Marketing is a lot more than running ads and posting on social media.
Marketing (as defined by dictionary.com)
1.the act of buying or selling in a market.
2.the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.
With definitions like these, it's no wonder so many small business owners find the concept of marketing confusing, because it is so much more than advertisements, websites and social media posts. Where does it begin? When does it end? And most importantly, what is it going to cost? These concerns - unanswered - can cripple the growth of any brand or business. So let's start at the beginning…
How should small business define marketing?
Well, in the real world it's not a noun, it's really a verb; a continual process by which your business positions itself for success. If that sounds elusive it's because marketing is something that can affect every aspect of the business: Sometimes it's a driver, sometimes merely a support. From the way you relate to your staff, to how your sales teams operate (through the sales cycle) all the way down to packaging, messaging, social media and customer service, if you haven't run it through a marketing process, you could really be hurting your business.
A marketing process is simply a way of looking at things. It's asking a lot of questions and trying not to guess at the answers. It's marketing because every employee needs to recognize value in your brand, your company. If they don't, they won't further your mission. Whether your small businesses has 5 employees or 500, the topics below apply. Obviously you can't do everything but these are examples of areas where you can apply a marketing process and see some positive outcomes.
Staff: Maturing and retaining talented employees is important for any business but critical for small businesses. It is not all about the salary to employees. Understanding 'them' and having them understand 'you' is not only important, it's a key component to building your brand. Because if your employees aren't on board with your mission, they will never be brand ambassadors for your company. Marketing plays a role here because it bridges the understanding gap (sometimes referred to as Internal Marketing). Our verb, 'marketing' reaches out to all parties and helps frame positive dialogue that moves the company mission forward. In larger companies, HR departments are typically charged with this task, but those HR departments often work directly with marketing teams to help create an environment that is best suited toward employee well being.
Example: Many small businesses try to have some type of employee appreciation event; be it a barbecue, a trip to a sporting event, a birthday celebration etc.. Marketing asks the questions: What is the make-up of our staff? What is the desired result of this event? Why does this benefit our employees? How can we make it awesome?
These simple questions begin a torrent of thought and consideration that will manifest itself in a successful outcome. And if you can't handle it all yourself, many marketing firms are more than happy to organize and manage the process for you. All you have to do is ask.
Business Development: It doesn't matter if you have a team or a single sales person, if you don't inject marketing directly into the sales process, you will fail. This is not open to interpretation either, you will fail. Whether or not you have a marketing professional on hand, the subject of 'how to sell' needs to be a collaborative effort. You need to ask the right questions and you need real answers to those questions before you get in front of a prospective customer.
Marketing's function in this process is to ask those questions - to both leadership and sales and then compare results against market research (which you should be doing regularly). What gets spit out is a strategy and the suggested tools to accomplish your stated goals.
Example: Sales teams are selling your service to a new territory. Our verb, 'marketing' once again jumps into action and begins asking a lot of questions to various players in the sales process. It also looks at the territory and provides market research to better understand the consumer base and competitive landscape. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) are determined. All of that information is compiled into a strategy, which marketing then helps to manage. Why? Because marketing has the fifty thousand foot view and is not unduly influenced by deep knowledge in any particular aspect of the sales process.
Compare that process against a business that briefly trains a sales person, hands them some brochures, leads and sends them out into the new territory. Which process has a better chance for success?
Customer Retention: The goal is not to make one sale to one customer, the goal is to make many sales to many customers, over and over again. Sales does their job by getting someone to buy what you're selling. Marketing is there to keep the sales pipeline open, create new opportunity and extend the sales stream with existing customers. Asking sales to perform this function is only preventing them from bringing in new business.
Example: Your business is now offering a new service to compliment an existing service. Once again our verb, 'marketing' jumps into action and creates a strategy to reach out to existing customers with the goal of generating interest in the new offering. Whether it's email contact, a social media campaign, a personal call or even a direct mail piece, marketing leads the charge to upsell existing customers. Sales can concentrate on new business. Leadership watches the bottom line improve.
Cost: Next to ego, cost is the number one reason companies don't utilize marketing in effective ways. They either don't understand where to put the dollars or they think that "marketing" is way too expensive or they suffer from the belief that their service or product is so good, it should sell itself (an all too common problem).
From a cost perspective, the issue is scale. If you start looking at all of the ways you can spend dollars to get messaging out, you can burn through a budget amazingly fast. Slow down, look at the available dollars and your target audience first so you can start from a realistic place. If you don't have a marketing professional in the building, hire one as a consultant to come in and advise you. Even if all they do is provide some insight and direction, at least you have an educated guess where to put those available dollars.
Wrapping it up: Marketing should be considered a hard cost (line item) for any business. Just like employees, supplies and services are necessary to run a business, marketing is necessary for the overall health of your business. As you can see, when you look at marketing as a process and not a line item, positive outcomes are likely. Truth is, there is a lot of marketing you can do that doesn't cost you anything but time.
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