I am a big believer in having a thorough marketing plan. This means understanding your products and services and how they match up with your target market niches. I don’t believe offering everything in your line of business is a good strategy for most companies (especially small ones) and that “lowest price” is a long lasting strategy. So you must decide which types of products (or technologies that produce products) or which market niches (categories of buyers) you want to focus on. And by products I am also referring to types of services as well. A simple example of this is an owner that decides to open a glass related business. They should decide what product lines to offer (and it is best if these products share similar technologies to make or install them) such as auto glass or doors & windows (or commercial doors & windows). The other method is to decide upon the market niche first and then decide which products this niche needs. For instance, the commercial market or residential market. Each of these markets have different needs, are marketed to differently, buy differently, etc. If you don’t connect your product line with your target buyers you could end up selling a product line to a market niche that doesn’t add up. Large commercial windows do not sell well to the residential market. This is a simple illustration, but gets the point across. Specialize in a market niche or product line and don’t over commit to a larger number of technologies or special knowledge areas than you can become experts in.

Businesses that try to be everything to everybody, end up being nothing to nobody.

Marketing Strategy

When you begin to market and advertise your products and/or services you may realize that there are too many types of groups of people (markets) to reach. The price tags begins to add up quickly and you find that every marketing effort costs more in dollars and time then the results are worth to you. This is when it becomes important to really understand what groups of people are the primary buyers of your products or services. Some brain storming with your self and a few other trusted people who has some understanding of your products should provide you a list of your most important market niches. Once you know these groups you can begin to plan how to reach each of these groups. Should you advertise? if so, where…what media does each group read? How about direct mail? Can a get a list of my potential buyers, especially the ones who are likely to be the largest buyers.

Can I meet any of these folks? Should I meet them personally or on the Internet (or a combination)? Where can I meet them? How do I approach people? What do i write or say? Should I hire a marketing professional to work with me? The answer to this is a likely “yes” unless you have expertise. But don’t leave it up to the professional to come up with a marketing plan all on their own. If you don’t know your business well enough to know a fair amount about your customers and what their needs are, you won’t likely last in the business very long. So do lots of research yourself.

I believe the best marketing strategy is built on the following three points: honesty, education, understanding the customers real needs (as opposed to just wants). It’s not about selling, it’s about helping people meet their needs. It also not about price, it’s about value. Giving your customer the best solution to meet their needs is an outstanding service and results in their expenditure becoming an investment with a high return, rather than an expense. The process of assisting your customer in this manner is the ultimate vale-added service. This is not a self-focused or self-serving strategy.

Advertising & Marketing

Here are a few tips on Advertising and Direct Marketing. Know your niche and specific target market (exactly who your best customers are). The shotgun approach to marketing is generally much less effective then a very targeted approach. List every detail you can think that describes your best targets. For instance, if you sell a retail product that anyone might buy, make a list of the characteristics of your best or largest customer base. This might include age range, male or female, other products or things they like, etc. The more you can describe this group the easier it is to select places to advertise or ways to market. Let’s say you sell ice cream with the niche of hand mixed ingredients. You notice you sell more flavors and mixed ingredients geared towards younger people. Your best customers are girls or young women ages 16 to 24. So now you can select media for advertising and marketing methods that young women aged 16 to 24 typically read.

Advertising

To simplify things I would say that there are two primary things to figure out (along with your marketing professional) once you understand who you are trying to reach and what their needs are. First, how do I reach them? When does people needing my product or service begin to search for it? What do they read? Do they begin by looking for you in a directory (paper-based yellow pages or online) or using a Internet search engine such a Google, Bing or Yahoo? Is it a spur of the moment purchase where newspaper advertising is very effective or perhaps a coupon book? The last big decision is what do I write? This is where you may heavily rely upon your marketing professional. What do your buyers need to know to choose you; your products or services; and your value added service? Remember to leave your ego at home when writing an ad. It’s about what your customer wants, not about what you like.

Online and paper-based directories, such a the yellow pages, Yahoo, Yelp, Google Places and the dozens of other directories can be a great place to list or advertise. Many offer free listings and allow you to upgrade your listing. Based on your business and target marget, this can work well. What do most people use the directory for? Ask around. Yelp is a great example. We have a listing and it occasionally provides business. Around 50 lookers a year and a half-dozen customers. I find that most users of Yelp find it very helpful, but primarily use it to find restaurants. Paying for an upgraded listing may not be worth it for me, but their are businesses that would have their advertising investment paid back many times over. So ask your customers, along with friends and family what advertising sources they use to find things, and what they use them to find.

Even if a listing or other marketing opportunity is free, you still must invest your valuable time. Time is money in that time used on a task that does not generate income is a cost…a wasted cost. Value your time and invest it where you feel you will get a good return.

Direct Marketing

No one can say that advertising in a media is a better or worse way than direct marketing to reach your market. What works best is based on a number of factors including the type of market (buyers) you are focused on, what they read, what media is available, timing and likely a few other important factors. If you can identify potential customers by name, direct marketing can work extremely well. Yes, it takes time to research, gather, record and mail your advertising piece. You may find that you can buy marketing lists from a variety of sources. The quality of these lists ( accuracy and how up to date it is) varies greatly. You want to test any list you buy. You may also find good quality lists in places you were not aware of. Cities, counties, and Chambers of Commerce often sell business lists inexpensively.

I like post cards. I find people almost always scan them. There’s no envelope to open which prevents many people from spending the few seconds to find out what is inside. Post cards happen to be the least expensive method of mailing an ad. Catching the readers “eye” is still important. Colors, graphics and a few key words are still methods to catch someone’s attention. Make the message brief. Our attention spans are narrowing, not getting wider. This rule applies to every form of marketing from signs, to e-mails, to ads.

The World of Networking

The final part on Effective Marketing Tips focuses on building personal relationships with people who may be future clients or can lead you to new clients. Both traditional and new methods of networking are discussed. The key to any networking plan is how do you focus your efforts on your target markets. Again, this begins with listing your target markets, specifics about potential clients with as much detail as you can. Now list every place where you might meet your potential new clients. This would include industry organizations, non-profit charitable organizations, places of recreation, etc. Joining organizations like chambers of commerce, or volunteering at a non-profit may give you opportunities to meet potential clients. Networking groups within Facebook and other social networking services offer similar opportunities. Prioritize where to spend your time and test these opportunities (make sure you give them enough time to work) to see where you get the best results. Networking does work, if you are patient and smart about it.

Personal Networking & Referrals

Personal networking is an excellent way to build a business, regardless of your business. I believe this because I believe that long term clients (as opposed to customers that you hardly know) are built on a relationship. It may be a friendly relationship (and often is), but is based on “trust” and not on friendship. “Trust” that you will be honest with them and that you are focused on their best interests (their needs). It is very difficult to build a trusting relationship with someone you haven’t met (not impossible, but difficult). It’s not only important to meet people. You need to get to know them as well. This takes time. So if you go to a business mixer (or any event where you meet your potential clients), it’s not only important to meet new people, it’s important to spend time with others to get to know them well. You may have heard the saying “It’s not how many people or who you know, it’s how many people know you or who knows you, that counts”. If this is confusing, I can understand as you may be focused on getting to know people. That’s only half the challenge as you want people to get to know you as well.

Meeting people over time has both people become familiar with their businesses. The more familiar someone is and the more they trust you, the more often you will receive referrals. The multiplier effect takes place in that you are not just meeting potential clients, you are meeting people who may provide referrals.

Where do I spend my networking time? It’s a great question and there is no single answer. If you know your target market, then the answer lies in where can you connect with your market niche. Is it a chamber of commerce, a non-profit charity, on the golf course, or walking a neighborhood? It does take time, but if you are in the right place(s), it is more than worth your time. I have often been asked about the value of referral groups. Some have found them very worthwhile. Many find that they don’t work or work for a limited time. If the rules force referrals you will likely find the quality of referrals to be poor, and the group runs out of referrals after several months. You also risk losing friends who you use as referrals to meet your referral commitment.

My last advice on this topic is to get involved with the organization you choose for networking. Committees offer a great way to get to know a group of people well. Just don’t over-commit yourself as the result is chasing away business. I don’t do business with people who don’t keep their promises to get things done. When they raise their hand and say “I’ll do that” and not get it done, I cannot expect that person to keep a promise with me. Not keeping promises is the best way to chase business away and is a waste of your time. Committees provide plenty of opportunity to volunteer for tasks. Pick these opportunities wisely and always get it done, That’s what builds trust quickly!

Committees provide plenty of opportunity to volunteer for tasks. Pick these opportunities wisely and always get it done, That’s what builds trust quickly!

Blogging, Facebook, Tweeting, E-mail Ads, Newsletters & Social Networking

The Internet provides a new channel to reach potential clients and customers. It is a world-wide channel that reaches more people than any other channel. Technologies available on the web (and on cell phones with web services) provide a quickly growing group of marketing (and educational) tools. As these marketing tools are inexpensive or free, everyone can use them and a very large number of people are. The impact of this fact is adding to the overwhelm of ads we receive each and every day. In addition, the less then honest humans use this channel to attempt to steal from us. Our reaction is to ignore most of these connection opportunities. However, Internet based marketing can work well and not only with the youngest customers. Even if these tools appear to be inexpensive, they can be very time consuming and ads such as those offered by Google can be very expensive if not used correctly and with the right products and services.

One of the most important tips I can offer is to make sure a marketing strategy that uses Internet based tools also considers traditional marketing tools to enhance the results. Remember that relationships are still important. An example of using a web based marketing tool supported by traditional marketing is as follows. You finally finish creating a great web site that offers your prospective customer everything they need to chose you and your product, but then realize no on will see this new web site unless you can tell them about it. A direct mail campaign focused on getting people you know to check out your web site can work quickly and successfully.

Blogging and Facebook (Linked In and others) are becoming very popular. Effectiveness can only be measured for some users but it is far too early to measure their total impact on the world of advertising. Most complaints I hear about these social networking forms is “self-serving” content. Blog’s, E-Newsletters, and Facebook pages written to “push product” is more of the same old thing delivered with the latest technology. What are people looking for? It really hasn’t changed. Education, relationships and product information (useful information) just when I need it are still high on people’s list of what they want.

Allow people to opt-in to e-ads (quality information), e-newsletters, and other methods of receiving product information allows the potential customer choose to get information when they decide they are interested and in need of it. This is when people are more likely to be making a purchase.

Educational blog’s offer your clients a way to be educated buyers. Educated buyers are the best buyers. They either know what they need, know the right questions to ask, and better understand the answers you give them. Educated buyers are reasonable, better understand your challenges of meeting their needs, and are not likely to regret their purchase. They are most often happy customers.

Tweeting can be a great way to get new product information out. The Twitter folks understand how inundated we are with data. Twitter’s small message size forces short messages that are like headlines in a newspaper. the bite size of Tweets make them more tolerable to read. The tool appears to have a limited use for most businesses today, but when paired with the right use works well.

If one of these tools appears to offer you a great opportunity to make the right connections, try it! Dedicate the time to give it a good test. At the very least, learn about what’s available as you never know if the next best solution for your business has been invented. Don’t forget to look at all the other marketing methods and how they might fit together.

Professionalism

The Internet offers numerous new opportunities and has created new communication habits. Web shorthand, abbreviations and new words, along with emoticons have taken over casual communications. When it comes to business, these communication devices will send the wrong message. And they have no place in traditional communications either. A poorly designed ad, direct mail piece, sign, etc. runs the risk of having the opposite impact of your goal. If they drive business away, you didn’t save money by not hiring a professional marketing expert, it actually cost you more money. So if you don’t have the expertise to design a marketing communication, hire a professional. If you can’t focus on making the piece as professional as possible and ask friends, clients and others for their honest input before using your own marketing piece.