When it comes to business, spending money on things with an unpromised, unspecified or uncertain return is a tough pill to swallow. Most business owners budget very carefully - they want to know what they're spending their money on and why; how their money is working for them. Marketing is one of those gray areas where, especially for the not-totally-new-school business owner, it can be difficult to grasp the concept of allocating large amounts of dollars toward something you only hope will work in the end. That's why a business mindset of scarcity is much more common than one of abundance - because when the results are unpredictable, it's easier to just stick with what you've got. But instead of asking, "what will marketing cost me?" more business owners are exploring the possibilities that emerge when they ask, "what will marketing make me?" And I'm here to tell you.
The reason why more companies (and small businesses in particular) are opening up their minds - and their wallets - to a new way of thinking is because they have most likely found at least one of the following five things to be true:
1. Marketing Makes You Money
Sure, marketing costs money. But it's not supposed to be a blindfolded spend frenzy. If you know enough about marketing to test the waters with some high-value, organic techniques that will get you a lot of mileage, then go for it, by all means. This will help inform your strategy down the road so that you have an idea of the areas where you need help, and so that you can reasonably predict your marketing expenditure. However, if you seek the advice of a professional, the right marketer will set your mind at ease by not expecting you to dump huge amounts of money into their account up front and by explaining each strategy they propose, as well as why they're priced the way they are. Then they'll put together a quote which should not only align with your goals, but illustrate the anticipated return in proportion to the suggested spend.
Let's face it, 'marketing' is a broad term but, in essence, the purpose of any marketing strategy is to get you found. Your product or service will only make you money if it is used by people, and awareness precedes use, wouldn't you say? Whether you employ digital marketing methods such as building a great website, blogging, email marketing, social media, and paid ads; or go old-school with direct mail, circular ads, door-to-door advertising, and cold-calling, the intent is the same: get people to buy from you.
Marketing, when done right, should bring opportunities to your sales force, traffic to your website, and rings to your phone. Ask yourself: if you don't have a website, then how are you getting found? How long will your current strategy be sustainable? Will it help you grow? If you have a website but it's not bringing you business, then it isn't working. Word of mouth success is wonderful, but do you have a plan in place for customer retention and acquisition? The response shouldn't be "how much will marketing cost me?" but rather, "how much do I want to make (or how many people do I want to help) and how can marketing get me there?"
2. Marketing Makes You Reputable
How many times have you visited an establishment based on a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend? Probably quite a few. Ever been somewhere really fantastic that you wouldn't have otherwise selected if not for a positive review? Exactly! It doesn't matter if people love your business if they're not spreading the word, and a digital presence makes it much easier for great reviews of your company to be found by the masses. Publishing testimonials and success stories on your website is a wonderful way to market yourself and show prospects that they can trust your brand just like other customers have. Furthermore, getting yourself listed on well-known and highly trafficked directory sites makes it easy for people to do their homework before they buy - which is an integral part of the customer satisfaction experience.
3. Marketing Makes You Credible
Not to be confused with reputation, credibility is a major factor in many buyers' decisions. How do you distinguish yourself from competitors? What makes you more of an expert on your particular field or subject area? What sets your product apart? Well, don't tell me - tell the world! You need a platform from which you can showcase your skills, expertise, or must-have product(s).
Blogging and social media marketing are excellent ways to use your own unique voice to educate buyers and demonstrate thought leadership without always delivering an overt, hard sell. People like information, and they're more likely to trust you if the information you provide is relevant to their problems, needs and experiences in such a way that makes them want to come back and keep getting educated by you (instead of just hearing your sales pitch and then leaving to continue shopping around elsewhere). This is especially vital for less well-known companies that don't have as much publicized feedback or presence. In order to stand up against your competitors, you must demonstrate credibility.
4. Marketing Makes You Accessible
It's one thing to have a website. But if you're just starting out or if no one knows your name, it's not enough to just have a website. How are you driving traffic to that website? Waiting to see what happens and hoping the phone rings are not measurable techniques that deliver results. You need a strategy, and you need SEO.
Maybe you've heard of search engine optimization (surely you've used that little thing called Google). Basically, SEO is tied into the design and function of your website so that search engines (like Google) can display your content to people who are looking for related information. If your website isn't optimized, then it's just sitting there. Sure, someone can type your URL and probably even search for your business name on Google - if they know your name. But if you've got a niche product or service or you're brand new to an area, no one will know to do that. You need your company or product to pop up in the search results whenever someone types in "Philadelphia wedding photographer," or "men's custom tailored vintage suits" (you get the idea).
5. Marketing Makes You Attractive
This should be self-explanatory. Let's be honest, we do tend to judge books by their covers, and we are (even if ever so slightly) biased toward companies - and people - who present themselves well. Marketing and branding are all around you. If you're anything like me, you're a sucker for the pretty packaging in the cosmetics aisle at Target (or the highly visible promise of a product that does it all, is portable, and comes with a warranty).
The same goes for your brand identity, whether you're a large organization or a freelance music teacher! The way you present yourself to the masses will play an important role in the amount of opportunity that converts to business. Online presence is becoming so important that it's almost unacceptable to have a sub-par website. For people who still use business cards (and who aren't constrained by corporate marketing guidelines), being memorable and capturing someone's attention with a 3.5-inch piece of paper requires some creativity. What's on the cover is not always a measure of what's inside, but the cover should at least make someone want to open the book. The way your business appears to others is a reflection of the way your business should eventually appear to your banker.
Lack of Marketing Costs You Everything
Short of quoting JFK for emphasis, there's really no other way I can say it (you got it, right? Please tell me you got it). Don't wait around doing cost analysis and pinching pennies. While you're doing that, your competition is outperforming you. A marketing strategy doesn't have to cost thousands. Figure out what you can spend and shop around. Start small: any improvement is a good investment. You can always scale up when your initial investment pays off.
Of course, marketing isn't the only ingredient for success. You should also deliver great customer service, quality, value, and purpose. Marketing attracts customers, but it's your responsibility to keep them around. Remember - the internet provides complete freedom of speech. Once you build a presence, it will be just as easy for people to find negative feedback about you if it exists. With this in mind, let a marketing strategy hold you accountable to your business for stepping up your game in every way. You owe it to your company, and perhaps even your livelihood.
So, in short, become easy to find, add content that makes people glad they found you, let the world know how satisfied your customers are, and present your business in the most appealing way possible and you'll see why a focused marketing strategy pays off more than sticking to the status quo. You and your business can become these five things and more - just embrace it!