Sarsaparilla Marketing founder (and ex-Apprenticecandidate) Kimberley Davis believes that the concept of 'marketing' extends far beyond a website or mailshot. "Anything and everything that is a representation of your company, from the way your staff behave, to company logos, branding and brochures, is marketing," she says. "External perception is reality."
How do small businesses create this reality?
The first rule of marketing, according to Davis, is research.
"Often, I will ask a client if they have done any research to find out what their customers really want -and they go, 'I just know'," says Davis. "I don't understand how anyone can start a business without doing research. Research doesn't mean hiring a university to undertake a census. It could just be a few surveys in the street. Research helps you to figure out who your clients are and what they need so that your business can provide it for them.
"You could be so close to having the perfect business," she continues. "You just need just a slight shift in direction and then the market will open up to you. This is why research is valuable."
2. Target market
Now for the second rule. "Do you know who your target market is?" asks Davis. "I've lost count of the number of times I've asked a client, 'What is your target market?' and they have replied, 'Everyone'."
So many small businesses want to appeal to everybody, thinking: "Anyone could buy my product", but in reality you're always going to have a majority one way or another.
Can you pinpoint your ideal client? Try this test.
This may seem like excessive detail, but by painting a detailed picture of this person, you'll be able to create powerful, targeted marketing campaigns to draw them in and make them buy.
Davis pinpoints Survey Monkey as a valuable resource for collating information about your target demographic. "This is a free website where you can create a questionnaire and email it out to people," she explains. "Of course, emailing surveys rarely gets a great response, so you could try doing it in person, in a location frequented by your core market, and then fill in the results yourself to see the statistics."
3. Check out your competitors
Always look at what your competitors are doing and try and work out how to a.) Steal market share and b.) Use their failings to your advantage.
Davis gives this example: "You'd think that a big supermarket chain would want to open a new store far away from a rival branch. But if you are ASDA looking to create a foothold in a Tesco area, the worst thing you could do is take a premises miles away from an existing store. The best place to open your store is in fact next door. If customers can't find what they want in Tesco, they'll go to you."
When looking at your competition, however, it's important to compare apples for apples. "If you're starting an ice cream shop, don't say that Haagen Dazs is your competitor," says Davis. "Look at your relevant competitors. Think local."
4. Find your USP
Be truly unique, advises Davis. "I go into a business and ask 'What are your unique selling points (USPs)'. They go: 'Great customer service'. 'Okay,' I say. 'Anything else?' 'We really know our stuff,' they say. Er okay. I expect good customer service and that you know what you're doing. You need to work out what's different about you."
Dominos pizza has become the largest pizza chain in the UK. Why? It was the first to promise to deliver your pizza within 30 minutes of making the phone call. "Customers want their pizza hot and they want it now because they're hungry now," says Davis. "That's how Dominos differentiated itself from other pizza companies and ultimately took a swathe of the market."
Davis also advises using bright colours and distinct branding to stand out from the crowd. "Everyone loves blue in business," she says. "At a certain age men start going colour blind and blue is more vibrant so they all go blue blue blue. But try and avoid looking too drab or samey."
5. Avoid diluting your brand
Your branding is the promise you make to your customer. "Treat your brand carefully," says Davis. "Every time you change your logo or colours, you're diluting your brand. You're taking away from that trust that your customers have in you by demonstrating that you're not secure in what you're doing."
Controversially, Davis cites Virgin as a branding cautionary tale. "The Virgin brand is rubbish," she says. "It's not a good example of branding for your business.
"You do not buy Virgin because of the logo, you buy it because of Richard Branson. If Richard Branson was no longer there to support the company, it would struggle. Branson has had more failures than successes with Virgin. This is an example of brand dilution: do you really want the same guy who makes your plane to make your cola. Are you going to get jet fuel in your cola?!"
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