Marketing needs to start internally, first, before one ever goes public with a message. And that impetus should come from the top.
A CEO or owner needs to know why the company exists — before he or she can share a core message, which goes far beyond a mission statement saying that Company XYZ intends to make the best widget or offer the best service on the planet. Anyone can say that.
Yet answer “why” the CEO and employees should be motivated to come to work, and then true marketing begins. In his book, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” Simon Sinek wrote, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Once a business owner understands the why, then he or she can share that enthusiasm and belief with colleagues and employees. They, in turn, can help with the marketing, once they embrace that message.
“Make sure that your staff are your biggest ambassadors and lead generators,” said Brittany Bermensolo, media and special events director for Red Energy Public Relations, Advertising & Events.
If your own employees aren’t sold on your business — why should anyone else be?
“When employees are out in the community meeting people, they need to have a short elevator speech prepared,” she said.
In other words, marketing isn’t always about a specialized campaign. Everyday interactions make an impression on people, also.
Crafting a message
“Most people get into business because it’s something they love to do,” said Dave Thomason, owner of Dave Thomason Marketing in Manitou Springs. “But if you want to stabilize or grow, you need to work on your business — not in it.”
Thomason’s specialty involves using “The Connecting Point”— a structured session with clients to facilitate branding by distilling ideas into a clear message for audiences and gatekeepers.
A restaurateur, for instance, may think he or she sells pizza.
“But what you’re really selling is time around the table with your family,” he said, which dramatically changes the messaging in ads, social media and marketing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Conoco Oil leaders wanted to identify a core purpose of the company’s in-house university. While training high-level executives, the company thought they were in the knowledge business. After working with Thomason, leaders realized they were in the business of building character.
Focusing on core values changes perceptions, which changes marketing.
Ideally, a team should spend time together, before launching a business to answer core questions about the company and craft internal and external messages.
Yet better late than never, as the adage goes. Sit down at a coffee shop with key members of your team and advisers, he recommends, and “write a simple marketing plan, including how to stay in front of your prospects. And put a budget and timeline on it.”
Such a process need not be long and laborious, either. Even a two-page document would suffice, “if that time and process has been put in place,” Thomason said.
Banking on a plan
Before heading to the bank for a loan to expand or start a business, make sure your business plan includes a marketing plan component.
From a banker’s perspective, “A good solid marketing plan is very important to us for one particular reason — it shows us the owner of the business knows about the marketplace,” said Gary Markle, market president, Central Bank & Trust.
“Do the financials pass the reality test in terms of the marketing plan? If you’re going to make $500,000 at the beginning of the year and $2 million at the end, your marketing plan has to speak to that.
“Marketing doesn’t drive financial performance —the requirements of the financial performance drive marketing,” Markle said.
“If you have a really good plan, it shows me you understand pricing and competition — and you have the knowledge of how to get into the market to win customers,” he said.
One local business owner did exactly that. Before launching Soiree Events & Celebrations, owner Michaela Hightower wrote a business plan (36 pages), attended classes at the Small Business Development Center and did market research on her target demographic.
“I knew ahead of time who my client base would be — women. I’m a luxury item,” she said. “Believe it or not, people can’t have a party each night.”
Hightower wrote an 82-page marketing plan.
Not only that, but she had a website designed, went to networking functions, reconnected with people in the catering industry and printed high-gloss rack sheets. About six months after opening, she also re-evaluated all of her marketing pieces.
“It’s hard not to have sacred cows,” she said, adding that business owners need to discard the methods that aren’t driving business, no matter how much they may like them.
“The hard part about marketing is that it’s not instant gratification or return on investment,” Hightower said. “I may not see someone again for six months or six years.”
Not all marketing is successful, either. She’s tried bridal shows, for instance, and didn’t see any ROI.
“So I just try a different way,” she said.
Although all entrepreneurs aren’t usually so well prepared before starting a business, scaled-down plans can also work, say industry experts. Whether someone is an attorney, real estate agent, or manufacturer, consistency is key.
Mistakes to avoid
Often people make the mistake of promoting contradictory brands and images. For instance, different fonts, colors, taglines and contact information that’s conflicting or confusing across various venues, such as website, business cards, marketing tools, brochures, social media, etc.
“Strengthen your brand by keeping everything consistent with your brand image and message,” Bermensolo said.
Unfortunately, most people would rather do what they like (run their business) than market, but if they would commit to consistent marketing, they would see increased gains, Thomason said.
“B+ and done is better than A+ and not done,” he said. “Your audience probably won’t know the difference [between A+ and B+], but at least they’ve received your marketing tool.”
Local Pressed4Time owner Scott Randall handles his own marketing and catches the attention of potential clients.
When a local businesswoman returned to work for a former employer with a promotion, Randall sent her an email within a week, offering congratulations and, not surprisingly, landed a new client.
“We pretty much keep our eyes on all the announcements in the newspapers and check LinkedIn — it’s an unbelievable tool,” Randall said. In addition, he and his wife, Andrea, check the websites of larger companies in the city “and pay attention and keep track of old customers,” he said.
They organize clients’ names, titles and companies in an Excel spreadsheet, and contact people on a regular basis, via email, phone or LinkedIn.
“If someone hasn’t ordered [dry cleaning, alterations or shoe repairs, say] in six months, we reach out to them,” he said.
And he’s seen the fruits of his labors. Revenue more than tripled from 2005 to 2013. Randall also credits being a member of the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce with helping his networking and increasing business.
Social media tips
Now, to address the elephant in the room: social media. Ubiquitous, yes. Going away? Not likely. At times, business owners feel pressured into doing something, anything, so they rush into social media marketing without a plan.
“The biggest part of social media is the need to stop and do research and strategize before you start putting things into action,” said Amanda Blough, owner and CEO, InnerSocial Marketing. For 18 months, she’s been a volunteer with the SBDC, where she counsels business owners on marketing and social media techniques.
Before launching any social media, decide which channels are best for your business, Blough said. Not all platforms are the same, and not all businesses need the same ones.
For B2B marketing, perhaps LinkedIn, Facebook and an industry site would be sufficient. On the other hand, a restaurant probably needs to be on Facebook, Twitter and Urban Spoon, she said.
After selecting the right social media platform, “Make a quarterly editorial calendar, for the posts, promotions, campaigns and advertising you’ll need to do,” she said.
If all this sounds overwhelming, there’s always the option of outsourcing.
A word of caution, though.
“If you outsource your social media, email campaigns or web design, make sure to speak up if it doesn’t align with your brand,” Blough said. “Don’t outsource and then forget about it — make sure you remain the voice of your company.”