Where to get started with marketing
By Nial Adams
“I don’t know where to start with marketing”
If you’re stuck and don’t know where to get started with marketing, relax and trust me, your definitely not alone.
OK, so I know it’s the classic cliché “If I had a penny for every time…”, except with inflation perhaps that should read “If I had a pound…”.
“I don’t know where to start with marketing”, this comment is an echo that I’ve heard so many times. And I fully understand why. Let’s face it, marketing is a really big subject and over the past few years it’s become even bigger. And more complex.
If you’re starting a new business or just simply reached the point where you know that you’ve got to pull back the cover and tackle your marketing, you’ll probably feel like this. Where on earth do you start?
Well, over the next few weeks I’m going to share a simple route map for this, which I hope you’ll follow. I don’t suggest it’s the only way to tackle your marketing, that would be far too presumptuous of me. But what I can do is give you some insight of where you should be focusing in the first instance.
Marketing is a huge subject and when connected to selling – yes the two should always be properly joined up – it should actually make up the majority of what you do in business. Let’s just think about that for a moment.
No matter how good your product or service is, if you can’t sell it then you don’t have a business. In fact, you might be sitting there now thinking “but I’ve got a great product, if only I could find all the people who want it..”. Again, you’re not alone. Far from it.
Then there’s that perennial question; which is more important, marketing or selling?
Well, if you don’t actually sell then you have no transaction, which means no profit, right? No, not always. Think about this for a moment, how many salespeople does Amazon employ? Or eBay, or any number of other hyper-successful businesses?
“Alright but that’s the digital world Nial”, yep and the same is also true of the ‘analogue’ world too. The oil industry is one of the biggest on the planet, has a salesperson ever tried to convince you to buy petrol from them?
And what about other massively profitable industries like music, film, gaming, etc. Yep, no sales people there either.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we could live in a world without sales people (although there are a few I can think of that we’d be better without!). I’m simply pointing out that sales is an extension of marketing.
If you find that statement uncomfortable then look at it this way; marketing is the front end of selling and I would suggest that the sales process begins with marketing. That’s at least if you get it right and you’re blending your sales and marketing together correctly.
The line between these two is often blurred. And that’s a good thing. As a consumer I don’t want to feel that I’ve suddenly been moved into the sales process of a company or organisation. I simply don’t want to be ‘processed’ at all. I do, on the other hand, want to buy, especially if I feel the product meets my needs and criteria. I want to feel in control and I want to feel that I’m making the choice.
No longer is selling simply about getting the customer to say yes.. at any cost. Times have changed, consumers have changed (and that includes you and me). So your business needs to change too.
Likewise, marketing is about helping the consumer to accept and agree that perhaps they have a need. Perhaps they have a problem that they want to deal with, even if they didn’t realise this before.
I had an interesting experience just recently, teaching a group of University students who are studying business. One young guy told me that ‘the aim of marketing should be to create the problem for the customer’.
I challenged him on this. It shouldn’t be about creating the problem, simply uncovering one that may exist. I don’t believe that as marketers we should aim to create problems for our customers, we should focus on solving the ones that they already have.
He clearly twitched at my suggestion. Then once I explained that marketing is simply the start of building a relationship, and that we don’t want customers to experience ‘buyer’s remorse’ he conceded that I was probably right.
So, we accept that marketing is important, that the customer really wants to feel in control and that the marketing and sales process or journey need to be seamless.
Now, back to the point… where do you get started with marketing?
Well, there is one very important question you need to ask yourself and it is –
“Does the offer or proposition we have really answer a need that our customers have?”
Your offer or proposition is the way you articulate what it is you actually have to sell. Many business people make the classic mistake of simply assuming that just because they are a ____-type of company that their customer will automatically know what it is they do and what they have to offer.
Big mistake. Probably the biggest and most common of mistakes made in marketing.
We all get far too close to our own business. We live it, we breathe it. We know everything there is to know about it and we often expect that our customers will simply know most of this stuff too. That’s simply not the case.
Yes, of course, if the product or service you sell is ubiquitous and the market for it is well established and traditional then nearly everyone is familiar with it and already knows why they need it. However, there are lots of businesses that develop or offer new products or services and customer simply have no existing reference point for this.
Assumption is your enemy and always will be. This is why you really do need to check, constantly, if your target audience has enough knowledge, information and understanding.
So here are your first two tasks. They’re simple and you can do these straight away.
Firstly, take a fresh look at the way you articulate your offer. This means you need to read and review all of your sales and marketing literature. Check your website, look at your brochures, review your packaging, sales letters, etc. etc.
Ask yourself if you honestly think that it’s totally clear what you’re offering and why. If you find it difficult to do this, probably because you’re simply too close to it, then get someone independent to have a look at it for you. You might even run a short survey.
Then look at the various features and benefits that you feel make up the core of what you’re offering. Are these clearly expressed too? Are you leveraging this marketing assets correctly?
I’ve encountered several situations where this issue crops up. In training and mentoring I’ll often ask “what do you believe are the three main features of your product/service?”. You’d be amazed how often students will give me a list only then to sit red-faced when I point out that these don’t even appear on their website or in their marketing literature.
Why not? Because they have simply assumed that the (would-be) customer already knows this.
The second task is also simple; confirm if you have some way of checking a customer’s understanding. Do you have some method, automated or manual, that allows you to find out what the customer actually knows or is aware of?
In the sales environment there’s a good way to do this; ask them!
How often do you find yourself being sold-to where the sales person starts off by pressing the play button on their script? They go on to real off the list of things that they have been trained to tell you. And they do this without stopping for a moment to actually ask you what you already know.
Come on, there’s a simple way to do this, just ask the customer do they know what they are looking for? Ask them what they already know about the product or service. Ask them why they feel that this might be right for them.
They may be well-informed and almost ready to buy. Please don’t drag them through a sales script just because “that’s what we do”. Treat them with a bit more respect that this.
This has a couple of major benefits:
It helps you check their understanding, that way you can approach the situation in a far more tailored way, instead of simply tipping them in the top of your sales-meat-grinder and hoping that they’ll pop out the bottom.
It also shows that you have a serious interest in their agenda, as the customer, and not just yours, as the vendor. Remember, they’re not there for your benefit, they’re there for their own.
How can you do this in marketing? Create different ways for your customers to get the information they want. For example; you might have a flow through your website that is clearly titled as being for first-time customers. This gives the complete beginner a simple way to get the information they need.
Then you might have an alternative flow for those who are returning customers who already know what they want and simply want to place an order, perhaps once they’ve checked a few more facts.
In Summary –
Knowing where to start with your marketing is really a case of starting at the beginning. Please don’t get dazzled by the bright lights of marketing how-to skills and tactics until you’ve stopped to take a serious look at what you’re actually selling and why.
And please, always remember it’s not simply about your products or services that people buy; in truth nobody will ever buy your product or service, it’s all about the perception of value that they have it these.
The very best advice I can give you right now is to focus on this. Until you have answers to the key questions you’ll never really have a marketing plan or strategy (even at the most basic level) that is going to give you real confidence.
Now it’s over to you…
PS. If you want to learn more about marketing take the Free Trial of Make Marketing Work – my new marketing course online.
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