The 3 basics of marketing
What 3 things should you be doing to engage your customers and keep them coming back? Good marketing isn't rocket science but bad marketing is definitely a car crash and an expensive one at that. Keep reading for an insight into the 3 most fundamental marketing techniques you should be using right now.
What's your view of marketing? Is it something that scares you? Do you view it as a 'nice to do' but not essential to your business' prosperity? Perhaps you see it as a fluffy, 'airy fairy' term that people do when they don't want to do any real work? I get that. In fact, I think us marketers are largely responsible for perpetuating many of the stereotypes that exist around marketing. We either baffle folk with our jargon or pitch ourselves as so hip and cool that no-one can identify with us and that's a shame. Good marketing is fundamental to helping your business grow. I'd even go so far as to say that marketing is as important a pillar to your business as cash flow and profitability.
To me, the essence of marketing is taking your great idea/product/service and connecting it with those who will most benefit from it, repeatedly. You've heard the expression 'selling ice to the Eskimos'? Well, marketing, to me, is the opposite of that. It's not about selling people something they already have or don't need. It's about identifying the types of people who will really benefit from a particular product or service and then engaging with them about it. Perhaps this should be the point where I cite definitions from marketing theorists such as Kotler and Armstrong but that would really just be me showing off. Suffice to say marketing is essentially the process by which you build a mutually beneficial relationship with your customer, ideally, over the long term.
So, what about these 3 basics? Well, they are not the be all and end all - I do still want to work after all - but they are, in my view, absolutely essential to developing and implementing a successful marketing strategy. If you haven't got these 3 elements straight at the outset all else is built on very wobbly foundations.
BASIC #1: Know your customer
Who will benefit from your product or service? AND what kind of person/business/organisation are they? I cannot tell you how important it is to really understand your target audience. Not least because if you understand them you can target them more efficiently and effectively and we're all into not spending money needlessly right? Susan Chritton ('Personal Branding for Dummies') advises to think about it like a 'Game of darts: You have to aim in order to hit the board...If you hit the board, you score'. So spend some time analysing your target audience. Some of the most common ways that are used to define a target audience are:
Geography: Is your product/service localised? A surf shop wouldn't do so well in landlocked Oxfordshire.
Age: We may try to deny it but as we get older our tastes and interests change. For example, alcopop drinks are targeted at the 18-25 age groups who are more likely to be out in bars and clubs on a Saturday night. Whereas us, more mature, folks achieve the same effect at home or in a nice restaurant with a good bottle of Bordeaux.
Sex: Defining your target audience by their gender can be risky. If you believe that your target market is female and gear your promotions towards a solely female audience you will most likely alienate the male audience. Very few products or services are solely appealing to one sex or the other. That said, it is perfectly reasonable to use different types of promotion/advertising that will target sub-groups of your target audience. E.g. sun tan lotion might be pitched towards a female audience with images of lying on an exotic beach and to a male audience with images of enjoying a day out in the sun watching a
sporting event. (Don't shoot me! I know there are men who like to lie on exotic beaches and women who like to watch sports -I'm generalising to make a point!).
Combination: The reality is that most comprehensive target audience profiles usually encompass a combination of these demographic elements. For example, a pop music magazine will probably be targeting a 13-19 year old age group but not confined to one geographic location. Or a retirement home might be targeting the over 55's who currently live within a 30 mile radius of it.
So, if you're selling ice, don't target the person who lives on the freezing tundra, target the guy in the tropics who likes a regular pina colada.
BASIC #2: Find your hook
Ok, so you know who to target your product or service at and you [should] even have a good understanding of what makes them tick. Now, how are you going to make your product/service stand out amongst all the other thousands of marketing messages your target audience see every day? If we could dip our toe just slightly into the marketing jargon pool for a moment it's called your 'USP' or 'Unique Selling Point' (sometimes 'Unique Selling Proposition' but it's the same thing just more syllables). You might also hear us marketers talk about 'positioning a product in the marketplace'. Again, same thing. It all boils down to finding your hook - what will make you stand out in the crowd to your target audience? Developing your hook is time and money well spent. As I said right at the top of this article (I know feels like ages ago), bad marketing is an expensive car crash. Get your hook wrong, you'll get lost in the crowd and your product/service will crash & burn...
But that won't happen to you because you are reading this and I'm about to tell you how to develop your hook (I'm nice like that - others would charge you a lot of money!). In my opinion, there are 4 golden rules to consider when developing your hook.
1. Make it personal
Say you are a bakery, there might be other bakeries in the same street or town as you. You all sell, essentially, the same product. So why should people buy their bread from you? Well, essentially because of you. You are the architect of your business' brand - what it stands for and what it represents to your customers. Particularly true of small businesses is the personality you inject into your business and the values you live by. This does not have to be complicated. Good service, value for money, quality, friendliness, welcoming... all these things are personal attributes that can be associated with your business and create a hook that your target market can latch onto. Spend some time thinking about yourself, why you do what you do and what your business goals are. If you can manage to get across something about your self that potential customers can identify with, you'll be in a much stronger position to become their provider of choice. It's worth remembering that people still by from people, so make sure you can connect as much as possible on this level.
2. Make it matter
Look at who your target audience is and what matters to them and make it matter to you too. That way they will be able to empathise with your brand. This could range from ethical sourcing and fair trade to supporting a local charity or school. Regardless of what we all might say we all follow the herd and if your target audience sees their values reflected in your business they are more likely to buy from you.
3. Make it relevant
Have you heard the one from Billy Connelly about how if you want to insult someone, walk a mile in their shoes first because then you'll be a mile away from them and have their shoes??!!!! Well, like all the best jokes it's sort of true. Try and see the marketplace from your customer's perspective. Most industries and sectors will carry with them preconceptions from their target audience. For example, second hand car dealers, estate agents, builders...to name just a few of the most obvious sterotypes. If you think about this from your customer's point of view you can begin to appreciate what you could do to make you stand out. Of course, they won't all be negative preconceptions but by
acknowledging that there will be some you can address them and make yourself stand apart.
4. Make it specific
Think about what your audience wants ('what they really really want'!) and not what they need. For example, someone who takes their car to a mechanic to get an MOT and service doesn't really want an MOT and service, they need that in order to have what they want. I.e. a reliable, road worthy car that allows them to go about their daily lives. Your product or service might fulfill a need but it's desire that sells and that's what you need to tap into. It all comes back (yet again) to really understanding your target audience and what makes them tick. Are they time poor? Do they have strong ethical values? Are they brand conscious? And so on...
So, that's 1 & 2. Know your target audience and find your hook. What could number 3 be...
BASIC #3: Get a plan
As the wise and great Lieutenant Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith, leader of The A Team, used to say ' I love it when a plan comes together'. Admittedly he wasn't a marketer but with that sort of an attitude towards planning, he most definitely could have been! Getting a marketing plan together is all about figuring out how you are going to get your product/service with it's unique hook in front of your target audience. It's like the element that connects the dots. You know who you want to sell to and you know why your product will appeal to them now you've just got to get the two together.
You will have a lot of the information you already need to create your plan. If you've put the work into really getting to know your target audience the answers for how to communicate with them are already there. This is where a plan is important because it allows you to focus your resources to get the biggest bang for your buck. It might seem natural to want to promote your new business, product or service to the whole world but, realistically, not everyone
is going to want it. Focus your efforts on the channels (a marketing word for the ways in which a product/service is sold to a customer) that your target audience are most likely to see and respond to. The types of channels you will want to use will depend very much on who your target audience is. For example, if you are targeting under 25 year olds social media is going to be very important to your marketing plan. Whereas if you are looking at the over 55's, you might want to look at direct mail (a leaflet through the post) or better still a phone call. Those in the middle tend to like email. However, it's not all about age. If you are focusing on a geographical area there's definitely no point advertising nationally. However, there will be some local publications that you could advertise in.
Thinking about your target audience's values will also help you inform your plan for how to get your product/service out there. For example you could think about sponsorship of events, linking with charities, running competitions, etc.
What about if you are targeting business customers? Well, it's worth remembering that businesses are run by people too so the same rules do apply but you'll need to bear in mind that your business customers might have different priorities with their work hats on as they do when they are making purchases in their personal lives. So, things like cost might be more important, or quick delivery, or aftersales support, etc. The point is though, you still need to profile your target audience.
I'm sorry, but at this point, I'm going to let you down. There is NO magic formula for developing a successful marketing plan. It involves quite a lot of hard work and research to get as much quality information as you can about the marketplace you are launching into. It is also worth noting that the most effective marketing plans will usually encompass a range of channels and tactics both in the real and digital worlds. In this modern age we are all multi-channel beasts. I, for example, use social media, read the local newspaper,
am influenced by my family, friends and colleagues, as well as using the internet several times a day as library, shop, encyclopaedia and general time waster! If you were trying to target me with your product/service you are most likely to get my attention using a range of channels. A layering effect if you like that raises your brand into my consciousness and affiliates itself with my values.
The beauty of a really good marketing plan is that it will combine a really solid knowledge of the target audience and the channels to reach them with a flair and creativity that makes the product stand out from the crowd. It could be a really catchy slogan ('A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play' used for nearly 40 years it was so effective) or clever imagery and use of music (I still know all the words to the Shake 'n' Vac song - 'Do the Shake 'n' Vac and put the freshness back...'). Some marketing campaigns make us laugh ('Should have gone to Specsavers' or for those of us that are old enough to remember the Cinzano ads with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins). And some campaigns play on our emotional sides and seek to move us (think John Lewis Christmas adverts that we have become as much a part of Christmas as turkey and crackers).
So, get yourself a plan. Use what you know about your target audience and what makes your product/service stand out and plan the best ways to connect the two. Do not forget to make sure you think about how you can measure the success of your plan. Be creative, be clever, but NEVER lose sight of the end customer. Your plan has got to work for them.
Marketing isn't rocket science but it also isn't fluffy, airy fairy stuff either. To make marketing work for your business (and quite frankly unless you are the only person in a 50 mile radius with cold drinks to sell on a hot summer's day you are going to need to make it work) you need to do your research. Know your target audience, know what makes them tick. Find your hook, make your product
stand out and then connect the two with a killer plan that uses the most effective ways to reach your target audience with messages that convey your 'hook' and engage the end user.
This is a process that you will need to revisit as your business grows and your product/service evolves. You will also need to adapt your marketing plan to keep your messages fresh and engaging but the dividends from this are well worth it. Without marketing, your business may offer the best products or services in your industry, but none of your potential customers would know about it.
So get savvy with your potential customers, figure out what floats their boat. Give them lots of reasons to come to you over your competitors and don't leave any of it to chance - PLAN! Be like The A Team! Now, go get 'em tiger...