Most people in business have nutted out a way of selling or they would not have survived to this point. There may not be a lot of science in the way they sell but, hey, when they can find an interested party it has worked so far.
And that may just be the point: Most of the people I know in small-to-medium businesses confess that when it comes to finding more "interested parties" to sell to - when it comes to marketing - they are almost totally at sea.
Many confess to "advertising in the paper" because they did not know what else to do; to putting in a bigger Yellow Pages ad because "the rep said my competitor would"; and to paying someone to "do a website for them" because they figured they had to get with the times but did not have a clue about how all of that worked or what they then had to do to turn that into new business.
At the same time, they also confess to having no marketing plan, no marketing budget; no way of measuring their return-on-investment from what they do for "marketing"; and no idea as to how to do better.
The scary thing is that when times get tough, the instinctive reaction is to "increase your marketing" but if that marketing is inefficient, poorly coordinated or just plain "doesn't work" then throwing money at the problem just increases the drain on precious cash and energy, and weakens your business instead of strengthening it - just when that matters most!
When Marketing is a Mystery, Here's A Safe Bet
In tough times, you can load up the very expensive media cannon with brass words and fire them into the market in the wild hope that one or two of those words will fall on the ears of an interested party and convert them to an enquiry. Or, you can ask your satisfied customers to aim their own golden words at targets that they know will be interested in you and your products, and have them fight the first round of your battle for you.
It's a "cannon versus marksman" approach and the latter has infinitely less misses, and always produces a more effective, more economical and more satisfying result!
Arm Your Troops
However, if you do no more than ask your best customers to "tell other people about us" you have no control over the quality of their communication, the accuracy of their story, or the effectiveness of their efforts on your behalf. They'll be sincere, no doubt, but they may not be "impactful", and that would be a pity.
So how do you give them the support they need to support you?
Could you arm them with a well-designed brochure that highlights how others benefit from owning or using your products or services? Can you supply them with business cards, fridge magnets, mouse mats or other promotional material that, along with their sincere recommendation, give their acquaintances a way of at least finding you and getting in touch for the first time?
Be Smart About It
Could you ask your referees to refer others, via a link, to a special introductory offer on a private page of your website? Could you take that a step further and email a uniquely-coded link to each customer to forward to their friends so that when they click through, you can see who sent each one? Could you then reward them - or at least recognize them - for their efforts on your behalf?
Back to Basics
Oops, here I am talking about relatively sophisticated marketing when I haven't asked you to check the basics taught in "Business Marketing 101", so let's make sure they are in place before we do anything else. You might like to tick that you have:
- A well-researched colour palette (think FedEx's red and yellow; Coke's red; IBM's blue - so well identified that they were known as "Big Blue") that not only identifies you at a glance, but also capitalizes on the psychology of colour (red implies passion; blue, love; green, nature; etc.)?
- An instantly-recognisable logo (Commonwealth Banks "cheese on toast"; Billiton's "blobs"; Qantas's flying kangaroo) to tie together all of your physical and intellectual property in the minds of your potential customers?
- A simple, memorable and consistent brand name (Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, Google). When you first start out, it's handy if your brand name suggests what you do (a drink containing both cocaine and kola nut; small computer software; international business machines; something that works across 1-followed-by-100-noughts of web pages)? Later, if you're around long enough and throw enough money at it, even your daughter's (Mercedes) name can come to mean "prestige motoring".
- A catchy slogan (or "tagline") that catches the attention or imagination of your target audience (Beanz Meanz Heinz; "Just do it", Nike; "Oh What a feeling!", Toyota)?
- Badging on everything? Your colours, logo, brand name and/or slogan on everything that you put out into the marketplace (stationery, website, premises, vehicles, uniforms, products, advertising) so that they all add to your share of awareness among potential buyers?
What To Do First?
Get the basics right, quickly! Consistency across the items listed above counts for 90% of the initial impact, so just do it!
If you're tempted to bog down on the selection of palette, name, logo, etc, then spare a thought for the Standard Oil Company which was known in most of its Western markets under its Esso brand, had a readily-recognised pallet of yellow and black, and a neat slogan of "Put a tiger in your tank".
In 1973, Esso invested billions in rebranding across the globe, created a strong new related brand name, palette and logo and ran the lot out in a huge advertising campaign designed to take it to a whole new level of dominance in the global market.
All went well until in 1989 one of its self-named ships, the Exxon Valdez, created the world's greatest environmental disaster with a 40-million litre oil spill in the pristine wilderness of Prince William Sound, and all of Esso's precise branding turned to, well, "mud" and its new name, Exxon, became inextricably linked with "corporate criminal negligence" in the minds of the world.
The Exxon lesson for you?
Why The Name You Pick Is Not That Important
Create your brand thoughtfully but quickly, because ultimately it will come to mean the sum total of the associations you create around it by the quality of your products and service delivery.
So, create the "flag under which you will do business" quickly, and then use it pervasively and consistently so that the marketplace will start to associate with it, all of the good things that you create and use and say and do, and that others say about you, every day.
All of that is what is going to become "your brand".