What is an online marketing strategy for my small business? And why do I need one?

The key to this question really lies in developing a firm understanding of the fundamentals of marketing.  Understanding the cogs that make the business turn, that generate revenue, attract and retain customers really is what marketing is all about.

There are so many platforms available where companies can market themselves and the internet simply adds more options into the mix, but the underlying principles remain the same. If you understand what makes your business tick and what your “offer” is, yo u already have a better  understanding of marketing.Small Business Marketing StrategyWhere many business owners fall down is that they understand their business well enough (their “features”), but fail to get across the benefits of working with them. Similarly, environments change as do the players within them and SMEs need to stay in touch with changes and adapt with them.

In addition, whilst most business owners recognise the internet is a force to be reckoned with, they fail to embrace the true opportunities that could help to secure the future of their business. In my experience, this new era means a constantly changing environment with factors that need first to be understood and then utilised within your marketing mix.

As an example, before the internet, small service businesses would rely heavily on directory listings in printed media such as the Yellow Pages or Thomson Local to be found locally by their potential customers. You need an electrician so you grab the massive yellow book and turn to E for electrician. These days, Google search has virtually replaced these doorstop directories as we all turn to our phones or laptops to “Google it” instead.

This is where adapting to the changing environment really comes in, by optimising your company’s Google My Business listing it can appear when customers in your area search for the services you offer, simple.

As every business is unique there is no ‘one size fits all’; you must understand and utilise the right mix of ingredients for your business, whether it is all or a combination of the marketing tools available on and offline.

Discuss the job in hand and then play which tools to use to get the job done, that’s a marketing strategy, simple!

The methods are changing rapidly, and your time is precious. So if it makes sense to you why not leverage the knowledge and expertise of a trusted consultant? Find someone with their ear to the ground who can advise you of the current landscape.

DIY. No. Speak to professionals.

Entry level marketing has become an incredibly accessible activity for businesses these days with a high number of platforms being either set at a very low entry price or actually free to use. I am of course referring to web builders like Wix or Square Space and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. tools-4278993_1920

This to me, this not only creates confusion as to what to use to do what, it also fills each market with even more, unwanted “noise” with everyone shouting about themselves online. It also, massively devalues the role of the professional marketer. After all, you wouldn’t do your own dentistry or house conveyancing would you? No. You’d pay a professional.

Markets like retail or professional services are flooded with hundreds of businesses all trying to get noticed and so much of their marketing activity is directed online. But, if everyone is posting onto Facebook or Twitter desperately directing traffic to a homemade website, is this the best first impression you would want your prospects (if you can attract any) to have?

I ask this not only as someone who has spent nearly 30 years in the communication industry but also as a consumer. So many times in my professional life I come across the potential customer who asks questions like “well, I can do it myself with Wix so why should I pay you for a website” and in my personal life I am bombarded by poorly designed marketing campaigns trying to get me to engage with them and, even if I do out of curiosity I find a poorly designed website which is all features and no benefits.
I saw a program on TV recently where budding Interior Designers were given a brief and they were judged on the end results. One designer was critised for doing pretty much what the client wanted and didn’t add any of his ideas or opinions deciding to stay safe and let the client dictate the end result. A judge asked if he would go into the shop in question and tell the owner how to ply his trade and he answered no. Why is it then, that when it comes to such a vital activity as marketing, is there a tendency for businesses to do it themselves or, if they come to a professional, allow clients to heavily influence key elements like design?

Anyway, I digress. The key element to me is to make sure that when delivering your professional services, remember that the client came to you for your advice and help. The client may be paying the bills, but why buy a dog and bark yourself? Make sure that you can clearly demonstrate the added value you bring to the table. Here are some tips as to how using marketing as an example….

Start with business value – Outline your impact; include all the ways (marketing) benefits their organisation.

Know your own metrics – Most marketing activities have a set of KPIs they use to demonstrate impact on financial outcomes, and it’s critical to be thoroughly knowledgeable about them.

Explain the inherent uncertainties of marketing measurements – I’d love to be able to give an exact figure and what exact return this will bring, but marketing is not like that!

Have a budget strategy – Yes ROI is vital, but so are other elements like brand awareness, website traffic, email open rates and these can be hard to quantify when it comes to ROI.

Over the past decade or two, technology has significantly enhanced our ability to track and measure some aspects of marketing performance. Today, most forms of digital marketing are highly “trackable.” We can know who has opened our emails and who has viewed our content. These elements along with what platforms to use what type of design, what style of campaign, message etc are what a professional marketer will know and will understand. That is what you are paying for!

Sales. Marketing. Which is which.

On a weekly basis we receive up to 15 speculative applications from people looking for employment and/or work experience within the marketing sector. A high percentage of these applications are because the person wants to “get into marketing;” “has really good interpersonal skills” and “is creative,”………and I do not fully understand what these actually mean when it comes to marketing………and does the person fully understand what marketing is?

The marketing sector is one of the more varied careers out there and covers a wide range of skills, but there are times when I feel that the term marketing has become almost a buzzword not just among businesses and brands, but among people wanting to get into the industry….without actually knowing what it entails.

Depending on whom you ask, marketing can mean very different things and one of those things is sales.  A key job of Marketing is to understand the marketplace from the perspective of the customer looking back towards the company – what we like to call the features and the benefits of the company or product. Sales are what you make when you’re actually face-to-face with a customer, convincing a person to buy your product. Marketing is the planning part of sales.

Another misconception regarding marketing is that advertising and marketing are synonymous. Similarly, many people have the misconception that publicity and public relations (PR) are also the same thing. They are all, however, remarkably different.

Marketing is kind of an umbrella term that is about promoting your brand or service using a number platforms and strategies. It incorporates strategy and planning and it might consist of a number of elements to make people aware of you or your product.

Advertising, however, falls under that umbrella with its own subsets of disciplines that work to bring attention to your brand or product.

Advertising is really a collection of the actionable steps you take to get the word out usually across a paid for and above the line platforms. Marketing is the strategy behind taking those actions.

You should never do adhoc, one-off or knee-jerk advertising. Running ads left, right and centre just to see which one generates enquiries is a quick way to blow your budget. Running bespoke designed ads for the sake of running ads is a great way to get exposure…….and good to dangle in front of the competition…… but that exposure is unlikely to benefit your business. On that note, why do media sales people STILL continually bang out cold calls offering last minute or late space deals? No recipient of one of these calls should ever sign up to a one-off advert based on price.

What we advise is that you need to sit down and put together a marketing plan or strategy about what your offer is to what market, why you are different and how you’ll get to them. If advertising falls into the discussions, what is the message you want to convey, to who and where are you advertising?

Yes sales, advertising, PR and direct marketing are all elements of “marketing.” But they are elements of it and should work together to give you a proper, planned and fully-costed marketing plan.

 

Create the best customer experience

The need to create a good customer experience has grown exponentially over recent years as every market is flooded with options for the buyer in terms of whom they work with and/or buy from so the need to stand out is more important than ever. Why I ask myself, is something as fundamental as good customer service now labelled; why has it become a “thing”?? 10537-mark-804938_1920

Well, it’s because so many companies don’t seem to make this thing called customer service a priority. I may have been in business for more years than I care to remember, but customer service should be something that happens naturally. Surely?

To me people and communication should be at the centre of all businesses even in this ever increasing digital world. Everyone is a customer: customers as buyers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders. Whether it’s in their capacity as consumers, citizens or workers, people and the ways you engage, serve and empower them are key to future business growth.  Organisations can have the best product in the world, but if the people who represent the company or the way the company sells (before and after) the product is poor, then the product won’t sell.

There is nothing faster in marketing than a good reputation travelling fast…..apart from a bad one. If a customer has a good experience, they usually tell 2 people. If they have a bad experience, the average number of people they will tell is 7. Do the maths.

All parts of your organisation and marketing need to be connected and aligned with creating the best customer experience as this is how to create a reputation and ultimately, drive revenue.

Customer service shows that organisations are putting their customers more at the centre i.e in the sense of optimising processes and business functions around the customer.  However, to me everyone is a customer: from employees and investors to partners, customers, buyers and their contacts.

Customer experience is crucial for the present and future of your business. It always has been but in an era of a more autonomous and ’empowered’ customer who has higher expectations it is even more so.  In a society that has become increasingly reliant on digital communication, the determining factor in the buying decision could easily be the customer service.

One thing my father said to me once that has stuck with me throughout my life is “treat people the way you want to be treated” and never has a truer sentence been spoken.

Business Owner. Parent. Uber?! You’re not alone.

I know a lot of business owners both professionally and personally and without exception, one common denominator we all talk (moan?!) about is the constant juggling of our professional and personal lives.

During the day we wear our business hats and the moment we lock up and leave, our hats change to the parent hat which often extends to an Uber hat taking our cherubs to activities, doing school runs etc.

But, I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

Work Life Balance, marketing help and advise in Bath

How many of our parents or grandparents can say that they were a major feature in their children’s childhood? How many of us are no longer slaves to the corporate treadmill with limited days of holiday to take per year, a manager we dislike, having to wear suits and be at our desks from 9 to 5?

I’m not saying corporate life was bad. In fact, I acquired my trade on the treadmill. I learned to climb the ladder and to be a part of a team and got training and experience. I also received regular pay, benefits, and a level of security plus had a good social life!

So, what’s the problem? Why do we all moan about lives as a business owner??! Why, when we have a way of influencing the work: life balance do we moan!? Was the grass greener or do we have rose tinted glasses regarding the life we used to have??!

Well, in my opinion, what you win within a corporate environment, you lose as a business owner. However this is the complete opposite when looking at things from the corporate perspective.

At 46 years of age and 25 years of working life under my belt, I am still learning and as Bath Marketing Consultancy evolves and my children get older, the juggling doesn’t get any easier. You get used to it! The key thing is to embrace the freedom you have as a business owner and to rise to the challenges of building or running a business. I read a comment from a leading motivational speaker recently that “if you need a plan b, you don’t believe in plan a.” Very true. Making the jump is not a toe in the water decision. Either jump or don’t.

If you do decide to go it alone, have a plan. Do your research. Invest in proper and professional design and marketing. Admit that you are not an expert in this area just because you have your own Facebook and Instagram accounts. Marketing in the early stages is so vital as it lays the foundations for you from which to build.

Invest in yourself and make new relationships. In the early stages of running a business, it can be extremely lonely and worrying. However, time is not a commodity to waste. Use your time productively. Make an effort to meet new people either at Networking or even at a gym.  In this digital age where email and messenger seem to dominate actual physical interaction and phone calls, remember people buy from people.  Have good quality literature to hand out and a brilliant website that people can actually find in Google.

When studying for my marketing degree, one of my lecturers said that you measure a brand’s success in decades; not years and this is where marketing can and does play a major role. Hang in there. Enjoy the freedom that working for yourself allows. Spend time with your nearest and dearest whenever you can, but write a blog post for your website and Linkedin profile.  Build a strong digital footprint. Use social media. Go to events. Engage with local media and above all, embrace the label of being an “entrepreneur.”

Digital Marketing or Traditional Marketing.

These days, the business owner needs to consider a lot when creating their perfect marketing mix. For example, do they focus resources on traditional or digital marketing…or both? Each company is different so some would benefit more from one type of marketing than another. But, why are these two types of marketing considered separately? What’s the difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing, and how does it change your marketing mix?

Digital
Digital marketing is any type of marketing using digital means. It includes channels like social media, websites, search engine marketing, online advertising and more.

Traditional
Traditional marketing usually includes all forms of tangible and physical marketing (business cards, posters, brochures, advertisements, posters, word of mouth, radio commercials, and more. Television ads are also predominantly considered part of traditional marketing.

Can I Compare Digital and Traditional Marketing?
You can’t directly compare one to the other or say that one is better than the other. Instead, you have to look at some of the individual aspects of each and how it could benefit your marketing.
For example, marketing generally needs to produce measurable results. While both types of marketing can provide data, digital marketing can provide those metrics in real time. This means you won’t have to wait for a whole month to find out a new ad isn’t working well, and you can make more instantaneous changes. A good example of this is Google AdWords.

Similarly no type of marketing is more effective than the other all of the time. But, you need to choose the right type of marketing for your demographics, business type, industry, etc. For example, businesses whose main customer base is aged above 30 years should probably not focus on social media marketing on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. These are not ideal for reaching their target audience, so they just wouldn’t be as effective as traditional marketing.

You should never assume one type of marketing will work for every business. There are some marketing elements that are useful for most businesses, such as websites, but they can’t be universally proclaimed as the best way to do marketing! After all, just having a website isn’t enough. It needs to set out your stall correctly, have a good customer experience and, above all, be findable in Google.

In general, digital marketing campaigns are less expensive than traditional marketing. This doesn’t necessarily yield a higher ROI, though the low cost is usually attractive to businesses. For example email marketing to a subscriber database or advertising on Facebook or the Google networks. Just like anything else, digital marketing must be done right in order to give an ROI.

In terms of who your marketing efforts can reach, digital marketing has a clear advantage. Not only can you reach a wide range of people, but you can also choose to reach out to a very narrow group of carefully selected people. For example, you can put your ads only in front of select groups of people with specific browsing or purchasing habits. This is especially true with targeted ads on Facebook selling a product or service direct to a customer.

Traditional marketing still holds a slight advantage when it comes to local marketing. It is simpler to get the word out about your business locally using some fairly inexpensive forms of traditional marketing. Digital marketing can be targeted to a local area, but it must be done precisely to be effective, whereas traditional marketing like advertising in local magazines can easily be locally focused. 

Traditional marketing campaigns that use tangible materials have the distinct advantage of longevity over digital marketing campaigns. People will sometimes hold onto business cards, flyers, and other physical items for days, months, or even years. It is difficult for people to keep hold of any digital marketing products, even though things like emails can be saved indefinitely in an inbox.

Hard copies can be particularly effective at keeping a business in the view of the customer. It can also lead to greater brand recall benefits long after the campaign is over. Digital marketing ends the moment the campaign is over, and it is immensely difficult to keep in the view of the customer afterward.

Traditional marketing struggles to create engagement and interaction with customers. It is generally a way to broadcast information, but it often fails to bring in new information about your customers. This is strength of digital marketing, as it’s much easier to create a direct interaction with people at any time.

Both digital and traditional marketing have their strengths and weaknesses, but elements of both should be considered for the strongest marketing mix. You shouldn’t simply ignore one altogether and embrace the other, as this may not lead to the best marketing strategy for your business. Focus on what will work best for your business specifically without trying too hard to be everything to everyone.

Burn baby burn…..

I saw this quote many years ago from the marketing director at leading advertising agency, Young & Rubicam and I have never really forgotten it.

“Marketing is rather like building a darn good fire. You need to start off slowly, gently nurturing it and not expect results immediately. With constant care and attention, the fire will grow and grow and the investment of logs rather than kindling will produce even greater results. The fire can now burn freely and produce the rewards. But beware, if it is left unattended for any length of time, you can be left trying to resurrect the ashes.”

For many organisations, marketing is viewed as some sort of magic switch – “business is slow so we need to do some quick marketing” – which can be flicked on and off during tricky times. This is NOT the case! Marketing is a never ending process, not an event or a knee jerk reaction to something that is happening in your market.

We always advise people to take baby steps with their marketing; test new initiatives, implement new ideas and set aside time each day for marketing rather than do “marketing” one morning a month. Little and often is the key and make sure your message stays “on brand” and consistent. After all, it is highly unlikely that your prospects are only looking for what you offer at the exact time you offer it. You need to remain on radars so that your name is at the top of the list for when the prospects are looking.

To help you, most social media platforms can be automated, emarketing can be done very easily, you are very likely to be spoilt for choice with networking opportunities and print is now much cheaper than it used to be.

My advice to every business out there is to continually market their companies even when business is booming as this lays the foundations. Don’t fall into the trap of delaying your marketing until you’ve finished the latest project as, you will very likely raise your head at the end and wonder where the next project is coming from. Then is is too late to kick start the marketing process. The fire needs attention or it goes out!

Marketing (and sales) should be run continuously regardless of your current successes, failures or situation. Put a plan together and use as many platforms to get your message out there!