Even with instant communication via the Internet and mobile devices, your greatest new solution or service won’t be found or recognized without proper marketing. The challenge is to rise above the clutter and stand out from the 500,000 other new businesses that get started in the U.S. every month. I find that digital marketing is the most visible and effective place to start.
Even within the digital marketing realm, a thousand alternatives are vying for your limited budget. Should you be buying keywords from search engines, building fabulous web content, blasting out e-mail campaigns, or putting all your efforts into viral videos or social media? Before you can answer these questions, you will need to build a strategy, put together a budget, and define measurement metrics; this work can form the foundation for your business plan.
As an advisor to many entrepreneurs and small businesses, I often get asked where to start and how to proceed. In that context, I offer the following practical steps and priorities:
- Focus on a unique selling proposition (USP) for your offering. Digital marketing is all about establishing a voice and crafting a message that customers can relate to and makes you stand out. My advice is to keep it simple but memorable and pick something you can highlight with pictures and videos. Keep your customer rather than your technology at the forefront.
- Research the top digital channels for your business today. There is no one best channel for all companies. For young consumers today, it may be Instagram or Snapchat, while B2B offerings should take a hard look at LinkedIn and industry association websites. Prioritize the list by customer reach, the effort required by you, and cost.
- Select no more than three that match your needs. You can’t do everything that you would like, even if you had the money. Resist the urge to try the latest “hot new channel” just because your friends are talking about it. Set specific objectives, budgets, and metrics for each one. Research how other companies used each channel successfully, pick a strategy and a team for each one, and get started.
- Start creating content to get visibility and build a following. Here is where you may need outside expert help to be effective. Traditional marketing hype won’t get you the attention you need. Today’s audience is looking for something more creative, visual, engaging, and interactive. Here is where you have to think outside the box.
- Concentrate on building your brand image and message. Now is the time to integrate and solidify your brand across all the channels and platforms you have selected. You need to hone your design and tone, taking a strategic approach to brand recognition in your marketplace, all while keeping your target customer top of mind.
- Expand marketing in channels that work and add others. Based on metrics, revenue growth, and customer feedback, it’s now time to prune digital channels that don’t work for you, experiment with new ones, and expand your efforts where you see success. Content that works should be relentlessly repurposed, from website to social media to events, and so on.
- Add elements of traditional marketing to maximize visibility. While non-digital marketing typically costs more money, it may be required to reach all customers in your target audience. There are still customers, especially B2B, who won’t accept your brand as credible until it appears on television, in magazines, direct marketing, and at trade shows.
In every case, I have found that marketing is more important than ever for the growth and visibility of a new brand, and digital marketing is the most cost-effective way to start. Yet, it shouldn’t be done without careful planning and sustained effort. Entrepreneurs who strike out randomly on every digital channel they know, using family and interns, are wasting their efforts.
Even less effective are those who still believe that “if we build it, they will come.” It’s time to be proactive in reaching customers, projecting your message, engaging them in two-way conversations, and listening carefully to what they have to say. It’s not the size of your budget that makes you memorable – it’s the strength of your connection with real customers who can multiply your efforts.