10 marketing tips for small businesses
Marketing is all about identifying those people, understanding what it is they really want, and convincing them you can satisfy their needs. Here are some tips for doing just that by fine tuning your marketing efforts.
Are you sure you know your market? Our first marketing tip for small businesses is to avoid making assumptions about your potential and existing customers and their buying/choosing behaviour. Being assumptive risks missing out on opportunities.
Conducting market research is a key part of developing your marketing strategy, and it can be done on whatever scale matches your business – from informal conversations to online research and your own structured surveys. Collecting pertinent information and data provides an insight into the way customers think, what their needs are, what their buying patterns are, and where they are located.
Additionally, research can help you monitor market trends, gives you an idea what competitors are doing, and may reveal gaps in the market you can exploit. It can also assist in the preparation of sales forecasts, which you’ll need for your business plan.
Even if you are simply Sue Smith the Plumber you are a ‘brand’, and that means much more than a distinctive logo. That said, all design elements associated with your business are an important part of its brand and influence how memorable it is.
A well-articulated brand should help create an emotional connection with your customers – which is a valuable marketing asset – as it represents and conveys who you are, what you stand for, and how you can improve their lives/businesses with your product or service.
An integral part of your brand is a set of attributes and values. In Sue’s case these could be expertise, efficiency, integrity, cleanliness, timeliness and friendliness. In marketing your business it’s a good idea to start with a list such as this, so that you can measure your messaging – and your performance – against it.
Establishing goals for your marketing – which could range from a percentage increase in business to capturing a significant share of a market or entering an entirely new market – can help you focus your efforts efficiently.
It's a good idea to make your goals SMART:
Next is to establish a budget that supports your small business marketing strategies. Some companies base their marketing budget on three to five percent of expected turnover, though much will depend on the nature of your business – and if you're a start-up you may have to invest much more.
When preparing your marketing budget, you'll need to consider the cost of elements such as:
Your target market may be a group, but remember you're talking to individual people. So, whenever you're creating marketing materials – from social media campaigns to fridge magnets – have a clear idea in your mind who you are addressing, which may be a variety of audience types identified in your research. Marketers call these audience types ‘personas'.
Picture yourself standing face to face with each potential customer and think about what you would say to them about your products and services to get them excited, and the type of language you would use. Don't forget, you’re representing your brand, so you want the person you are talking to walk away with the right ‘feel' about it.
The very best tool in the marketer's toolkit is their USP – Unique Selling Proposition. It can be your business niche – the one thing that's different about your product or service – or you can at least be the first to claim a feature or benefit.
A USP is good as it differentiates you from your competitors, making it easier for customers to choose you over them. It also helps you stand out from the crowd of businesses you may be competing with.
Your USP doesn't have to be a tangible feature. It could be the special skills and knowledge you possess, your speed or cleanliness, a price advantage, or something designed to make each customer's life easier. Imagine telling a stranger about your business and what you'd say to most impress them.
Many advertisers make the mistake of telling the world what they want to say, rather than what their potential customers want to hear. Take, for example, the launch of a new widget with ten features that each have a fancy name. These features will mean an awful lot to the people who developed them but will mean little to customers unless you present them in the context of ‘benefits’.
For example, “Now with Astroenzymes” may keep the R&D department happy, but “Get a whiter white with Astroenzymes” will have more resonance with consumers (of detergent).
The lesson is that whatever business you are in, listen to what matters most to customers and target your marketing messages at these ‘needs’.
Many small business owners rely on social media posts for the bulk of their advertising, while filling their websites with words they hope customers will be searching for. The reality is that the companies that run the social media platforms and search sites are in it to make money, so relying on their algorithms to give you free marketing may leave you short on visibility.
With social media marketing, it's worth investing time in ensuring the content you publish – such as blog posts, images, videos and articles – is interesting, relevant, topical and shareable. But you could also consider investing in paid marketing campaigns on social media, which can be very accurately targeted, and buying key words from search engines. Outbidding competitors is a sure way to get near the top of the search engine results pages.
You'll find information about how to optimise your online marketing on the websites of all the social media platforms, many of which offer analytical services, so you can track what's working and what isn't.
Customers like to know exactly what they can expect from a brand, so consistency of messaging is important. Whatever mediums you use for your marketing, make sure each exposure opportunity builds on the last, so that core messages are repeated and emphasised.
It can take neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain structure to change in response to experiences – to alter engrained buying behaviour. Repetition and consistency of messaging in advertising play an important role in achieving these mindset changes.
It generally takes far less effort and expense to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. Providing customers with exceptional service will help keep them loyal, as will Customer Relationship Marketing. CRM can take the form of:
The better your relationships with your customers, the more likely you are to receive glowing testimonials you can share in your marketing materials and online posts.
Word of mouth is a critical business generation tool for many companies, as is personal contact with prospective customers. Both can be achieved through a commitment to networking – either through organised local groups (which you can search for online) or by simply taking every opportunity to promote your business in work and social situations.
One of the reasons social media has become such an important marketing tool is that today’s consumer prefers to base buying decisions on the opinions of their peers, rather than the promotions of companies. The more you can influence those opinions in face-to-face situations the better.
To sum up
Make sure your business plan features a marketing plan, and update it frequently to accommodate new ideas, budget adjustments, opportunities, and any changes in your business landscape.
This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general. It is an overview only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon. Consider obtaining personalised advice from a professional financial adviser and your accountant before making any financial decisions in relation to the matters discussed in this article, including when considering tax and finance options for your business. Westpac does not endorse any of the external providers referred to in this article.