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Do you remember the bit in Pretty Woman when Richard Gear asks Julia Roberts her name? Her response is start-up marketing gold dust: “whatever you want it to be”.
How many times have you heard a pitch from a start-up which goes along the lines of: “Our product is unique. No-one else does what we do.” This is especially common in business-to-business services. Ask the same start-up who their competitors are though and they often say: “We don’t have any competition as our proposition is unique.”
Really? I think not and here’s why: the customer.
The customer is king, and in their eyes you are not unique. Well you might be different but the customer still has to have some frame of reference to compare you against to make a purchasing decision. Given that they have to pay for the product/servi
ce they will have a very definitive say on how your product is positioned so you ignore their views at your peril.
Granted your product or service might be totally different to anything else out there but the customer has to position it against what they currently use. That way, they can then decide whether they want to purchase it or replace an existing solution. This is not a trivial decision — particularly in business-to-business.
As a founder of your business you see things very clearly. You know exactly what you do, how you are different, why you are better… The trouble is people outside your business don’t — if they do you are lucky and be, very, very nice to these advocates. But, for the most part, they have neither the time nor inclination to work it out. So you have to help them – big time!
In the IT space there is an old adage: “No-one gets fired for buying IBM”. The point is that we know what the company does and stands for. The challenge for start-ups then is doubly hard. First, you have to get to the decision maker and then you have to convince them to trust you and risk their money and reputation. If the product or solution is positioned in the customer’s mind in a way that reduces this risk, you are half to making a sale. Which brings me neatly to the final point — the pivot.
It’s a classic piece of re-positioning. There are times when start-ups create a product or service that ultimately no one needs or offers benefits that are of limited value. When this happens there are two options: quit or re-position.
I worked with a social networking start-up that was aimed at highly regulated industries. However, the offer of a social network was not particularly attractive to that audience. The start-up repositioned its product as a collaboration tool to reduce time to make decisions and support sales. Suddenly, it was much more attractive.
The product didn’t change but the positioning did.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant and founder of Marc Duke Consulting.
Guess what? Your customers are quicker than you.
It’s a frightening thought, but once you embrace the concept of the “restless consumer”, the more chance you have of keeping up with them. Who knows you may even be able to predict what they want, which is almost like being ahead of them.
But let’s not run away with ourselves. They’re the ones in front, they move faster, they’re agile, hungry and they never sleep.
So how do you keep up? Your time is already pushed and this is just one of the many races you’re in.
Solid strategy and planning will guarantee you a head start, as well as a full and rounded view of how your audience behaves online.
Once you’re out of the blocks, ideas based on insights connected to an irrefutable product or service truth will keep you up to speed. Playing the guessing game is not the best strategy here; hard empirical data puts you on solid ground.
It also helps you work out if you’re adopting emerging technologies fast enough, or investing time and budgets in the right places.
If your brand is tracking trends, researching and acknowledging, you can quickly earn the enviable reputation of being a collaborative and pro-active organisation. And, as it turns out, people get behind businesses and brands that are like that.
It’s not impossible. Time and time again, we’ve seen consumers develop a strong emotional attachment and a sense of shared ownership with a particular brand, product or service.
Imagine that — your users with a vested interest in what your brand is up to online.
Before you know it, you can be right alongside them and even, dare we say it, setting the pace.
Steve Peters is digital business director at Manchester digital agency, Code Computer Love.
Getting noticed is often a matter of showing up when somebody is looking for what you’re selling.
To do this, you need to master what I’ve taken to calling Three S Timing:
You’ll often find that a customer reports that winning their business was a result of lucky timing. That is, you happened to show up when they were looking for what you sell. Luck has very little to do with this.
What’s actually going on here is selectivity. And, it’s where marketing frequency is absolutely essential.
Have you ever noticed how when you learn a new word, it seems to crop up on the news, in the book you’re reading, or in conversation with a friend? It was always there… you just didn’t notice it.
The same is true when you’re on the look out for a new car, you’ll suddenly see the model you have in mind passing you at every turn or parked next to you at the supermarket. This is a trick of the mind. To enjoy the fruits of lucky timing, your company needs to crop up when a person happens to be thinking about what you’re buying. Which, effectively, means being there all the time.
To do this, you need to commit to a number of regular marketing activities rather than one-offs, or big bang campaigns. The frequency of these will depend on buying cycles in your industry. What you’re aiming for is to act a little like a lighthouse, with a beacon flashing regularly enough to be seen at the right moment.
Tip: Commit to a small number of regular marketing activities such as a weekly blog, a monthly newsletter or quarterly direct mail.
How this works: When Comet Global Consulting, customer technology specialists, were looking for some strategic marketing support, one of their directors recommended my consulting business. I had worked with him for about six months when I was in corporate marketing some three years earlier, and we had connected on LinkedIn. He had never signed up for a newsletter, or clicked on a blog. However, every week (without fail) I update my LinkedIn status with my latest blog post so my blog was popping up in this buyer’s newsfeed regularly. When it came to needing what I offer, he finally clicked on a link. But, without the previous 150-odd updates, he may not have noticed this one.
With a commitment to a steady stream of ongoing activities, you can further increase your chances of showing up at the right time by understanding and matching your buyers’ work and life patterns and scheduling your communications to match.
Mapping a typical day, week and year for your buyers will help you to work out when to get in touch. For example, Mondays and Fridays probably aren’t the best days to send direct mail and calling a consumer at home during working hours is pretty futile.
Tip: Use scheduling tools to maintain a presence outside normal office hours. If you need to respond in these times, think about using a call-handling service.
There’s also seasonality to consider. Even if you’re not an ice-cream vendor, there will be seasonality in your market. Financial year-ends, school holidays, industry events, funding cycles and the like, can all lead to seasonal changes in demand. Map things that happen over the course of a year that you could talk about or help with.
There will be events that happen every year, like getting your tax return in on time, and there will be one-offs in that year specifically, like a big sporting event.
The former should be worked into your ongoing marketing plan; the latter should form part of your specific 12-month plan. There may also be dated triggers that relate to an individual or specific company, like renewal dates, that would allow you to time your communications perfectly.
Tip: If you collect key data, like year-end or birthdays, when people sign up for your email newsletter, you can set up automated emails to go to them at these times.
Bryony Thomas is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and a marketing consultant, speaker, and author. This post has been adapted from Bryony’s 5-star business book, Watertight Marketing and it originally appeared on her own website.
Two new surveys suggest that the majority of Britain’s 4.8 million business owners are confused about marketing in general and internet marketing in particular. And this confusion comes at a huge cost — the research pegs the shortfall at £25,417 per business.
Research by Wolters Kluwer has found that small business owners are prone to a “lone wolf” approach to decision-making. The vast majority are much more likely to trust their own instincts than seek qualified guidance from an expert.
The second survey, carried out in association with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), found that UK businesses are losing out on £122 billion of sales because of poor marketing.
More money is wasted on marketing than in any other part of most small businesses.
You only need to have a look at a firm’s website performance to see how unprofessional they can be. A typical website for a small business might cost £1,000 to £4,000 and yet most produce few leads.
One of the myths about internet marketing is that having a better looking website will create more leads. It is simply not true.
There are two key factors affecting online success; traffic and conversion. The average conversion rate on the internet is 1% and that means that 99% of the people that come to small business websites leave without making a sale. This is costing SMEs a small fortune in lost sales and income.
Small firms need to be more prudent with their marketing and do three key things:
The first step is to understand your marketing numbers. This includes numbers like the volume of people that visit your website or the number of networking events you need to attend to get a lead.
Step two is to think about improving your numbers. How can you win more business from referrals? How can you create an on-going stream of leads from LinkedIn? How can you improve your lead conversion rate?
Step three is to start to build new streams of income in a tested, measured and consistent manner.
Steve Mills is a UK marketing expert and author of the e-book, The 10 Biggest Lead Generation Mistakes Most Small Businesses Make.
A lack of time and money mean that many small businesses are neglecting valuable marketing opportunities. This infographic from Pitney Bowes illustrates the SME marketing gap.
About 95 per cent of businesses I see at the moment have what I call “five-year-old-itis”.
Their problems are five years old. In the past five years, everything and nothing has changed.
About 95 per cent of businesses I see and work with are based on five-year-old business models, based on five-year-old assumptions about who the customer is, what they think they are buying and why, their competitors, and so on.
What I do know is that just about every assumption you had about how customer and consumers behave /buy/pay/talk/share/discuss/choose/receive products and services has changed. With one set of keystrokes I can tell thousands of friends what I think of you and your product (by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). Customers have always talked – but now they can talk to far more people than ever before.
My hunch is that “five-year-old-itis” is endemic nearly everywhere. Just about every start-up has been built on old-world assumptions about customers, channels and products. Just about every existing business has done little to significantly change how they do things from the heady heights of 2007.
Sure you've made some cuts, maybe sacked a few people. Sure you've cut costs, maybe even got a new logo and a new website. But, have you really had a cold, hard look at your business and been prepared to make the tough, and required decisions?
So, quick fix or real fix? The choice is yours.
Robert Craven shows directors and owners how to grow their profits. As well as running the Directors’ Centre, he is a keynote speaker and the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business. His latest book – Grow Your Service Firm – is out now.