What is marketing?
I have learned that marketing is one of the most misunderstood business concepts for small business owners and non-profit organizations. There seems to be widespread confusion about the difference between market segments, marketing, branding, business development, market research, cause marketing, sales and strategic partners. Allow me to clear up the confusion on each.
Market segments are a group of like-minded buyers who want to buy your products or services. You need to identify your best market segments before you start spending a lot of time and money marketing to them. Market segments are a combination of customers who share demographic, geographical, or some other shared characteristic. Targeting specific segments is the most effective and strategic way to define, profile, and organize your customers into groups who share something in common—such as where they live, their age, their earnings, their buying habits, and most importantly, why they buy something. If you can pinpoint the why, you can create a powerful message that speaks to their why—that emotional part of their inner self that triggers a positive response to your message. Remember, most people justify buying something logically from a list of facts, features, and benefits, but their real decision comes from an emotional need of how your product or service makes them feel about themselves and their purchase.
Marketing is the process used to design, convey, and distribute your unique message and value proposition in order to promote your products or services. This is usually done through traditional methods (brochures, print, radio, TV, etc.) and/or digital methods (website, online ads, blogging, social media, etc.). The purpose of marketing is to attract new prospective customers and retain the right customers you currently service. Most marketing efforts for small businesses involve a buyer call-to-action so that the business can measure the effectiveness of the marketing. Unless you are a big-time retail or restaurant chain, or local car dealer, or create a nationally-distributed product, everyone in your town is not your customer. Even these businesses know who their best customers are and how to locate them. They just choose to do mass marketing because they can afford to throw lots of dollars at getting the attention of their market segments, and they have figured out the formula and cost of acquiring and retaining those customers. “Throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks” is a marketing tactic that most business owners can’t afford to try on an ongoing basis. Nor should they, and that is why the Right Customer Market Plan detailed in this chapter is so effective.
Branding is your distinctive design, logo, colors, and tag line. Branding, done well, creates a consistent emotional response within the viewer. Despite the best efforts of an organization, the emotional response is not always positive—sometimes it can be negative or neutral. What do you feel when you see the brands of Apple? Mercedes Benz? McDonalds? Walmart? Think about your favorite local restaurant. What impression does their brand have on you as you drive by and see their sign? Branding is your unique visual look and should not be confused with the process of marketing and advertising. Many small businesses struggle with the concept of branding because it can be expensive and difficult to measure any direct return on investment. Yet if you want to grow quickly and massively, you will need to create, embrace, and ride a strong, awesome brand to new levels of awareness and momentum.
Market Research is the process of gathering, analyzing and interpreting information about your customers’ needs and preferences or about a product or service to be offered for sale in that market. At a very basic level, this means searching on Google, interviewing and surveying prospects or customers, and checking out competitor’s websites. Advanced market research, usually performed by an expert, involves gathering secondary information from reports and studies by government agencies, trade associations, or other businesses within your industry. It can also include conducting primary research, such as running a focus group, to understand the spending and thinking habits of a specific market segment and their thoughts about an old or new product or service. Performing effective market segmentation and product differentiation is impossible to fully develop without sound market research. The more information you have about local and global trends, your competition, and best business practices, the better the decisions you will make about how to provide ultimate value to your customers now and in the future.
Marketing channels are the ways products and services flow from a business to an end-user customer. In addition to direct distribution, you can also consider channels such as retailers, wholesalers, distributors, agents, or brokers. Each one can add value through convenience, reputation, promotional expertise, methodology, labor, or by facilitating a unique relationship to businesses or end-users. Selecting and monitoring the right-fit marketing channels are critical functions for businesses to build trust with their customers and gain a competitive price, or a logistical or relationship advantage. Marketing channels should not be confused with a marketing communication mix, which are the ways a business communicates directly with their customers.
Cause marketing is the cooperative effort of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. A socially responsible business, desiring to make the community and the world a better place, can support an important charitable cause that strategically aligns with its core values, purpose, services, and marketing strategies. The business benefits with positive public relations, goodwill with its employees and vendors, and potential measurable growth in revenue. In return, a non-profit can expect to boost its exposure and fundraising abilities while limiting its marketing budget. Now more then ever, if your business doesn’t stand for a cause, a growing number of consumers, especially “millennials” (Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s and currently one-third of the total U.S. population) will turn to your competitors. Millennials tend to be civic-minded, believe it’s up to them to make a positive and lasting impact on the future, and expect companies like yours to do its part.
Business Development is two-fold. It involves both external and internal elements: strategic relationships and strategic planning. First, it is the process of building relationships and sharing referrals with strategic partners who have the same right-fit customers as you. Your products are usually complimentary to theirs, so there is limited competition but significant opportunities to send business, opportunities, and customers to each other. Internal business development is the process of strategically building your business through an ongoing, proven operational planning process. Typically, the business owner or CEO of smaller organizations takes the personal role of business development.
Sales is the process of earning a commitment by building loyal relationships with your customers. Despite its bad rap with many consumers and business owners, sales is the vital and primary way to build long-term relationships with people who have a need that matches the solution you provide. Sales can occur face-to-face, over the phone, or through digital means. However, the more automated the process, the less effective the emotional bond is with the customer. This type of consultative sales process is focused on creating customer loyalty through respect, empathy, and mutual goal achievement—mastered with the execution of the Customer Loyalty Cycle I’ll present later. Regardless of whether your business is selling goods or services in a store or online, this sales process can be used and adapted for almost any business model or industry. Every successful entrepreneur I know share two undeniable traits: they are a master of his or her specific sales process, and they are a master goal planner and achiever. The Be Good at Doing Good Right Customer Sales Process is detailed in Chapter 6.
Strategic Partners are a group of like-minded businesses who work together for mutual benefit. A strategic partner may have existing relationships with your target markets and customers or bring some additional resource to enhance your offerings. Strategic partners usually offer a different, or at least complementary, non-competitive product or service than you. By working together, you can leverage each other’s strengths to build relationships and collaborate in a variety of ways to offer a competitive advantage. These arrangements can be formal or informal, but the goal is the same for both organizations—to reach more customers at a lower cost and provide more value. Partnerships can take place in one or several areas of a business: marketing, advertising, referrals, financial, supply chain, technology, and research and development. Building a market plan to attract and retain strategic partners can be just as important as building one for end-user customers.