Crafting a small business marketing strategy can seem awfully complicated. Many business owners have to be convinced that marketing is worthwhile in the first place. Among the converts, many more struggle to choose a coherent philosophy of marketing, find a lucrative niche, or even simply understand their customers. Today, we’re going to take much of the theory we’ve discussed from the last several blog posts and talk about how to apply it.
We’re going to split this post into two sections: Prerequisites and Steps. Before you can craft a small business marketing strategy that works, you have to understand your business’s purpose as well as your competition. This requires a mix of self-awareness, empathy, and an understanding of your market.
Once you understand yourself and your competitors, you can determine how to reach customers and what you want them to do. With this in mind, let’s get right to it! Here is an outline:
5 Prerequisites to Crafting a Small Business Marketing Strategy
- Define Your Target Market
- Understand Your Niche
- Achieve Product-Market Fit
- Analyze Your Competition
- Set Yourself Apart
6 Steps to Bring Your Small Business Marketing Strategy to Life
- Observe Your Target Market in Their Natural Habitat
- Understand How Your Target Market Wishes to be Approached
- Figure Out What You Want People to Do
- There is No Magic Bullet for Lead Generation
- Test Different Promotion Strategies
- Create a Feedback Loop So You Can Improve Over Time
5 Prerequisites to Crafting a Small Business Marketing Strategy
Define Your Target Market
The world we live in is extremely large and competitive. To attempt to please everyone in this big world at the same time is a fool’s errand. When you’re running a small business, your resources are finite. You can only create products or services for so many people at once. To lose sight of this simple fact will cause you to lose focus and speed toward oblivion.
At the root of all business, there are people. Specifically, there are people who need to be served with products or services that make their lives materially better in some way – your potential customers. You don’t produce products and find customers later, but rather the other way around. Find a market and then look for a way to satisfy them. They are your target market.
How you choose a target market is deeply personal. This guide on Inc. does a pretty good job of describing the basics, though. You need to look at your current customers if you have any. Think about the products or services you provide and which emotional needs you’re meeting. Think about your competition and how you wish to set yourself apart from them.
Once you have a sense of what your customers will be like, get specific. Describe their demographic information – age, gender, income level – as well as their psychographic information – their personality, attitudes, values, and so on. Some people even go so far as to create user personas – made up people who stand in for their customers.
Understand Your Niche
Once you have a clear-eyed vision of what your customers are like, you need to determine what makes you different than anyone else on the market. That is your niche. I’ve written about this at length, but I’ll cover the basics below because it relates heavily to crafting a small business marketing strategy.
The wide variety of media we have available to us – cable TV, the Internet, and so on – dramatically changed the advertising landscape. In order to hold someone’s attention, you could no longer share “good messages for most people.” You had to share “the perfect message for a specific subset of people.” This is the post-network era. It’s where we live now. We’re never going back.
Because we live in a world of fractured, multi-channel media, commanding attention depends upon delivering the perfect message to the right person. If you like, you can think of this as Person-Message Fit instead of Product-Market Fit. You’ve found your niche when you’re able to make very specific products for very specific people with a very specific message.
Sound like pigeonholing? It is, to some extent. However, if you succeed, you can always scale up from there. Starting small makes it easier to succeed from the get-go and you can grow at a natural pace after you achieve a minimum level of market success.
Achieve Product-Market Fit
On this blog, you’ll hear the phrase “product-market fit” a lot. It is used to describe when a business perfectly addresses the needs of its audience. Achieving product-market fit is absolutely essential to meeting the needs of your target market. It’s also essential because you need the goods to back up the messaging you will be using to justify the way you’ve positioned yourself in a particular niche.
Once you identify your customers, map out their needs, and find a niche to work within, you can start creating products or providing services. You want to try to create a minimum-viable product. This is a product that’s just good enough to whet the appetites of a few early customers. Its main purpose is to help you understand how to improve. Keep refining your product until you have something which is pleasing the vast majority of people within your target market. When you’ve done that, then you have achieved product-market fit.
Analyze Your Competition
Last week, I wrote about competitive analysis. Performing a proper competitive analysis starts with you analyzing your own situation, then looking externally, then back at your own situation. It mostly involves asking a ton of questions and researching a lot on Google.
Here are eight questions you need to ask when doing a competitive analysis. Knowing the answers to these eight questions will dramatically improve the thoroughness of your small business marketing strategy.
- Who are your competitors?
- What do your competitors sell?
- How much market share does each competitor hold?
- What are your competitors’ past strategies?
- What are your competitors’ current strategies?
- Which media are they using for marketing?
- What are each competitor’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What are their niches?
Set Yourself Apart
Once you’ve analyzed your competition, it’s very important to make sure you stand out in the crowd. In a noisy world like the one we work and play in, being forgettable will lead to failure. It’s important to understand your target market and niche. Likewise, understanding your competitors is very important, too. Creating a great product or service that fits the existing market needs is essential.
There has to be something about your business that no one can imitate. Otherwise, the risk of being forgotten is very high, as is the risk of being copied for a slightly lower price. Whether your uniqueness comes from the way you craft your products or services, the community you build, or even your own personality, something has to stand out. This is what Seth Godin would refer to as a purple cow.
6 Steps to Bring Your Small Business Marketing Strategy to Life
Observe Your Target Market in Their Natural Habitat
Let’s say you’ve done a fantastic job of identifying your target market. Identifying a target market, however, does not a small business marketing strategy make. You need to find out where your target market hangs out – whether it be online or offline. For online communities, use Google to help you get started, but try not to depend too heavily on their search results. Once you find a few major communities, use recommendations by actual members of your target market to find smaller communities. For offline communities, see what local Meetup groups might be relevant in your area.
Once you’ve figured out where your target market hangs out, simply listen (or read). Get a feel for what they value and how they talk. Listen not only for words but also emotional needs. Be considerate of their worldview and identify their pain points. Figuring out what causes them frustration creates business opportunities for you. From here, you can either create a minimum viable product – if you haven’t already – or decide you’d like to share your existing product. For simplicity, let’s assume you’ve already followed the five Prerequisites and you have (or are creating) a product that has good product-market fit.
Understand How Your Target Market Wishes to be Approached
Nobody likes the marketer who comes across as a used car salesman. When you approach a community and begin to become a part of it, the easiest way to screw that up is to start pushing your product in the wrong place. For example, I have a background in board game production. If you go to the game store with an elaborately crafted prototype, you will get a bad reaction if you share it at the wrong time. It doesn’t matter how good the game is or how it looks. You approached them the wrong way. Similarly, if I just posted my company’s stuff on Reddit’s /r/boardgames, I’d get downvoted to oblivion for looking like a self-promoting hack.
So how exactly do you approach your audience? Sometimes you can be up-front about your intention to sell products in online or offline communities. Other times, you need to focus on online sales, advertising, and other traditional outreach techniques. Still other times, you need to please a few gatekeepers to get your product on store shelves.
“How do I know which one, Marketing is the Product?” Well, the simple fact is there is no simple answer. A good rule of thumb, though, is you want to look for places where people are being advertised to already. Look for enthusiasm, or at the very least, engagement. If you see eye-rolls, downvotes, or nasty comments, steer clear. If you see kindness or even intelligently delivered negative feedback, you’ve found the right place.
Figure Out What You Want People to Do
Once you’ve figured out your target market, your niche, created the right product, identified the communities, and found a way to reach out to them, then congrats! You have found a way to generate leads. This is really valuable! Yet you don’t want to generate leads until you know what you want them to do.
There is a famous marketing model called AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Understanding who to reach out to, what to give them, and how to engage them covers Attention, Interest, and Desire. These are the hardest parts to get right. Yet Action is essential and you can’t overlook it! You need to make sure you have a store-front, mailing list, online community, or something – anything – to which you can send people.
Your Action, and the calls to action that convince people to take the Action, are most likely sales. If that’s the case, you need to have a clean, seamless place for people to make purchases. You may also want to consider bundling products if you think it will make for a better user experience.
There is No Magic Bullet for Lead Generation
This is less of a pragmatic step and more of a necessary statement of fact. No small business marketing strategy is complete without a good way to generate leads. Many claim lead generation is the hardest part of small business marketing strategy in general. Before you go any further, you need to understand that you will probably spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out how to generate leads. This will likely send you back to Steps 1 and 2, if not the Prerequisites over and over again.
Test Different Promotion Strategies
Crafting a finely tuned small business marketing strategy will take a ton of experimentation. You may have heard of the concept of marketing mix – it’s shorthand for all the marketing tools that a small business will be using. You’ll constantly be tweaking your marketing mix, especially when it comes to promotion. Promotion is, after all, largely based upon generating leads.
Every time you run a promotional discount, keep an eye on your sales. When you run an advertisement on Facebook, look for things like cost per click or relevance score. Monitor your web traffic to see if certain posts or pages perform exceptionally well. Google yourself every once in a while to see what people are saying about your latest changes.
You always want to be trying something different because you never know what’s going to work really well. This is especially important early on. Well-designed experiments, combined with a feedback loop so you can implement ideas based on your findings, will lead to a virtuous cycle. Your small business marketing strategy will become ever more adept in serving customer needs.
Create a Feedback Loop So You Can Improve Over Time
In order to make meaningful changes based on testing, you need a feedback loop in place. A feedback loop could be as simple as creating different iterations of a product or service and asking a sample of customers what they think. It could be as complex as a custom-built information technology system that gathers a variety of metrics.
For the purposes of this article, how you go about creating a feedback loop doesn’t matter. There are good ways and bad ways, but the most important thing you need to do is just find a way to gather information after your experiments. So many businesses fail to experiment and many more fail to use experimental data to improve themselves. My advice to you is simply to start small: customer surveys, one-on-one conversations, perhaps an analysis of your web traffic. If you find great insights by using these methods, roll out more robust methods in the future.
Thankfully, crafting a small business marketing strategy is not terribly complicated. It is a lot of work, yes, but it ultimately comes down to knowing how to answer four questions. Who are you selling to? What are you selling? Why is it special? How do you spread the message? A good small business marketing strategy answers all these questions in the great deal of detail that they deserve.