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Small-business marketing is constantly changing

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Question: I've hired a local design and web company to do some promotional work for my business. The ads and brochures turned out great - professional and attractive. But they keep talking about putting together a marketing strategy. I don't want to just throw money at this company or down the drain. What does SCORE think about the effectiveness of a so-called marketing strategy?

Answer: Far too often, entrepreneurs equate marketing with advertising and sales. But marketing is so much more. Marketing encompasses everything your small business does to identify, attract, serve, and retain profitable customers. It also includes the added value your business brings to customers - the inherent quality of your product or service, the efficiency of your processes, even the convenience you offer through your location and/or operating hours, and the intuitiveness of your website. It is the content that promotes your business.

All these elements are why a marketing strategy is so critical to a small business's success. A marketing strategy identifies customer groups that a particular business can serve better than its competitors, and this strategy tailors product offerings, prices, distribution, promotional efforts, and services toward those segments. Ideally, the strategy should address unmet customer needs that offer adequate potential profitability. A good strategy helps a business focus on the target markets it can serve best.

Small business owners risk a great deal more than a few dollars "down the drain" by not developing a marketing strategy. According to John Jantsch, author of "Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide," "Without a strategic approach, you will never build the momentum that will take you to the next level with steady growth. Some companies try the 'idea of the week,' and it works for a little while, but they never gain the brand awareness that's possible with a strategic approach."

Another good idea is to build a network of strategic partners. "Surround yourself with best-of-class providers of products and services that customers need," Jantsch says. "Recommend them to your customers and they'll do the same for you."

Jantsch's website, www.DuctTapeMarketing.com, offers a wealth of resources and a blog for helping small businesses understand, de-velop, and maximize their marketing efforts.

Melinda Emerson in an article for huffingtonpost.com says, "Your small business train will sputter along without a solid marketing approach. When developing a marketing strategy, think about who is your target customer and how are you going to rise above the crowd of competitors clamoring for attention. Drill down your message to appeal to your niche customer to get more bang for your marketing buck. You want to stand out as number one in your field and focusing on a tighter market can get you there faster than trying to be all things to all people."

Emerson lists these strategies for successful small business marketing:

• Profile your best customers.

• Talk with your clients. Ask your clients for feedback to stay on top of their needs and understand any new factors that influence their decision-making processes.

• Watch your competition. Identify your top three competitors.

• Update your marketing plan. To develop a killer marketing plan, you need to define your target customer, niche, conduct a competitive analysis, define your secret sauce and your core message and determine your key marketing tactics.

• Focus on 30-day sales goals

• Create win-win relationships.

• Build strategic alliances. A strong strategic alliance with another small business offers many benefits.

• Refine your "elevator pitch."

• Use a vision board. Create a visual collage of your list.

And don't forget your SCORE counselor. The Northern Arizona SCORE chapter excels in team counseling, bringing in other counselors with expertise that can help you achieve an effective marketing strategy.

If your business needs revamping and some fresh ideas, the September Business Planning Workshop is for you. It's scheduled for five Wednesdays, Sept. 25-Oct. 23, from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Adult Center, 1280 East Rosser St. Cost: $90 for two people from the same business. Go to http://northernarizona.score.org/localworkshops. Call Richard Eason at 778-7438 or email scoreoffice@scorenaz.org with questions.

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