"Maybe the start line was supposed to be your finish line. Don't be afraid to walk backwards." Author:Tablo
Normally whenever we think of taking on a project, we lay out the plan and define the tasks necessary to accomplish the goal. Consider something as basic as building a house. The builder and the buyer agree on the basics - number and size of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen layout - the eventual "footprint" of the house. It then becomes the responsibility of the architect to develop blueprints which will be submitted to the town or local authority for approval. Once approved, the builder will assign a project manager to move through the steps to completion.
Here's where small business marketing works best, when the parties work in reverse order. The client (the internal marketing manager or the external business decision maker) needs to embrace the idea of where they want to end up. And unlike the house building example, there are many different choices to define success.
For example, success could simply be defined as a growth in revenue from an existing run-rate to a run-rate with a higher number. For example, lets say the business has been growing 10% a year for the last 5 years, and the goal and purpose of marketing is to improve that growth rate to 20% a year over a reasonable period of time.
Success can be the launch of a new product, a new service, a new solution with a return on investment higher than other launches of the past.
Now to achieve those goals, marketing begins to work, for lack of a better word - backwards. The marketing professional starts at the finish line, incorporating one or more goals that need to be achieved. Marketing looks holistically at the various components that can be engaged in order to handle those project steps similar to the building project manager. However, since marketing activities (also known as the marketing mix) can have varying costs, and different choices require more or less time to check it off as complete.
Here's an example of a small business marketing process and plan.
Let's begin with a goal: Grow the revenue by 20 percent over the next 18-24 months.
Why not a firm date? It's foolish in an ever shifting set of marketing tools and popular formats to set a hard date. Imagine building a plan before Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn took off. Odds are good that the completion date would be considerably impacted by these "new" mediums of communicating with buyers and influencers.
In this author's opinion, the center of the marketing universe is a good website. A great website is better, but should be a living tool that adapts to changes in the way people choose to search for information. So a good website will suffice as long as it provides slightly more than basics about the company, the product, the brand, the solution, and a place for visitors to go for information.
Landing Pages must be Clean and Simple (and Device Agnostic)
Inside the website is our landing page(s). A landing page is where, when someone does a search, and finds your ad (more about that later), clicking the ad link brings them to a specific page directly. Thus, they should not have to plow through the history of the principals, the location of offices, awards, past downloadable PDFs, webinar replays, etc., etc., etc. by bringing them to the home page.
Instead, they should go directly to the page on the website that speaks to the topic via keyword(s) that they searched for, and the "bait" used in an ad to get them to click the ad. Most people are smart enough to roam around the website on their own, to learn more about the company if they are interested. But the goal of that landing page is to respond to the SPECIFIC need, and the SPECIFIC solution, which brought them there to begin with.
OK. Let's assume we've got that solid landing page (quite likely several for each of the solutions, products or campaign being run). How did people get there? In a world of literally MILLIONS of pages, how did they find yours?
The magic word is CONTENT.
Content should not be confused with advertising. In fact, advertising posing as content is quickly discovered as such, and harms the brand deeply. Content is education. It is sharing opinions, experiences, thoughts, ideas, successes, and without an obvious goal of getting something in return beyond an acknowledgement that the author is a subject matter expert, and is willing to provide information without a hidden agenda. The altruistic motivation is what buyers crave far more than clever jingles, surveys, puzzles, or quizzes.
Think about your Competitors
Now we move back some more. Who are your competitors and what do they know, do, offer, profess or otherwise claim that whether real or not, is intent in casting their goods in a more favorable light then your own. Often these claims (real or otherwise) are unchallenged, simply because they are crafted by expensive marketing research companies, whose lipstick is more attractive that the pig that's wearing it.
Look back at who your competitors were not so long ago. Have they truly created something far better than yours, or have they simply done a better job of convincing buyers that you are yesterday's news. Having been in the IT sales and marketing business for more than 25 years, there are some companies that come to mind that seemed to never be knocked from their throne - WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Wang, Digital Equipment, and many other - gone or just consumed by other companies. So while others were innovating these companies rested on their laurels eventually being a footnote in the early days of PCs. And one need not go back 20 years to think about MySpace, the Zune, even Napster.
Take the time to evaluate your competitors and create a simple but honest SWOT analysis (S=Strengths, W=Weaknesses, O=Opportunities, T-Threats) so you the marketing efforts can identify the weak spots and attack them.
Putting it all together
The singular most important foundation a business has for marketing is its database. The database (whether in a sophisticated CRM tool, or an excel spreadsheet). In addition to current and/or former clients, it needs to be constantly fed, updated, parsed, and managed or every other dollar or hour spent will be sub-optimized. The database provides not only the contacts, but a history of business/client experiences - both good and bad. And it is the starting point to uncover any real or perceived "warts" potential clients might find, and an opportunity to address them before going live with campaigns.
Now we have all the parts, we need to converge all the actions to drive buyers and influencers to the landing page(s), where we can generate the dialogue and begin to turn clicks into customers. Addressing all of the nuances of email marketing, snail mail marketing, content marketing through blogs, and distribution through social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and (especially) Google+. Tie in a moderate budget to generate visits by using Google AdWords and follow up with participation in industry events where subject matter experts are sought out for their knowledge and ideas.
Summary: There are specific steps for small businesses that don't require an excessive budget or an onboard staff. Instead, a marketing professional whose personality matches your business, with expertise in driving measurement results, can add value, improve business results, and help act as a virtual partner in achieving both short and long term goals.
By Ed Colandra
Ed Colandra is the founder and president of Mindful Marketing Solutions, LLC. Based in the New York tri-state area, Mindful Marketing exists to help small businesses who don't know where to start, to extend their business by leveraging digital marketing. Ed brings over 30 years of sales and marketing executive roles at IBM Corp., and more recently, assisting vendors in the legal industry.
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