Last month, I gave a presentation to small business owners about how to market their products and services “on a dime.” In my time operating CreMedia, we have never invested in marketing nor have we needed to, so I began to analyze what makes our process work so well. I did some personal research and reflected on my experiences of consulting with individuals, organizations, and other businesses. After some intense thinking, sketching, and scribbling notes, I arrived at a conclusion in regards to marketing: no matter what you do to market your business, it will not be successful unless you meet 3 qualifying conditions for success. I will elaborate more below.
*Let me preface my 3 conditions by saying that this is not scientific fact or absolute truth. I encourage everyone to find their own personal truths in life, love, and business. However, you will be hard-pressed to argue that these 3 things do not put you in the best possible position to make a success out of your business. So without further delay:
1. You MUST Have an Identity
Identity is the bare-minimum to start marketing yourself successfully. I say “bare-minimum” because you should be striving to build a cohesive brand, but that is easier said than done. If you start small by creating the imagery that supports your business, the brand can manifest from there. It is also much cheaper to develop the identity portion before crafting your brand. A brand encompasses the company identity, values, mission, and is the driving force behind all actions and communications that take place within the business; in the words of longtime copywriter John Kuraoka, “Your brand is a tangible corporate asset – an end toward which all your business efforts should work.” In the startup world where timing is everything is money is tight, developing such a large corporate asset can be daunting and costly, that is why at the least you need a logo and some kind of face to your business.
With steep competition in almost every industry due to the accessibility of the internet, getting noticed as a startup is no easy task. That is why a brand and identity become so important to standing-out among the herd. Gone are the days of commodities, where consumers bought things because they absolutely needed them and there were limited options. Today, there are infinite options and consumers will buy into brands that resonate with their values, their experience with the brand, and the lifestyle the brand embodies. There are a host of examples to show this, such as the strength in brands like Apple, Starbucks, and other corporate monoliths.
“Consumers will buy into brands that resonate with their values, their experience with the brand, and the lifestyle the brand embodies.”
I could write an entire book on developing a brand, maintaining brand consistency, coordinating brand communications, and so on; not the point of this article. There are a lot of resources out there on the subject, but know that branding is not just a buzzword, it is a necessity in the modern marketplace.
2. You MUST Know Your Customers (Inside and Out)
The basis of business is providing goods or services to individuals or organizations that are in need of said things. It is absolutely essential that you know who these individuals or organizations are before you go into business, otherwise you are just taking a blind stab, hoping to hit something. This sounds like such an obvious condition to meet, but often we think we know our customers well and we really only know what is on the outside, or demographics.
Demographics are a key driver in marketing campaigns and product development. Though they can tell us a lot about our customers, we are only getting half the picture with demographics. Enter consumer insights. Account planning is a relatively new marketing focus, but the practice involves extensive research with actual customers to learn everything there is to know about particular groups based on their desires, emotions, needs, and general perspectives. Demographics are external, insights are internal.
There is a book I suggest to anyone even remotely involved in marketing activities called “Hitting the Sweet Spot,” written by Dr. Lisa Fortini-Campbell. Within the book are great principles to guide your marketing and advertising campaigns using consumer insights. She offers several useful and enlightening exercises for discovering these insights as well. The key to it all is putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. Start to think like a customer; this is easier said than done. Instead of getting wrapped-up in buying habits, age, sex, interests, and other demographic-centric metrics, think about what is on the customers’ mind. Try to analyze their thoughts, motivations, hopes, and dreams. This kind of intrinsic information is hard to produce, and requires surveys and interviewing, but it pays off in a big way and straight to the bottom-line.
Finally, the most obvious of the 3 conditions yet:
3. You MUST Have a Desirable Product or Service
Why on Earth would a business try to sell things that nobody wants? The problem mainly stems from not satisfying my second condition: if you do not know your customers intimately, you may think a product or service will be perfect for your target markets only to sink countless dollars and hours into a complete business failure. Though this point may seem the most obvious and silly of the list, it really is a combination of the first two principles.
This point also lends to my experiences participating in Startup Weekend and my belief in the Lean Startup methodology, mainly in that your product or service should fill the initial void your business set out to address in the first place. And, if you never started out solving a problem or meeting the needs of a group of people, you should probably start-over.
Your business should have a mission, a reason for being. “Our mission is to make money,” is not very compelling to a customer, or even an employee (in the long run). It has been proven that companies who have a strong core mission, integrating their business activities and foundational beliefs, can foster both customer and employee engagement.
Get Out There And Do It!
That is my quick-and-dirty delivery of business necessities. Take my advice for what it is worth, and always try new things and learn from each experience. The real key to success is to get out there and do something; as the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the punches you don’t throw” or some variation thereof. Throw some punches, learn from what hits, what misses, and keep on fighting.
You can download the PDF one-pager I made for this presentation here. If you have any other small business insights or thoughts about what I have shared, please comment below.