Small Business Marketing: Start Putting Strategy Before Tactics

I was encouraged this week when a new prospect contacted me to set up a meeting. He told me that after 20 years in business they are finally ready to get serious about marketing but have know idea where to start.

I like that. It’s refreshing when when someone is ready to start the conversation from a blank slate.

That’s far different from what I usually hear. Usually, clients will call to say they need a new website. Or they want to rank higher on Google. Or they want to start a Facebook page or a blog. Some even want help repeating the newspaper ad they did the year before. Usually, the requests are very specific. And very tactical.

What’s Wrong with Tactics?

It’s not that any of these ideas are bad ones. In fact, these tactical ideas are often very good ones. And they may work, in a limited way. For instance, for most businesses, an effective website is foundational. Every local small business should want to rank higher in Google search results. Facebook can be a great way to reach and engage with an audience. Even traditional print advertising can still help to raise awareness of a business and generate leads.

The question is: do you want a single, quick win, or do you want to create a marketing system that helps you achieve your broader, longer term business goals in consistent and measurable ways? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to start putting strategy before tactics. But what does that look like? Or, as my new prospect said, “Where do we even begin?”

Start by Asking Questions – Focus on the Problem You Solve

No one really wants what you’re selling — especially if it’s obvious you’re selling it. What they really want is a solution to their problem. The best way to begin to understand this is to start asking questions. In fact, it’s where I start every engagement.

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What problem do your prospective customers have?
  • How are you uniquely positioned to solve that problem for them?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • Why do you like to work for them?
  • What do they like most about your business?
  • What is the basic process your clients will undertake with you?
  • What do you most want them to do (this is called a “call to action”)?
  • What does success look like for them (if they use your product or services)?
  • What does failure look like (if they don’t)? 

Asking these questions up front means that together we can start getting specific about your business and your prospects. This allows you to begin to truly understand your market, your position and the core messaging that will get the attention of exactly the kinds of people you’re trying to reach.

But we don’t stop there.

Guiding the Customer Journey — The Marketing Hourglass

We work with our clients (and interview their best customers) to help us create a marketing plan: a framework or blueprint that you can follow as you implement a bigger picture strategy that makes sense. It’s all about mapping out a journey for your customers’ behaviour, as you encourage them to know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.

We call this approach the Marketing Hourglass — a concept introduced by John Jantsch in his book Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide). The Hour Glass approach doesn’t stop at the purchase, but extends the customer journey so that your ideal customers become repeat and referring customers — and aren’t those the best kind?

When you have a clear concept of your ideal customer and your core message that tells them how you solve their problem, then you can begin to create an integrated set of tactics that deliver your message in appropriate channels along the customers’ journey.

For instance, the logo and messaging on your vehicles helps people to know you. The posts you create on your company’s Facebook page help people to like you. A seminar you deliver at a local business event help people to trust you. An introductory offer allows people to try your product or service without making a huge commitment. A clear pricing strategy and purchasing process allows people to buy from you. A follow-up promotion to previous clients to tell them about another service you offer, allows them to become repeat customers, and a review campaign asking people to tell you how you did can help encourage people to refer your business.

There are countless creative options for each stage of the customer journey that can help your clients become loyal, referring customers. Your options will depend on your creativity (or the creativity of your marketing consultant) and on your budget.

Marketing is All About Content…and Timing

If you’ve followed any marketing blogs over the past few years, you’ll be familiar with the term “content marketing” and the phrase “content is king”. Good content has always been important. What has changed are the available channels for presenting that content. Regardless of the best channels for you to reach your clients, your core messaging needs to be focused and consistent.

Once you’ve created a solid approach, the calendar can help guide you. Are there seasonal aspects to your business? Are there specific days, weeks, months or seasons when your clients will want or needs specific products or services you offer?  Are there conferences or trade shows that will help you reach a lot of prospects in one place. Those kinds of things can help you create a marketing calendar and guide and prioritize your various tactics (including blog posts, facebook posts, tweets, etc.) over the course of the year.

What Should We Spend?

Budget is another significant consideration. If you run an established small business with 10 to 50 employees, you’re responsible for a lot of people and a lot of pay checks. There are plenty of marketing agencies that will happily take your money to implement a wide range of individual tactics. Some of them, like managing your social media accounts, may be relatively inexpensive. Others, like direct mail campaigns and Google Adwords campaigns can cost thousands of dollars every month.

So what’s the right amount to spend on marketing? Well, that depends. It depends on your goals, on what you’re comfortable spending, and on whether what you’re doing gets you the desired results. When we help you set your marketing budget, we work within your comfort zone and scale up only as you see proven results.

So What’s Next?

If you’re struggling to make sense of marketing for your small business, you’re not alone. Most small business owners are great at what they do, but just as they often need help with things like accounting, HR, or legal issues, it makes a lot of sense to get some help from a marketing consultant or agency that understands big picture strategy. If you operate in the Waterdown or Burlington areas, give me a shout. I’d love to explore how applying a systematic approach to marketing could take your business to a whole new level.