Here are a few easy “to-do”s to mark “done” before you launch.
If you ask a marketer about a plan-of-attack for your small business, you run the risk of drowning in acronyms. ROI, KPIs, OKRs….it can be a lot to digest.
But really, marketing is just about having a conversation with your target customer. It’s your chance to persuade them to like, trust, and buy from you. And it’s making a few key moves that’ll put your businesses’ best foot forward.
In the beginning—marketing effectively comes down to simple, finding what works, and then ramping up the tools and tactics that’ll help you grow.
So we’ve broken down what “starting simple” looks like. And we’ve written list of marketing “definites” to have done before you launch. Be sure to print out the small business marketing checklist at the end to get started.
1. Marketing is a conversation. Know who you’re talking to.
Before you put a marketing plan together, there are three things you should know about your market.
Who they are: Do a bit of market research to get the basic demographics and desires of your target customer. Having an idea about their age, gender, income, and location—is a start. Knowing their wants, needs, fears, interests, favorite TV shows, guilty pleasures, regrettable tattoos—is a step further. Jokes aside, it’s essentially that you “get” who your audience is, before you try to sell them something.
Why they need what you offer: Why do your customers need what you’re selling? What about what you offer, appeals to who they are? Your businesses’ value proposition should cover the basics of what you do best, and why that matters to your target market. But it never hurts to dive deeper into all the ways your product or service solves your audience’s problem, or makes something in their life better.
Where they hangout: If you want to reach your target audience, but they don’t commute—paying for a bus ad might not be the best use of your money. If your potential customers are all on Twitter, but you’re only posting on Instagram—you might be talking to the wrong people. Knowing whether your audience listens to the radio, or watches the morning news, will be key to how you spread the word.
2. Set marketing goals that align with your business goals.
A common question business owners ask is: “How do I know my marketing efforts are working?”
It’s a valid one. When you’re budget-conscious, the prospect of spending big on marketing, and not seeing returns, can be daunting. But marketing now is more trackable than ever. The key is making sure you have realistic goals for what you want, and need, your marketing tactics to do.
A few of the big things you can look at:
Brand awareness: This is exactly what it sounds like. Put simply, it’s how many people know your business exists. If you pay for an ad in a local magazine, and you know it how wide its readership is, that might give you a picture of how many people have heard of you. If you pay to promote a post or online ad, you should get a number of “impressions”—or, a count of how many people saw what you’ve shared. Brand awareness doesn’t equal revenue, but it can give you some idea of how well you’ve gotten the word out.
Purchases: Revenue is the best indicator of marketing success—and it can often be traced back to its source. If you mention a promo code in a Podcast ad, and see it used 87 times—it’s not unlikely that ad has led to at least 87 purchases. If you hand out coupons at an event, you can count how many people use them in store. Simple online “Where did you hear about us?” polls after a purchase, can give you some insight into what advertising channels are working.
Conversions: If what you’re selling is expensive—or it takes a long time for potential customers to move from “wanting it” and “buying it”—you might want to track whether you’re marketing makes them more interested. A conversion is any action that moves someone closer to deciding to buy. It may be signing up for your email list, attending your event, listening in on your webinar, or filling out an inquiry form.
Regardless of how you decide to track it—it’s important to think about how your marketing goals sync up with your overall business goals. If your goal is to be able to add an additional location, provoking more brand awareness in that area might be your best metric of success. If you’re looking to expand production, a look at conversions might help you project potential sales. If you’re just hoping to get more people through the door, look at what marketing initiatives are impacting your purchase volume.
I want my marketing efforts to grow my business by 45%.
I want my ad spend this quarter to be less than the revenue it brings in.
I want to spend $50 on digital ads and triple the size of my business in the next month.
I want to more customers to come in store on Tuesdays, instead of Fridays.
The first isn’t time-based, or easily measurable. The second isn’t specific. The third isn’t (likely) to be attainable. The fourth isn’t relevant to your overall business growth.
An example of a goal that is SMART:
This quarter, I want to drive purchases with digital ads—with at least 25 customers a week coming in from digital channels, and with an average of $15.00 or less spent on ads per each purchase.
Pro-Tip: if it costs $9.99 in advertising to get a prospect to buy, and your product costs $10.00—you’re still growing your business by investing in advertising. You might want to bring those advertising costs down, but cutting out that advertising channel completely could slow you down.
Why? Branding is just hugely important. It’s what makes you stand out amongst your competition, beyond just a price point. It translates “why you’re the best company for the job” in ways that resonate with your target market. And it’s a driving factor in getting people to recognize, remember, and align with your business.
But you don’t need agency-led, deep-dive, brand guides to get started. You just need the basics.
Here are some branding “bare-minimums” that will make sure your company gets attention, and stays memorable.
A logo: When we think of “branding” we often think of logos. In realty, a log is just a part of what makes up your brand presence—but it is an important part. Your logo lives on everything people associate with your business—so you want it to look professional, be memorable, and project your business values.
A website: It’s 2019. The first thing potential customers are likely to do when they hear about your business, is search for you online. Having a website—even one with basic information—is key to building credibility and trust.
Basic design standards: Say potential customer sees an ad in the paper, which sends them to your website. But once they get there, the site looks nothing like the ad. They’re likely to ask themselves: “Am I in the right place?” You want all your marketing materials to look and feel as standardized as possible. Choosing a color palette, a few consistent fonts, and other shared visual elements—helps prompt memory and reduce confusion.
Consistent messaging: What are your company values? How would a person with those values “talk?” If your brand’s unique value proposition is your professionalism, commitment, and decades of experience in the field—you would probably wouldn’t write an ad filled with silly jokes. You’d talk about why you can be trusted—and you’d write in a clear, to-the-point, way that’s trustworthy. Knowing what sort of messages, values, and ideas you want people to associate with your brand—and sticking to them—is essential for good branding.
4. Exist where your audience will look for you.
At this point, you know who you’re talking to. You have some goals for how to reach them, and what actions you need them to take. And you’ve defined what your brand looks, feels, and sounds like.
One of the easiest, and easiest-to-miss small business marketing opportunity, is just being in the right place at the right time.
If you’re a plumber, and you know your target audience looks for plumbers in the local business directory—get in that directory. If you sell ice cream, and you know your audience swings by after a little league baseball games—get your fliers, or ads, or samples, on the field.
A lot of the time, existing translates to “free visibility.” Here are a few places it might make sense to exist.
Online, for search. Flashing back to branding—if someone’s heard of your brand, or looking for your product or service—they’re going to look online first. Have a website up.
Local business directories (online or print): If your audience still sifts through a Yellow Pages, or pays attention to what’s new on the community center bulletin board—your business should be findable there.
Partner businesses: If you already have a working relationship with other local businesses or community organizations—ask to place fliers, coupons, or other branded materials with them.
Pro-tip: If you’re not sure where you should exist, take note of where your competitors can be found. You’ll want to have a competing presence. Even more importantly—pay attention to where your audience exists, and your competitors don’t. There you’ll find a new opportunity to make an impression.
5. Decide on your promotional channels, and test them.
So you have a foundation. If you have a bit of a budget, and a bit of time—the next step is to put some money where your hypotheses are.
There are a dizzying array of marketing channels and tactics—and your business absolutely doesn’t have to try all of them. But, it is in your best interest to try a few—starting with the ones that make most sense for your audience—and to monitor how well they perform, as you grow.
Some marketing tactics are a big stretch for startups. No one expects you to run a Superbowl ad, or sponsor a music festival out the gate. But here are a few common approaches to getting your business initial marketing traction.
Online Ads: There are a million different channels for online ads—all geared towards different audiences, products, and budgets. If you’re not sure where to start—see where your customers are engaging with you organically. Then, pay to expand your reach. In general, online advertising is a great way to make sure your marketing efforts are trackable. Most online ad platforms will give you robust metrics on how many clicked, engaged, or purchased as result of your ad spend.
Offline ads: Offline ads are the ads we’re all familiar with: TV, radio, podcast, magazine, newspaper, billboards, benches, etc. These are slightly harder to track the results of than with online ads—but can be great ways to reach your audience. If you know your target market commutes, but aren’t sure if they read blogs: it might make more sense to reach them on the train.
Search Engine Optimization: Search engine optimization (SEO) is technically “free,” but it’s often a decent time investment. In the most general sense, SEO involves adding to, or positioning your website, so you rank well in search. If you’re a dry cleaners in Austin, TX—being the number one result for “best dry cleaners in Austin”—could be a huge deal for your business. But it will take some time and skill to determine which keywords are best to rank for, and what content will help you get there.
Content marketing: Content marketing is essentially the digital version of a free sample, or can’t-miss-offer. It’s giving away something useful for free, in the hopes that it leads to purchases down the line. If you’ve ever been invited to join a free webinar, download a free ebook, unlock a free guide, or sign up for an email list—that’s content marketing at work. It’s a way to win over potential customers to your brand, by helping them solve a problem or meet a need.
Affiliate marketing: Affiliate marketing is a way to get other people to spread the word about your business. A common tactic involves giving influential voices in your target market a link to your business—and rewarding them for the traffic or purchases that link generates.
Public Relations: Public relations can mean writing a press release, and embracing strategic partnerships. But there are also “non-traditional” ways to get recognized—like embracing a big “stunt.”
Social Media Marketing: Social media marketing is often the engine behind a lot of your other marketing strategies. You may feed your affiliate networks by isolating social media influencers. You may distribute your content across social media channels. You may promote your event, or reach out to the press, or drive people to your website, or pay to promote an ad through social. Or you just might use it as an opportunity to build a community around your brand.
Speaking and Networking: Yes, giving a talk can be marketing—as long as you do it in the right place. Presenting at the right meetup, attending the right conference, or speaking at a dinner or engagement—puts the spotlight on your brand, and what you’re building.
Event Marketing: Sponsoring, or hosting, a solid event can be a surefire way to have your target market come to you. Colleges, local governments, and local business chapters often throw events that need sponsorship, and will give you space, money, and time for your trouble. Hosting an event of your own can be a bigger time and budget commitment—but can be a worthwhile way to ensure the people you want to talk to are in the room.
Referral Programs: Airbnb, Postmates, Uber. Many of today’s big brands have grown exponentially by adopting incentives for referring a friend. But if establishing a referral program seems like a strain—remember, “encouraging referrals” just means “getting people to talk about you.” Sometimes, investing in really good customer service, can be the best thing you can do to spread word-of-mouth.
Pro-tip: When you’re setting your goals, try and focus on results, or metrics—not tactics. As a small business, it’ll likely take you a few tests to figure out what sort of marketing strategies work for your business. If you set a goal to bring in revenue with radio ads, but your event sponsorships are proving more profitable—you want to be able to shift your budget.
Summing it up: a quick “have your bases covered” small business marketing checklist:
□ I know who my audience is, what they’re like, and what their needs, problems, and goals are.
□ I know my businesses value proposition, and what I offer to my market that no one else can.
□ I know where I can reach the people who are most likely to buy from me—and where they’re likely to hangout, on or offline.
□ I’ve set SMART goals that will help me meet my overall business goals
□ I know how I’m going to measure success, and track whether or not my marketing efforts are successful.
□ I have a logo, and basic design assets, for my brand defined and consistent.
□ I’ve built a website to give my business credibility.
□ I know what kind of messaging I’ll use to “talk” to my audience.
□ I’ve made sure my target customers will be able to find my business, wherever it makes sense for them to look.
□ I’ve chosen a few promotional channels to test out, and I plan to monitor which work best.
□ I’ve set a date to review the results of my marketing efforts, so I can pivot to what’s most effective.