Why Do Businesses Need Marketing? It Starts The Conversation With Clients.

Third in a five-part series

Last month’s article was on the most foundational part of your marketing, your brand. Your brand is everything, and without it, there is no reason to market your business. Marketing without purposely creating a brand is a waste of time, money and effort. Your brand is that important.

Promotional products are a huge part of the marketing conversation. Promotional items build brands. They inspire brands. They make brands memorable. Yet, so many promotional products distributors and suppliers don’t think of their business as their brand. And, as a result, industry businesses get lost in the shuffle. Your brand is your reason to market. It is the essence of your business. It’s who you are, what you do and how you serve. It sets you apart in your competitive marketplace. Whether you manufacture, decorate or sell some of the 700,000 promotional items available in our industry, a strong brand will make or break your business.

If you didn’t read the article on branding in the December issue, I encourage you to go back and look it over. Good branding is the first step to developing results-oriented marketing. And, every business needs marketing. Why? What makes marketing so important? Marketing starts the conversation! It moves people through their own decision-making process to get to “yes!” It builds visibility, authority and trust. You need marketing to create a thriving business.

If you don’t want to feel like you’re always selling and pushing your product, marketing helps bring people to you—qualified people, people who are ready to say “yes” before you even make the offer.

More importantly, if you don’t want to feel like an order taker or that you are always competing on price, you need to make marketing a priority because the right positioning (developed during the branding process) makes you a unique and different solution to your ideal client’s business challenge. They need you!

Build a brand and you will build a business. It’s that simple. But without marketing, no one will know who you are.

First Steps First

Where do you start? You start with a marketing plan. Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” And, he was right. Planning organizes your thinking so you can focus, structure and prioritize. Planning gets you one step closer to action because it helps you see what is possible, and create a series of steps to make something happen.

What are the critical elements of an effective marketing plan? What will help you create a roadmap you can use? Make sure your plan includes the following:

A measurable goal. What do you want to achieve with your business? How are you going to measure your results? Where is your business now? Answering these questions is the first step. Marketing is a people mover. You want to move people through their own decision-making process to choose you. So, why are they choosing you? Where do you want them to go? Where are they now? Knowing these answers helps you start thinking about the how’s of getting them to their destination.

Hopefully, you’re setting goals regularly in your business. If not, now is a good time to start. While marketing is creative, it’s also a test in analytics. Marketing is a create-implement-review--modify discipline. It’s a balance of art and science. Goals help you chart your course. You can set your goals based on a number of criteria. For instance: total number of customers? Or, dollar amount of average order? Or, maybe, frequency of orders? Or, number of new customers? Knowing what you want to focus on is necessary for creating a plan. And, here is where most business owners get caught: they want to focus on everything. They want to improve the numbers everywhere, but it’s almost impossible to do that at one time. Pick one area to start and build from there. And, pick a timeframe for measuring your progress.

A clearly defined strategy. The strategy is your big picture view of what you want to see happen. Think of it as the airstrike versus the ground war. You can’t reach a goal without a strategy, and it’s hard to create a strategy without a goal. A strategy is singular. You can use any criteria but it’s important to start with one. Even the biggest companies, with the biggest marketing dollars don’t implement multiple strategies. You might decide that you’re going to create a strategy around increasing the average order per customer. Now, how might this be accomplished? In our industry, you might help clients see price breaks at higher ordering quantities and encourage them to stock up. You could offer bundled solutions to get clients to buy more at a time. You might see if multiple departments or locations want to order at the same time to increase the order size. You might decide to focus on companies that are larger and order more at one time. The strategy is up to you, but once you start thinking about it, you will be thinking about your business on a more strategic level.

A budget. It’s important to allocate a budget for any activity that you do in your business, and that budget should include money, time and effort. With so many non-cost marketing opportunities available today it’s important to consider time and effort as you budget for your marketing. Social media, networking, blogging—these are all marketing activities and they need to ultimately provide a return on your investment, just like paid media. As a rule of thumb, consider allocating 10 percent of projected sales to marketing activities. Then, outline the types of marketing activities you could potentially do. Evaluate which activities are the best use of your money, time and effort. Free marketing might sound like a great option until you find out that it’s costing you time with clients, or time you would spend billing.

Tactics that are specific and customer-centric. You cannot, and should not, do every activity you think about. Not every tactic is right for your business. Not every tactic will move a prospect along their decision-making path. The more specific your marketing activities, the better the results. Deciding what to do can be hard, because there are a lot of options out there. Think about your customer. Think about where they are toward their goals and what they need. The more you think about what your customer needs, and the less you think about what you’re trying to tell them, the better your marketing will be. Marketing’s sweet spot is where your activities align with your strategy and your goals, and where they connect on brand.

In deciding which types of marketing activities to pursue, consider all types, including advertising, promotion, merchandising and public relations. Understand how each of these areas of marketing differs. Advertising is paid media, promotion is using your own media, and public relations activities are usually specific events designed to get publicity. Every marketing plan should use a combination of tactics to maximize reach and exposure. Here is another area where business owners often get tripped up. They focus on one media. With all the noise today, it’s important to use multiple marketing tactics so that you have more ways to grab your target audience’s attention. Find out where your ideal client is and how they want to learn more about you, and build your ground war from there. Consider targeting your content as you target your activities. Make sure your copy and graphics are on message and on brand.

Marketing should permeate your business. Never waste an opportunity to market your business. Think about every potential client experience and make sure your brand shows up as its best. Make sure you look at the before, during and after transaction steps. Marketing doesn’t stop once you get a customer. Instead, the focus of your marketing should shift from bringing them in to making them feel welcomed and appreciated. Remember, you’re building relationships. Think of your business’s pre-sale as the curb appeal of a house—then bring customers into your house. How do you want to make them feel so they return again and again, and bring other people with them?

A good marketing plan is frequent, consistent and intentional, and should be reviewed and modified every three to six months. Marketing builds over time, so be patient. Be willing to shift as you analyze results. Be open to trying new things.

Remember, there is no one secret to success, but there is your secret to success. You just have to find that special marketing “something” that works for you.

It is in marketing your business that I recommend you hire the best professional you can afford. Don’t just hire a tactical expert, hire someone who can help you see the big picture, see beyond what you can see and see it at a 360-degree view. Marketing is where you can transform your business.

I always compare marketing to that high-maintenance friend or family member. You love them but they make you crazy. Yes, that’s marketing.

Watch for Part 4 of this series on sales strategies in the February issue.

Abigail Tiefenthaler, founder of Aiken, South Carolina-based distributor Sweetspot Strategies, Inc., is also a speaker and consultant helping entrepreneurs run the businesses they really want to run. With 30-plus years of business experience, including 15 years in corporate America working in a variety of marketing capacities, and 19 years running an award-winning promotional products business that put her in the top five percent of the industry, Tiefenthaler understands how critical it is to play full out, and use marketing for the heavy lifting it is designed to do. Her goal is simple: simplify the marketing process and eliminate confusion. Reach her at spmi@mindspring.com or 954-804-9413.