMAN BECKERT: Idaho district director for SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives. email@example.com.