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Category Archives: Marketing Strategy
If you are building a company that depends on making people feel sexy and sophisticated, it’s probably going to confuse your consumers if you your logo is bright green.
That’s because different colors are associated with different feelings. Green conveys organic growth, the earth, nature, or feelings of caring. Meanwhile, black communicates feelings of sophistication, authority or seduction. Not convinced? Consider the green logo for Starbucks or Greenpeace and the black logos of Chanel or Sony.
Color isn’t the only design element that communicates with your customer about your brand. Font, spacing between letters and shape also tell your brand story in that instant when a first impression is formed.
Have a look at the infographic below, compiled by Canadian plastic-card maker Colourfast, to get a sense of whether your logo is conveying the right message.
Firms that are successful in marketing invariably start with a marketing plan. Large companies have plans with hundreds of pages; small companies can get by with a half-dozen sheets. Put your marketing plan in a three-ring binder. Refer to it at least quarterly, but better yet monthly. Leave a tab for putting in monthly reports on sales/manufacturing; this will allow you to track performance as you follow the plan.
The plan should cover one year. For small companies, this is often the best way to think about marketing. Things change, people leave, markets evolve, customers come and go. Later on we suggest creating a section of your plan that addresses the medium-term future–two to four years down the road. But the bulk of your plan should focus on the coming year.
You should allow yourself a couple of months to write the plan, even if it’s only a few pages long. Developing the plan is the “heavy lifting” of marketing. While executing the plan has its challenges, deciding what to do and how to do it is marketing’s greatest challenge. Most marketing plans kick off with the first of the year or with the opening of your fiscal year if it’s different.
Who should see your plan? All the players in the company. Firms typically keep their marketing plans very, very private for one of two very different reasons: Either they’re too skimpy and management would be embarrassed to have them see the light of day, or they’re solid and packed with information . . . which would make them extremely valuable to the competition.
You can’t do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what your size, get feedback from all parts of your company: finance, manufacturing, personnel, supply and so on–in addition to marketing itself. This is especially important because it will take all aspects of your company to make your marketing plan work. Your key people can provide realistic input on what’s achievable and how your goals can be reached, and they can share any insights they have on any potential, as-yet-unrealized marketing opportunities, adding another dimension to your plan. If you’re essentially a one-person management operation, you’ll have to wear all your hats at one time–but at least the meetings will be short!
What’s the relationship between your marketing plan and your business plan or vision statement? Your business plan spells out what your business is about–what you do and don’t do, and what your ultimate goals are. It encompasses more than marketing; it can include discussions of locations, staffing, financing, strategic alliances and so on. It includes “the vision thing,” the resounding words that spell out the glorious purpose of your company in stirring language. Your business plan is the U.S. Constitution of your business: If you want to do something that’s outside the business plan, you need to either change your mind or change the plan. Your company’s business plan provides the environment in which your marketing plan must flourish. The two documents must be consistent.
The Benefits of a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan, on the other hand, is plump with meaning. It provides you with several major benefits. Let’s review them.
- Rallying point: Your marketing plan gives your troops something to rally behind. You want them to feel confident that the captain of the vessel has the charts in order, knows how to run the ship, and has a port of destination in mind. Companies often undervalue the impact of a “marketing plan” on their own people, who want to feel part of a team engaged in an exciting and complicated joint endeavor. If you want your employees to feel committed to your company, it’s important to share with them your vision of where the company is headed in the years to come. People don’t always understand financial projections, but they can get excited about a well-written and well-thought-out marketing plan. You should consider releasing your marketing plan–perhaps in an abridged version–companywide. Do it with some fanfare and generate some excitement for the adventures to come. Your workers will appreciate being involved.
- Chart to success: We all know that plans are imperfect things. How can you possibly know what’s going to happen 12 months or five years from now? Isn’t putting together a marketing plan an exercise in futility . . . a waste of time better spent meeting with customers or fine-tuning production? Yes, possibly but only in the narrowest sense. If you don’t plan, you’re doomed, and an inaccurate plan is far better than no plan at all. To stay with our sea captain analogy, it’s better to be 5 or even 10 degrees off your destination port than to have no destination in mind at all. The point of sailing, after all, is to get somewhere, and without a marketing plan, you’ll wander the seas aimlessly, sometimes finding dry land but more often than not floundering in a vast ocean. Sea captains without a chart are rarely remembered for discovering anything but the ocean floor.
- Company operational instructions: Your child’s first bike and your new VCR came with a set of instructions, and your company is far more complicated to put together and run than either of them. Your marketing plan is a step-by-step guide for your company’s success. It’s more important than a vision statement. To put together a genuine marketing plan, you have to assess your company from top to bottom and make sure all the pieces are working together in the best way. What do you want to do with this enterprise you call the company in the coming year? Consider it a to-do list on a grand scale. It assigns specific tasks for the year.
- Captured thinking: You don’t allow your financial people to keep their numbers in their heads. Financial reports are the lifeblood of the numbers side of any business, no matter what size. It should be no different with marketing. Your written document lays out your game plan. If people leave, if new people arrive, if memories falter, if events bring pressure to alter the givens, the information in the written marketing plan stays intact to remind you of what you’d agreed on.
- Top-level reflection: In the daily hurly-burly of competitive business, it’s hard to turn your attention to the big picture, especially those parts that aren’t directly related to the daily operations. You need to take time periodically to really think about your business–whether it’s providing you and your employees with what you want, whether there aren’t some innovative wrinkles you can add, whether you’re getting all you can out of your products, your sales staff and your markets. Writing your marketing plan is the best time to do this high-level thinking. Some companies send their top marketing people away to a retreat. Others go to the home of a principal. Some do marketing plan development at a local motel, away from phones and fax machines, so they can devote themselves solely to thinking hard and drawing the most accurate sketches they can of the immediate future of the business.
Ideally, after writing marketing plans for a few years, you can sit back and review a series of them, year after year, and check the progress of your company. Of course, sometimes this is hard to make time for (there is that annoying real world to deal with), but it can provide an unparalleled objective view of what you’ve been doing with your business life over a number of years.
Many of the world’s best business leaders were born out of failed businesses. Knowing that there is a chance that the company you work for or own right now could someday fail, you need a strategy that can ensure your personal success no matter what cards your business is dealt. Let’s have a conversation about your personal brand.
As a 20-year entrepreneurial veteran, I have learned a few things about branding. The most important lesson of all is that I am my own brand, and so are you. That’s not to say that my businesses are not brands in and of themselves. However, you, as your personal brand, is a living, breathing, money-making, sales-churning, customer-serving human being.
Every entrepreneur is their own personal brand. If you don’t believe that’s true about you, then you are in for some trouble. If you own or work for a franchise and your pitch to prospective clients, employees and partners is all about the value it brings to the table, then what happens when another franchise opens two doors down? If you believe you are not a brand, then does that mean that when the company you work for fails, you do too?
The only insurance you have against extinction is building your brand. Here’s how to build your own personal brand in conjunction with or separate from your business brand:
Find your personal value proposition. You have a very specific value proposition that you bring to the table as an entrepreneur. Perhaps you’ve worked in your industry for 50 years, have a Harvard education or have lived through an experience that makes you better at your job than most. Whatever value you bring to the client, the employees of your company and to the organization as a whole should be spelled out regularly.
Work your value proposition into every presentation you give. Let your clients know the unique value you bring to the table to help them accomplish their goals. If you are the CEO or president of your company, create a blog where you write regularly to your employees, stockholders and customers. The more you speak to them, the more you establish yourself as the face of the organization.
When you become a brand within the company brand, you insure longevity for yourself, separate from the organizational brand. Zappos is an amazing brand, but so is Tony Hsieh.
Capture your brand “logo.” You are a brand and your logo is your photo. Your photo should be on everything and you should work with a photographer who can capture the essence of who you are. Let your business personality shine through in that photo. People can relate to a human being more so than they can relate to an inanimate figure. It’s OK to use your company logo, but certainly also include your personal photo. When the client, employee or stockholder thinks of you, wouldn’t it be nice if they pictured you as a human being and not some vector image?
Distinguish both brands. Building a company brand takes hard work. The best way to distinguish between your personal brand and your company brand is to explain and distinguish the two whenever possible.
Building a business is like creating a living, breathing, entity that will someday live all on its own — at least that’s the goal for many entrepreneurs. The inherent risk in building this type of entity is that many do end up going extinct. That doesn’t mean you should too. Certainly Walt Disney and Steve Jobs never worried about their employability nor their ability to build new and better business entities. They didn’t worry because they were, as human beings, strong brands too.
Build your own personal brand simultaneously to your business brand and you’ll have no problem plucking yourself away from your current entity someday. Be well poised to start your next venture way ahead of the curve because you bring your brand to the table.
In order to successfully grow your business, you’ll need to attract and then work to retain a large base of satisfied customers. Marketing emphasizes the value of the customer to the business, and has two guiding principles:
1. All company policies and activities should be directed toward satisfying customer needs.
2. Profitable sales volume is more important than maximum sales volume.
To best use these principles, a small business should:
• Determine the needs of their customers through market research • Analyze their competitive advantages to develop a market strategy • Select specific markets to serve by target marketing
• Determine how to satisfy customer needs by identifying a market mix
Marketing programs, though widely varied, are all aimed at convincing people to try out or keep using particular products or services. Business owners should carefully plan their marketing strategies and performance to keep their market presence strong.
Conducting Market Research
Successful marketing requires timely and relevant market information. An inexpensive research program, based on questionnaires given to current or prospective customers, can often uncover dissatisfaction or possible new products or services.
Market research will also identify trends that affect sales and profitability. Population shifts, legal developments, and the local economic situation should be monitored to quickly identify problems and opportunities. It is also important to keep up with competitors’ market strategies.
Creating a Marketing Strategy
A marketing strategy identifies customer groups which a particular business can better serve than its target competitors, and tailors product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts and services toward those segments. Ideally, the strategy should address unmet customer needs that offer adequate potential profitability. A good strategy helps a business focus on the target markets it can serve best.
Most small businesses don’t have unlimited resources to devote to marketing; however, the SBA wants you to know that you can still see excellent returns while sticking to your budget if you focus on target marketing. By concentrating your efforts on one or a few key market segments, you’ll reap the most from small investments. There are two methods used to segment a market:
1. Geographical segmentation: Specializing in serving the needs of customers in a particular geographical area.
2. Customer segmentation: Identifying those people most likely to buy the product or service and targeting those groups.
Managing the Market Mix
Every marketing program contains four key components:
1. Products and Services: Product strategies include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product or service or providing a product-service package containing unusually high-quality service.
2. Promotion: Promotion strategies focus on advertising and direct customer interaction. Good salesmanship is essential for small businesses because of their limited advertising budgets. Online marketing is a cheap, quick, and easy way to ensure that your business and product receive high visibility.
3. Price: When it comes to maximizing total revenue, the right price is crucial. Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa; however, small businesses can often command higher prices because of their personalized service.
4. Distribution: The manufacturer and wholesaler must decide how to distribute their products. Working through established distributors or manufacturers’ agents is generally easiest for small manufacturers. Small retailers should consider cost and traffic flow in site selection, especially since advertising and rent can be reciprocal: a low-cost, low-traffic location means spending more on advertising to build traffic.
The aforementioned steps combine to form a holistic marketing program.
The nature of the product or service is also important in citing decisions. If purchases are based largely on impulse, then high-traffic and visibility are critical. On the other hand, location is less of a concern for products or services that customers are willing to go out of their way to find. The Internet makes it easy for people to obtain goods from anywhere in the world, so if you’re worried about reaching a certain market, selling your product online may do wonders for your business.
Early branding of a small or emerging company is key to business success. It is the quickest way for your company to express what it is and what it can offer. Inaccurate branding of a new business can make it difficult for people to grasp why the business exists in the first place.
For startups and small businesses, branding can often take a backseat to other considerations, such as funding and product development. This is a mistake, as a company’s brand can be key to its success. Dollar for dollar, it is as important and vital as any other early steps.
One software management company, temporarily named TallyUp, decided to invest in a branding overhaul. Its flagship product, a software suite that tracks and runs bonus incentive plans, needed a clear identity and platform to appeal to its target audience — primarily financial executives. The name TallyUp, while somewhat descriptive, didn’t capture the level of sophistication needed to attract the appropriate clientele. TallyUp hired a branding consultant, who recommended the name Callidus (Latin for “expert and skillful”) to effectively communicate its positioning in an instant. The new name communicated a similar concept but on a completely different level. Callidus positions the software product correctly.
A brand is a company’s face to the world. It is the company’s name, how that name is visually expressed through a logo, and how that name and logo are extended throughout an organization’s communications. A brand is also how the company is perceived by its customers — the associations and inherent value they place on your business.
A brand is a kind of promise. It is a set of fundamental principles as understood by anyone who comes into contact with a company. A brand is an organization’s reason for being and how that reason is expressed through its various communications media to its key audiences, including customers, shareholders, employees and analysts. A brand can also describe these same attributes for a company’s products, services, and initiatives.
Apple’s brand is a great example. The Apple logo is clean, elegant, and easily implemented. At a certain point in time the company began to use the apple logo monochromatically (as opposed to the rainbow stripes), signaling a new era for Apple. Smart branding allowed the company to clearly communicate a change in direction while continuing to build its reputation. Think about how you’ve seen the brand in advertising, trade shows, packaging, and product design. It’s distinctive and it all adds up to a particular promise: quality of design and ease of use.
Too many small-business owners think marketing is like a trip to the dentist — something you just gotta do every six months or so.
But when marketing is continuous and targeted rather than occasional and shotgun, business gets easier. If prospects have a positive view of your wares and reputation before you call or before they start shopping, you’re that much closer to nailing a sale.
The next news flash is that ongoing marketing isn’t tied to a price tag. It’s defined only by putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time.
Here are 10 ideas for doing that — on the cheap.
1. Take steps to make customers feel special. Customers respond to being recognized, especially in these rush-rush, get-the-lowest-price times. “Even with a Web-based business, good customer service is possible,” says Denise McMillan, co-owner of Plush Creations (www.plushcreations.com), an online retailer of handcrafted travel bags. McMillan encloses a small, rose-scented sachet in every jewelry and lingerie bag she sells and also sends a handwritten thank-you note. “The sachet and note cost pennies but add something special to the purchase,” she says.
2. Create business cards that prospects keep. Most business cards are tossed within hours of a meeting. Instead of having your card tossed, create one that recipients actually will use — say, a good-looking notepad with your contact info and tagline on every page. “The business card notepad is referred to almost daily, kept for 30 days or so and carries a high remembrance factor,” says Elliott Black, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing consultant who specializes in small businesses.
3. Stop servicing break-even customers. If this idea makes you gasp, think harder. You’re falling for the fallacy of increasing sales instead of boosting profits. If you stop marketing to unprofitable customers, you have more time and resources for customers who actually grow your business. “More than likely, 20% of your customer base is contributing 150% to 200% of total annualized profit (TAP); 70% is breaking even; and 10% is costing you 50% to 100% of TAP,” says Atlanta marketing consultant Michael King. Take a detailed look at your customer profitability data and then direct premium services and marketing to customers who count. (Microsoft Outlook 2010 with Business Contact Manager can help you analyze customer histories.)
4. Develop an electronic mailing list and send old-fashioned letters. Most businesses have harnessed the power of e-newsletters — and you definitely should be sending out one, too. It’s very cost-effective. But exactly because e-mail marketing is now nearly ubiquitous, you can quickly stand out by occasionally sending personal, surface mail letters to customers and prospects. Just make sure the letter delivers something customers want to read, whether an analysis of recent events in your field, premium offers or a sweetener personalized for the recipient (a discount on his next purchase of whatever he last purchased, for instance). “This mailing has to have value to those that read it, so it reflects the value of what you offer,” says Leslie Ungar, an executive coach in Akron, Ohio. “Remember, the best way to sell is to tell.”The process is simplified by creating a letter template and envelope or customer label mailing list in Microsoft Office Word in Office 2010, which you can print out. The mailing list is easily created in Excel and then imported into Word.
5. Boost your profile at trade shows and conferences. You can quickly create signage, glossy postcards with your contact information, product news inserts or an event mini Web site — all with Microsoft Office Publisher. Check out its versatile features.
6. Combine business with pleasure — and charity. Spearhead an event, party or conference for a cause you care about. That puts you in the position of getting to know lots of people, and shows off your small business leadership skills. “I host an annual baseball game where I take hundreds of clients to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field,” says Kate Koziol, who owns a public relations agency in Chicago. “Last year, I took 300 people and we raised $10,000 for a local children’s hospital. Few people turn down a game and it’s a great networking opportunity for guests. It lets me reconnect with current clients and impress potential clients.”
7. Create a destination. Bookstore chain Barnes & Noble has its coffee bars. Furnishings giant Ikea offers child-care centers and cafeterias. Why? So customers gravitate to the stores to enjoy an experience, to hang out for a while. Sunday morning at Barnes & Noble becomes a pleasant weekend routine, rather than a shopping errand. Steal this idea. This tip isn’t limited to offline destinations, either. Using pay-per-click advertising, you can cheaply drive traffic to a one-time news event or specialty offerings, points out Jay Lipe, a small-business marketing consultant based in Minneapolis. Lipe set up a Web site for Games by James (www.gamesbyjames.biz), a retailer of board games, and quickly attracted customers via pay-per-click ads. “The effect was overnight,” says Lipe. “Traditionally in the marketing world, it takes weeks or even months to generate acceptable awareness and traffic. Here we saw traffic spike overnight.”
8. Become an online expert. This is the “free sample” approach to bringing in business. Research active e-mail discussion lists and online bulletin boards that are relevant to your business and audience. Join several and start posting expert advice to solve problems or answer questions. You may need to keep this up for a bit. But the rewards come back in paying clients and referrals. “E-mail discussion lists have been my single largest source of clients over the last eight years,” says Shel Horowitz, a small-business marketing consultant based in Northampton, Mass.
9. Court local media. Editorial features convey more credibility with prospective clients than paid advertising does. To get coverage from the local media, whether from the town newspaper, from TV or radio stations, or from trade journals, you need a fresh, timely story. It’s usually worthwhile to hire an experienced publicist to position the stories, target appropriate media representative and write and send press releases. Usually, you can work on a short-term or contingency basis.
10. Finally, don’t let customers simply slip away. Make an effort to reel them back in. It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one. If you haven’t heard from a customer in awhile, send a personalized e-mail (you can automate this process), inquiring whether all is well. For a customer who suffered a bad experience, pick up the phone, acknowledging the unpleasantness and ask if there’s anything you can do. A discount can’t hurt either. Being kind to customers is the smartest low-cost marketing you can do.
The heart of your business success lies in its marketing. Most aspects of your business depend on successful marketing. The overall marketing umbrella covers advertising, public relations, promotions and sales. Marketing is a process by which a product or service is introduced and promoted to potential customers. Without marketing, your business may offer the best products or services in your industry, but none of your potential customers would know about it. Without marketing, sales may crash and companies may have to close.
Getting Word Out
For a business to succeed, the product or service it provides must be known to potential buyers. Unless your business is known in the community and have communication with your customers readily available, you have to use marketing strategies to create product or service awareness. Without marketing, your potential customers may never be aware of your business offerings and your business may not be given the opportunity to progress and succeed. Using marketing to promote your product, service and company provides your business with a chance of being discovered by prospective customers.
Once your product, service or company gets on the radar screen of your prospects, it increases your chances that consumers will make a purchase. As awareness becomes a reality, it is also the point where new customers start to spread the word, telling friends and family about this amazing new product they discovered. Your sales will steadily increase as the word spreads. Without employing marketing strategies, these sales may not have ever happened; without sales, a company cannot succeed.
The success of a company often rests on a solid reputation. Marketing builds brand name recognition or product recall with a company. When a company reaches the high expectations of the public, its reputation stands on firmer ground. As your reputation grows, the business expands and sales increase. The reputation of your company is built through active participation in community programs, effective communication–externally and externally–and quality products or services, which are created or supported by marketing efforts.
Marketing also fosters an environment in the marketplace for healthy completion. Marketing efforts get the word out on pricing of products and services, which not only reaches the intended consumers, but also reaches other companies competing for the consumers’ business. As opposed to companies that have a monopoly on products and services that can charge almost any price, marketing helps keep pricing competitive for a business to try to win over consumers before its competition does. Without competition, well known companies would continue to sell while lesser known companies or new companies would stand little chance of ever becoming successful. Marketing facilitates the healthy competition that allows small businesses and new businesses to be successful enter and grow in the marketplace.
Although marketing is hugely important for a business to succeed, it can also be very expensive. In its first year, a company might spend as much as half of its sales on marketing programs. After the first year, a marketing budget can reach as much as 30 percent–sometimes more–of the annual sales. A marketing program that gives your company the best chance is a healthy mix of different forms of marketing, such as website development, public relations, print and broadcast advertising, design and printing for all print materials, trade shows and other special events.