The web is full of helpful cookbook recipes on marketing your small business. These guides are valuable, and will help you improve your business, if you follow them. But which ones should you use? The problem is, you only have so much time in the day. To become adept in every tactic, you’d have to become a marketing expert and stop working on your business.
Everywhere you look, you can find guides for networking using Twitter, driving quality traffic with Stumbleupon, sending yourself viral on YouTube, and getting on the front page of Digg. There is plenty of instruction on how to use offline marketing, too, whether to distribute a press release or get in the mainstream media.
It’s simple to find guidance on “how to”, but not as much about “which to”. Read on to learn how to determine which marketing tactics are right for you.
Choosing which marketing tactics to use, and how, is called marketing strategy.
To get technical for a moment, marketing strategy is the process of allocating limited resources to maximize sales and create a sustainable competitive advantage.
In other words, marketing strategy is figuring out how to convert your limited amount of time and money into the largest business success. It’s just as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do do.
Looking at your marketing plan in a strategic way allows you to pick your battles. It’s a necessary part of the marketing process. Otherwise, you’ll spin your wheels on the unimportant tactics instead of going straight for the most effective solution.
In an ideal world, you’d have an infinite amount of money to devote to marketing, and you’d reach your customer everywhere. But in the real world, you need a marketing strategy.
How To Develop a Marketing Strategy
A strong marketing strategy should cover three broad topics: customer insights, the competitive landscape, and your unique value proposition. In business school, they teach you various models for developing strategies, but they always come back to an understanding of your customer, your competitors, and yourself.
Developing your customer insights can happen in a lot of different ways. Sometimes you can use published research, run customer focus groups, distribute surveys, or otherwise collect information from your actual customers. Most times, you have to play at psychology, analyzing the way the your customers think (recommended reading: Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, PhD.)
Whatever your methodology, the end result is a good picture of what your customers’ underlying motivations are, where they spend their time and money, and what their big problem is that you’re trying to solve. If you can’t find your customer’s problem, you won’t be able to sell them the solution.
The competitive landscape is straightforward. Who are your competitors, how do they compare to you and each other, what makes their offering unique, valuable, and compelling, and where do they fall short? You should also consider competitors to your industry at large, particularly when developing a long term strategy. After all, when you’re competing for a customer’s attention, you’re competing with everything.
Lastly, what is your unique value proposition? Maybe you can answer the question of why your customer needs what you make, but you also have to be able to say why your customer needs what you make more than they need what your competitors make. Can that difference be conveyed simply and quickly?
Once you know about your customers, competitors, and yourself, you can begin to choose between the marketing tactics that lend themselves best to your strategy.
Test, Measure, Optimize, Repeat
The key to finding the perfect marketing tactics is to experiment. Spend a little money and a little time on the different marketing tactics that match your strategy, and measure the response.
Metrics are a cornerstone of marketing strategy. It’s the only sure fire way to see what works and what doesn’t. For all the marketing strategy you can develop upfront, nothing beats the reality of success and failure in the market.
For some tactics, this is hard. You don’t want to spend $100,000 to buy a 30-second TV spot to launch your small business’s product before you know it works. That’s why I’m such a fan of digital marketing. Testing your marketing strategy on the web is easy.
If you already have a website live, you have your own market research platform. By altering your pages and studying changes in your web metrics, you can figure out whether the picture of your model looking left or right sells better, whether the glory shot of the watch sells more if it has a border or not, and whether more of your customers will subscribe to your newsletter if you put the subscription box in the top right.
Your website is the center of your digital marketing universe, even if the website is your product. Every page needs to market the action you want your visitor to take, whether it’s to buy a product or to read the next article.
Search advertising is another example of an easily testable tactic. You’re never going to write the perfect ad on the first try, so write a dozen different ads and rotate them to see which converts the best. Keep the best and drop the worst, then do the whole thing again.
This is the great lesson the world of direct marketing brought to the discipline at large. Like the famous line from Glengarry Glen Ross, “Always Be Optimizing”. Try what you think would work intuitively, and try doing some things that make no sense at all. It’s the only real way to learn – the market doesn’t lie.
Beware The Bandwagon
The moral is that you’ll waste your time if you try to market your business in every possible way. For every success story with a new media tactic, there are a thousand failures, because people don’t look at their marketing plan strategically and pick their battles. When you hear about the latest marketing tactic, or someone else’s wildly successful marketing, don’t assume you’ll achieve identical results.
But, and this is a big but, don’t dismiss anything offhand that has a low cost of entry, because if it matches your strategy, it might just work.
You’re better off going “deep” in a few tactics than you are “wide” with many tactics. And to go deep, you need to think strategically, and test extensively. There is a low barrier to entry in almost all digital marketing channels, so dipping your foot in and testing the waters is inexpensive and easy.
But if you’re not measuring, you still won’t know what worked. What are you waiting for?