Many small businesses (especially integrators) share one big marketing problem: They don’t understand modern marketing. Some combine marketing and sales into one category; some equate marketing with a stepped-up website or a few business listings. Some admit that they lack a strategy altogether.
Today, everyone – from the sole proprietor of a small-town bakery to a large corporation – needs consistent, strategic marketing efforts to get and stay ahead of competitors.
Don’t Risk Ignoring Marketing
Many in our space tend to ignore marketing at their own peril. We often fail to realize how dire the situation is until it’s too late – sales are down, financials are a mess, and new competitors have surfaced on every block.
It’s a lot like what happened when Walmart first came to town, or before e-commerce disrupted retailers: Local and regional mom-and-pop outlets didn’t have much competition before the rise of the big-box mega stores. When big-box stores started moving into urban neighborhoods and rural areas, many small businesses were pushed out. Now Amazon is beating up on large retailers like Macy’s, Target, Sears, and others – all because they didn’t evolve fast enough. In the integration space, focusing on marketing is one of the keys to differentiate and keep your business relevant as consumption patterns change.
If you think the big-box mega store example is a bit extreme, or doesn’t relate to your business or location, consider this: The Internet is the big-box mega retailer. You are now facing global competition every day. Some entrepreneurs find out too late that they needed a different marketing approach.
Marketing doesn’t mean you must spend a ton of money on advertising and email marketing. For small businesses, a few strategic marketing tactics can go a long way toward bringing new clients and customers through the door, and ensuring that loyal customers remain with you.
Marketing Trends for 2017 and Beyond
If you’re making time for payroll, inventory, ordering, and sales, you need to start slotting in that same amount of time – on a regular basis – for marketing. Marketing is a full-time, full-contact sport; the longer you wait to get in the game, the further behind you will be. Here are some tips to reprioritize and protect your investment:
- Tell your brand story. Your story is one of your company’s most powerful assets. How did you start your business? Why does the industry appeal to you? What’s your vision for the future? What are your goals? What do you bring to the table that is unique? Mapping out your brand story provides fodder for every subsequent marketing activity you pursue. It’s a necessity.
- Discover your target market. If you know who your target market is, and where they spend their time, you can develop marketing assets that proactively meet their needs. Develop buyer personas for your top two or three customer types. Use persona outlines to customize marketing activities; segment your market using variables like age, education level, employment, lifestyle (single, married, parents, etc.), and interests/hobbies.
- Slowly integrate digital media. Whether you start a blog, engage on social media, or pursue an email lead-generation campaign, be consistent. You don’t need to bombard your customers with marketing every day, but you do need to contribute at regular intervals to build credibility and trust within the market. Develop a digital marketing strategy, choose your channels, and expand your online reach over time.
- Optimize local listings. As a small business, you probably rely heavily on local support. Local online and offline listings can improve your reach, especially where you might be missing out on valuable foot traffic. Include basic business information and images in newspapers, magazines, and online directories. Use a standard naming convention when you write your company name and address in any listing to improve credibility.
- Invest carefully. While small operations can conduct marketing activities on a shoestring budget, you may want to ask an outside consultant or marketer for help. Whether building a website, developing a content strategy, or creating a highly targeted, data-driven campaign, professional insight can be invaluable. As you start to see results from your efforts, pursue new investments and find additional support.
Small businesses face local and global competition. If you fail to take control of your marketing efforts, it could destroy your ability to keep your business strong, or recover during an economic downturn. Start small, but start today. You’ll thank yourself later. —Dan Newman, Cofounder of V3*Broadsuite
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