The thought of how best to market your business can be daunting, huh? Where to begin can be difficult to discern. You may run across such questions as:
- How do we know what tactics are most effective?
- How do I know if our plan is working?
How about we discuss 10 of the most common questions business owners face when formulating the development and execution of marketing strategies?
1. Why does our company need to select a target market?
Why? Because marketing isn’t effective unless you know to whom you’re marketing. To get results, your marketing campaigns need to push the right buttons of a defined group of people – your ideal clients. To capture the attention of your audience, your marketing messages must address the target markets specific needs and/or concerns. If you try to market to everyone with a generic message, there’s a good chance your campaign will end up being totally and completely ineffectual. Your marketing messages need to be written and presented in a manner that your company is speaking personally to each of your ideal clients.
For some firms, the idea of not concentrating on particular potential clients, while opening campaigns wide for other potentially more lucrative customers can be intimidating. In the beginning your business may have been willing to take anyone who came knocking at your door. Admittedly, it can be challenging to narrow your company focus to a smaller segment of your clientele. However from a marketing perspective it pays to be strategic, targeting the clients that are able to bring a greater return for your business.
2. How do we communicate our firm’s image to the marketplace?
Communicating with the marketplace requires positioning. Positioning is the art of creating a solid identity of your firm in the minds of your target audience. Ask yourself, “How do we want or company to be known?” Do you want your organization to be recognized as the largest firm in your area? The most elite? The friendliest? Perhaps you want to cultivate an image as a local, community-based company. You may define your business with a particular specialty, such as an environmentally-friendly vehicle repair specialist.
No matter how you want your business to be known, you can’t simply create an image out of thin air. Be aware that your clients play a significant role to determine your image. From that point your marketing message must be supported by real facts. For instance, an office in the center of a small town contributes to the image of a community-based firm, while being named to top 100-list in your industry on a national scale supports the image of an elite, nationally-recognized organization.
3. Which marketing tactics work best?
There are no guarantees about what works when it comes to marketing campaigns and strategies. Know that a strategy that may be extremely effective for one business may not be so successful for another. While it can be helpful to compare marketing tactics with other businesses in your industry, don’t lose sight of your target market and how you are positioning your firm. Just because 30 people attended a personal tax seminar with another professional doesn’t mean that the seminar approach would yield similar results for you. A number of variables work into the mix, including overall execution, the ideal client targeted, the time and financial commitment required, and the professionals’ own strengths and weaknesses.
4. How can our company create a professional image?
Many business owners and managers strive for a professional appearance to the company’s numerous marketing resources; however those same business owners/managers don’t always want to pay the required price for quality marketing pieces. In many cases when owners perform marketing tasks in the belief that the firm is saving resources, these same owners get stuck in the marketing minutia that is better left to marketing professionals. Many owners are in the belief that marketing tasks are within their skill set, when really what is occurring is these owners are discounting their time in order to complete the particular marketing tasks. These owners/managers aren’t idiots by a long shot – however it may take the owner/manager 5 times longer to fulfill a particular marketing task when compared to a marketing professional fulfilling the same task.
If you want the highest-quality materials, your best bet is to ignore any do-it-yourself impulses and hire professionals to take charge of copywriting, proofreading, graphic design and the other elements that go into creating a high-end image. You get what you pay for! Your office printer (even a really good one) simply is not able to create the same four-color brochure you’d get by outsourcing the job. Remember, appreciating good marketing and being a marketing professional are two completely dissimilar ideas.
5. Are there inexpensive ways to market my firm?
The short answer is referrals. Asking existing clients for introductions is one of the fastest, least expensive and most effective ways of gaining new contacts and potential clients. As strange as it may sound, many business owners find asking for referrals a challenge. As a matter of fact, some owners/managers decide to avoid the referral conversation. In lieu of this decision owner/managers are willing to spend considerably more time and financial resources on marketing. When you master asking for referrals you may be able to cut back significantly on marketing expenditures.
Public relations is another area of concentration. Don’t let people fool you; this is far from a free strategy. When you factor in the time needed to deploy a successful PR campaign, free is usually not the case. Know that a reputable PR firm is able to deliver the best results, however hiring one requires a financial commitment on your part.
Finally, don’t forget about the marketing resources and support materials that your industry associations may offer. Rather than reinvent the marketing wheel, determine if your firm is able to take advantage of customizable brochure templates or other marketing materials that may be available.
6. Should our company adopt social media?
Once again, another question many owners/managers ask, “Do I really need a website?” The answer is, “Yes”. Along with the website question comes the question about the importance of implementing social media as a marketing device. There are many fantastic social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogging, inbound marketing, etc.) out there for the taking. The advantage of social media is that it is an interactive forum at your disposal to initiate and maintain conversations with existing and potential customers. Social media isn’t going anywhere but up and increasing in popularity. Stay ahead of the curve and your competition by utilizing social media. For example, delve into providing a blog on your company website. Use the blog to post articles that position your firm as the expert in your industry or your local area.
7. Should we hire someone to implement our company marketing plan?
At this point, many owners/managers wonder whether it makes sense to hire marketing experts to review the validity of the drafted marketing plan and carry out the plan. It comes down to cost. Let’s say that the cost for an hour of your time versus a staff person’s time is 10:1 – would that justify the cost of hiring a marketing firm? If executing your plan will require three or four hours of work per week, you’re ready to hire a marketing firm to execute your marketing plan.
The time to execute your strategy has arrived, however only if you have received consultation from a reputable marketing agency to complete the following steps:
- Identified your target market
- Determined how to position your firm
- Selected tactics that suit your resources and personality
- Consulted with a marketing agency for marketing plan creation process
- Developed, reviewed and finalized a written marketing plan
8. How does our firm quantify marketing results?
Just as customers want to know how your products and services perform, when your business initiates marketing campaigns you want data on which campaigns were effective and which ones weren’t. Realize that quantifying marketing results is an imperfect science without the correct mechanisms in place. For instance, while you are able to count the number of recipients that opened your emails, the number of birthday cards you sent out, or the number of people who attended a seminar or event, it can become muddled to assign cause and effect.
That is why it is vital to place specific offers in each marketing message that your company sends or makes available to current or potential customers. In this low-tech method you will have a simple metric to measure which forms of media work best for your firm’s marketing campaigns. You may say, “Well then you’re just comparing apples and oranges.” Not exactly. This is why targeting your specific market segments is so crucial. Segmenting and targeting levels the playing field. Why? Because then your firm has the latitude to provide specific offers to each segment utilizing slightly varied marketing mixes to evaluate which strategy is most efficient. Your business needs methods in place to determine if a visitor for instance became a client because:
- Visited you company website
- Regular reader of your company blog
- Received your monthly email messages
- Attended a seminar your company offered
- Read articles you published in the local paper
- Viewed television commercials during evening newscast
9. How can our organization get marketing results fast?
Business owners frequently underestimate the long-term commitment a successful marketing strategy requires. When you’re new to marketing, hosting a single client appreciation event may seem like a major undertaking. In fact, no one event is likely to have long-term impact, and even short-term impact isn’t a given. Plain and simple, successful marketing campaigns involve regularly keeping the name of the firm in front of your target market over an extended period of time. Strategic alliances play a significant role in your company’s marketing efforts. Yet these alliances take time to nurture. A single lunch with a CPA isn’t likely to yield a referral relationship right off the bat. Alliances, like any meaningful and fruitful relationship, require work, commitment, and persistence. If you’re serious about gaining real results, it’s wise to think of your marketing investment in terms of years rather than months.
10. Do we really need to market our firm?
Consider the medical and legal industries, which shunned marketing at one point. Now, it’s not uncommon to see billboards, TV commercials and radio ads for doctors and attorneys. The financial services industry may never go that far, but avoiding marketing entirely is naive.
At a minimum, every company owner/manager needs to brand his or her firm with signage, stationery, business cards and a website. Beyond that, how far you take your marketing efforts is up to you. A basic marketing plan is a great way to ensure that your marketing efforts – as simple or as sophisticated as those marketing plans may be – align with your organization’s vision and resources. As you thoughtfully pursue a specific marketing plan you’re bound to confront tough questions which may not be addressed here. The message is remain resilient. You may find that the long-term rewards of a solid marketing strategy more than make up for the initial challenges.Tweet