No business can succeed if it's not marketed properly. In light of this simple truth, it's remarkable that so many businesses treat their marketing as an afterthought.
It's time to put your company's marketing efforts top of mind, starting with an awareness of the three most common mistakes — and how to avoid them.
1. Silver-Bullet Syndrome
We've all been guilty of this. Basically, it's deluding yourself into believing that one simple change in your marketing approach will fix everything. For instance: "If I just do social media, that will be a game-changer."
The problem with this approach is that it relies on tactics rather than strategy. In the military, we used to say, "You always stay focused on the mission but flexible on the details."
In the scenario above, "doing social media" is a detail. It's not the mission.
So what is the mission? A surprising number of small-business owners have a hard time answering that question. "Get more customers" might seem like a better description of the mission, but that statement is too generic, and it's not sufficiently qualified or quantified. Which customers are you after, specifically? Where do you expect to reach them, and how? How many new customers do you need to succeed? Conversely, how many new customers can you handle before your existing infrastructure and systems become overloaded?
You need to answer those questions, and many others, in order to map out a successful marketing strategy. You then need to apply that strategy using proven systems and processes to achieve measurable, predictable results.
Implementing a proven marketing strategy isn't easy, which is why more and more small businesses enlist the help of professionals. Think of your business as the proverbial stool with three legs supporting it: legal, accounting/bookkeeping and marketing. I'm a marketing professional, so I outsource bookkeeping, which isn't my area of expertise. At the same time, if you're a bookkeeper, you ought to outsource your marketing. And we should both outsource our legal functions.
If your small business doesn't involve any of the three legs of the stool, you should outsource all of those functions and devote your full attention to your core business, whatever it may be.
2. Thinking Your Target Market Is Everyone
When asked to identify their target market, many small-business owners will say, "Everyone who needs [fill in the blank]." They think that by casting the widest possible net for their product or service, they're giving themselves the greatest chance to succeed. But as with most things in life, if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
I worked with a photographer who started out thinking that her target market could be literally anybody because, after all, everyone needs a picture taken at some point for some reason. As part of a team of strategic partners and coaches, we helped her narrow her marketing effort by a) identifying her specialty, and b) finding a specific group that would be most likely to pay for that specialty.
Her specialty was high-quality headshots. And it turned out that the people most likely to pay for those headshots were women over 50 who wanted to look glamorous. The photographer has since built a thriving business by directing her marketing efforts toward that specific demographic.
I tell my clients to think of this popular saying: The riches are in the niches! I coach them to create a "customer avatar" by answering such questions as: What are your customers' goals? What are their values? What is their decision-making process? The more you get to know your customers, the better you can serve them, and the more likely they are to do business with you. Provided, of course, that you avoid the third major marketing mistake …
3. Crafting a Message That Doesn't Address Your Audience's Pain Point
Many of the world's most successful businesses became successful simply by solving a problem for their customers. Overnight delivery, for example. Federal Express (now FedEx) started out with the slogan, "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight." That slogan immediately identified the pain point they could solve.
Too many businesses "bury the lead" in their marketing materials. They emphasize features that aren't necessarily bad but fail to address the customer's biggest concerns. I'm talking about phrases like "family-owned" or "in business for over 30 years." While those are nice attributes, neither is going to drive the customer's decision because they don't solve an immediate problem.
Let's say you have a pipe that bursts early on a Sunday morning. There are two plumbing services nearby. One is family-owned and has been in business for over 30 years — but they aren't open on weekends. The other is owned by a group of investors and has been in business for just six months — but they offer 24-hour emergency service. As they say in "Ghostbusters," Who you gonna call?
Now, what if your business doesn't solve an obvious pain point? What if you have an ice cream parlor, for example? By all means, you can play up the fact that you offer the opposite of pain: pleasure! A lot of people look for homemade ice cream, for example, or a wide variety of flavors, so it's fine to emphasize those features as long as you also state the benefits. For example, a wide variety of flavors is the feature. The benefit is that it's a great solution for a family outing because there's a flavor for everyone.
But don't overlook the hidden pain points that exist even within a pleasure-oriented business. A group outing to the ice cream parlor can leave people with dairy or sugar restrictions feeling left out. Including the feature of sugar-free and dairy-free options addresses this pain point. The benefit is that even people who can't eat regular ice cream can enjoy a treat with their family and friends.
Another pain point for an ice cream parlor could be a lack of parking. You can address this one by choosing a location within walking distance of residential and/or business locations, or by researching parking availability before you open. The benefit is that families and friends can plan a social outing that is affordable and easy to access.
Stay in Tune with Your Target Market
I tell my clients to remember the saying that their customers are constantly tuned to radio station WIFM: What's in It For Me? If you direct your energies toward helping your customers get what they want instead of focusing on what you want, you'll go a long way toward avoiding these common marketing mistakes.