Marketing is essential for small businesses and one of the key ways to ensure success is to have a marketing plan that will attract new visitors and convert them into customers. In this post, we’ll take a close look at the factors you need to consider and choices you have open to you when creating your marketing plan.
The basics of marketing
Marketing is the art of attracting new customers and retaining them over the long-term. We use the word ‘art’ because to do marketing well, you need to have creativity – the ability to think of new ways to reach out to people.
At the same time, marketing is also scientific. You need to think strategically, understand how people behave and, increasingly, be able to analyse marketing data in order to figure out what does and doesn’t work.
Finally, marketing can be complex. You now have a much wider range of channels through which you can market. In pre-internet days, small businesses were limited in where they could promote themselves: local radio, newspapers and magazines, trade shows, window displays, etc. Today, you have everything from YouTube channels and Facebook Live, to websites, email, PPC advertising and a vast array of social media platforms. Small companies often lack the resources to use all of these, so you have to choose the best ones for your business.
Understanding how customers behave
One of the key learning points for small businesses is to understand the process that people follow when they become customers. There have been numerous academic studies into this over many years and the results show that there are several stages that people go through before becoming a long-term customer.
Together, these stages are known as the marketing funnel and understanding what they are will help you design a marketing plan that caters for people at each step in the process.
The stages of the marketing funnel are these:
1. The customer becomes aware that your products, services or brand exists.
2. They develop an interest in your business and begin to consider the benefits of your products, services or brand.
3. If they like what you offer, they begin to desire the products or services you sell. This desire can be created by the feelings they have developed for your brand.
4. The desire or feeling leads the person to give your product a try. Often this is done tentatively with a small purchase to start with.
5. If satisfied with the first purchase, the customer begins to develop trust and loyalty with the products, services or brand and may remain a customer over the long-term.
The important point that businesses need to be aware of is that, at each stage, the number of potential customers reduces. If a million people become aware of your products, only 50,000 may develop an interest; of those, only 10,000 may evaluate your products and only 2,000 may try them out. You may only get 1,000 long-term customers.
It is essential, therefore, to try and maximise the number of customers who make it through each stage of the process and this means having targeted marketing for each. This is how you begin to develop your marketing strategy.
Why analysis matters
One of the ways to maximise the number of people who move from stage to stage is to analyse why they drop off. Analytics data and A/B split testing help identify the main drop off points and this can help you remodel your plan.
For example, if people show an interest in evaluating your products, perhaps by signing up for your newsletter or following you on Twitter, but then never get around to trying the product out, it shows that there is something putting them off making the initial purchase.
For many customers who have never bought from a company before, this is often price. If they don’t know the company, they may be unwilling to pay a lot for the first product. Companies get around this by offering free samples (e.g. Netflix and Amazon Prime offer a free month’s trial) or lower initial prices (e.g. Sky or Virgin Media giving half price TV deals for the first 6 months).
Different channels through which to market your business
Another key factor is using the right marketing channels. For many businesses, the most effective ways are to market online and even for those that still use traditional marketing techniques, adding a few online marketing techniques can help expand your reach to a much wider audience.
Below are some of the key marketing channels you can choose to use online.
Content marketing is a way of promoting your business by creating online content aimed specifically at your target market. Unlike traditional marketing, its focus is not to hard sell your products or services but, instead, to give readers something that they find valuable and relevant.
The main ways this is done is by creating content that solves problems faced by your customers. This can be achieved through blog posts, infographics, videos and e-books, etc. For example, if you sell tyres, post a video on YouTube showing people how to check whether a tyre needs replacing – at the end of the video, subtly tell the viewer that you have a wide range of high quality and affordable tyres in stock. Then share that video on your website, Facebook channel and Twitter.
The advantage of this form of marketing is that it builds up an interest in your company, highlights your expertise in your field and helps to develop trust. This is enhanced by not going for the hard sell. Customers who value the content you publish will be more likely to look for you again in future. They may subscribe to your newsletter where you can promote your products more strongly or they could even purchase from you there and then. It is a tried and tested technique with the added advantage that it can be liked and shared on social media. It’s also great for SEO.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is a very powerful technique that uses platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to reach out to new customers. One of the benefits of social media is that you can market for free: your posts can be seen by your followers and if they like what you post, they can share it with their own friends and followers.
Social media is also a great platform for building relationships with customers as it enables you to interact with them. They can respond to your posts and you can reply – and all the people who follow them can see what you say. Indeed, some companies now use social media as a way to carry out customer service.
Another benefit of social media is that you can use it to spread the word about offers and deals which you are running. A simple tweet, “15% off on any online orders today. Share this with your friends and get 20% off,” can have a significant impact on your sales.
Email marketing is one of the most successful methods of converting people into customers – which is why virtually every website you visit wants you to sign up to its newsletter. Those visitors who sign up are already considering or desiring your products and are requesting more contact with you – in a sense, they are inviting you to market to them.
Your email marketing needs to be considered and structured. Keep sending subscribers useful information that they will value, but you can and should use it to market your products and services too.
Clever companies have different email campaigns for people on different stages of the sales funnel. They will offer a low-priced introductory offer to those who have never purchased before, whilst those who have made purchases and now have greater trust in the company will be offered tempting offers on more expensive products.
Online advertising is another way you can promote your business and, for some companies, it is an essential part of their marketing strategy. You can run text, image and video ads depending on your needs and budget, however, with so much competition for ad space, it can be very expensive.
Adverts can be shown in search engine results, for example by signing up with Google Adwords or be hosted on other websites. (This service is available from a wide range of companies including search engines.) You can also purchase advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
One of the best things about online advertising is that ad companies use internet users’ behaviour as a way to work out whether to show your advert or not. So, if a user has been searching for products that you sell, the ad network will know to serve your ads to that person whilst they are showing interest.
As you can see from reading this post, creating an online marketing strategy requires some work but, if well thought through, can bring a dramatic increase in sales. You’ll need to understand the marketing funnel and how to attract potential customers at each stage in the process to get it right. In addition, you will have to look at the wide range of marketing channels and assess which are the most appropriate ones for your business and your marketing strategy.
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