To be honest, it’s pretty easy to market if you have a lot of money to spend. You can hire a marketing executive, engage one or more advertising and/or creative and/or marketing agencies. You can retain a public relations firm to analyze editorial calendars, pitch story ideas, plan media tours and facilitate introductions to reporters and editors.
You can also hire a digital marketing firm with experts in the ever-changing world of search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media marketing, content marketing (webinars, whitepapers, podcasts, video). The list really could go on and on.
With a big enough budget, you can do all these things. Even more.
All this can seem downright daunting to small to midsize companies without big marketing budgets. Often, these companies’ executives and staff end up thinking that effective marketing is a luxury they simply can’t afford. They appreciate the benefits of marketing, but have given up on realizing them because they think they’re out of reach.
Well, I have good news. No matter how small your company is, no matter how much you have to spend, if you have the time you can make marketing an important contributor to your company’s growth and success.
First off, let’s define marketing. For the purposes of this presentation, marketing is everything your company does to make its products or services more visible, more relevant and more valuable to the people who need or want them.
You’ll notice I didn’t say “advertising” or “sponsorships” or “PR”. That’s because these things can be a part of your marketing strategy but they don’t come anywhere close to describing all that marketing is. Most these things cost money. Sometimes a lot of money, so when business owners start thinking about marketing, they automatically see big dollar signs and move on.
Today, I want to focus on three enormously important but inexpensive things your company can do starting today to market your company’s stuff better. Not all of the tactics I’ll describe will be relevant to everyone, but I’m hoping that one or two will really click for you and your business.
1. Write Your Story and Tell It
Recently, I was introduced to the work of Bernadette Jiwa, an Australian blogger, author and marketing guru who I believe has done a brilliant job of distilling the practice of marketing. In her book, “The Difference”, she provides practical, step-by-step guidance for companies interested in establishing a more meaningful connection with their audience.
The Difference is a quick but weighty read and I can’t recommend it enough. One exercise in particular – The Difference Map – is a simple yet revealing tool to help companies reframe themselves and their products to the customers’ perspective. Insights from the Map can be used to help create your company’s story.
So how does your “company’s story” have anything to do with getting more customers and revenue? Honestly…everything. When you know your company’s story:
- Who You Are
- Why You’re There
- How You Got There
- Who You Care About
- The Things You Do For the People You Care About
Your story has the power to engage employees and customers. It can help provide a sense of purpose and common cause.
Every company has a story. Find yours and tell it – especially to your employees, the people who bring your company’s story to life for your customers. People love to be part of something larger than themselves or their roles. Your company’s story can be the talisman where your brand is defined, your culture is preserved and high expectations are reinforced. Stories are – and have always been – powerful stuff.
Bernadette Jiwa’s book “The Difference” is available on Amazon for just $6.99, less for your electronic reader. You just need the time and the commitment to see your story telling through.
2. Fix Your Website
What’s the first thing you do when you’re thinking about buying a product or hiring a professional? You Google them, right?
Your site has to look good. Now that you have your company’s story, the site should help tell it. It should work on a desktop computer, tablet and smart phone. It should use words sparingly and images and graphics generously. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t need to write like Hemingway or Tolstoy. You just need to be there, look good, and offer content your customers care about. Remember always…It’s not about what you have to say, it’s about what your customers want to hear.
You can build your own website for free or very cheaply on services like WordPress or SquareSpace. These platforms provide intuitive content management and active online user communities, so it’s easy to get the help you need to make your site terrific. When you’re ready, you can upgrade your site to self-hosted versions and add plug-ins to support content marketing, lead generation, e-commerce and more.
This is a classic example of the old Time vs. Money paradox. A professional designer/developer can do this for you, but you should be prepared to spend thousands of dollars for their time and expertise. It’s money well spent if you have it. If you don’t, you’ll need to take the time to do it yourself or task a tech-savvy employee to tackle the project.
I built my first website and blog on WordPress for free with no classes or coaching and used it for months to help establish my brand and attract my first consulting client. More recently, I hired a small web development start-up to redesign my site for a little over $2,000 using content I developed to tell my company’s story. I’ll be spending a little more this year as I add functionality for inbound marketing but I’ll be in a position to afford it. Your site can and should also adapt as your business grows.
3. Own Your Customers’ Experience
Remember what I said about marketing being everything your company does to make your company’s products and services more visible, relevant and valuable? Your customers’ experiences with your company are a HUGE part of that, whether they’re calling you on the phone, visiting your website, coming into the office or stopping by to shop.
I belong to a big, shiny, new health club. The old, dumpy one closed (alas!). The company clearly spent a lot of money. They’re spending a lot more money to attract and convert hundreds of new members. Yet, when I walk in the door each morning, I’m lucky if I get a hello, let alone some eye contact and smile. That’s not okay!
This is frustratingly common! How many businesses have you patronized where big money is being spent on facilities, infrastructure, marketing and staff, yet there is no investment at all (in time or money) on training to enhance the customer’s experience. Research has shown that word of mouth is the most persuasive form of marketing. And the power of word-of-mouth has been magnified many times over by social media and online resources such as Yelp and Angie’s list.
Do some research. If your customers aren’t saying great things about their experiences with your company, you need to find out why and come up with ways to fix it.
There you have it, three free-to-cheap strategies to make a big dent in your marketing challenges:
- Crafting a story that you, your employees and your customers can believe in,
- Telling that story on a website that looks like you mean business, and
- Being deliberate about they ways your customers experience your company – EVERYWHERE they touch you.
With these basics in place, a world of low-cost marketing strategies open up. Starting next week I’ll be sharing some of those strategies with you. In the meantime, I hope you’ll let me know if you have any questions for me or my other readers. I’d love to know how your marketing is going and would love to help.
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