marketing advice

Looking In with Marketing Analysis

ContentImageHandler.ashxWith the last of the fall leaves falling from our trees, this last quarter is one of the best times to review your marketing plan with a tried and true business tool, the SWOT analysis. But let’s focus on a marketing SWOT, which is a great way to review your marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It provides insights that can guide you in revisiting your marketing strategy, giving your company a stronger edge in the marketplace.

I have outlined below a few tips on conducting a marketing SWOT analysis, which will enable you to quickly see any missing gaps and revise your resources or plan as needed.

How do I get started with a Marketing SWOT?

Outline or summarize what you have planned for your organization: strategic direction, target audience, what you are known for, sales figures, internal and external resources, and a marketing budget breakdown including web, campaigns, online and media spends.

Strengths:

Here you should make note of significant advertising spends that you may have that your competitors do not, brand name recognition, and a proven, loyal customer base. Also consider your proven brand value as it relates to your customer (engagement of your audience).

Weaknesses:

A company could suffer because it has poor brand recognition or customers regard the company’s products or services as unreliable or overpriced. Weaknesses are important in a SWOT because they suggest how best to position a company against a rival that is stronger overall.

Opportunities:

Here you should illustrate any move your company could make to enhance its position. You might want to list extensive cash resources and financing as a chance for your company to quickly grow market share by spending more money on advertising and promotion. You could also consider any recent expansions or new services/products that could provide a strong future opportunity.

Threats:

These are similar to weaknesses, but show how your company is vulnerable to developments in the marketplace. For example, an established company that has always relied on traditional advertising in its marketing could face threats from new, entrepreneurial companies determined to build market share through social networking.

Once completed, you can review your current strategy against the SWOT and see if there are any gaps that you can address. You can also use the SWOT to help determine how best to use the company’s marketing budget given other factors in the marketplace and the competitive landscape.

Have you ever heard of a marketing SWOT? If so, when was the last time you conducted a one? How did it help you strengthen your marketing strategy? If not, do you see the value in doing a marketing SWOT for your company? I look forward to hearing your stories in the comments below.

Why Stop-and-Start Marketing does not work

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We’re just over halfway through the summer – how has business been? If summer is a slow time for your business or industry, you might be looking for ways to shave some costs before the boom September hits. Take my advice from this previously posted piece, and ensure that you don’t compromise branding in the name of saving a couple of bucks.

All businesses see fluctuations in their revenues. And it is understandable that when faced with “cash flow” issues, many businesses owners look to cut what they deem to be “unnecessary expenditures”. However, I can tell you from my many years of marketing experience that marketing is an integral part of your business, and stopping marketing activities can have a dramatic impact on your business.

A good example of this in practice is the 2008 financial crisis. Many businesses were faced with huge revenue challenges, and although some decided to stop their marketing and withdraw from their consumers’ radars, there were those that looked at it as an opportunity to “market smarter”. They continued to invest in their marketing, and not only survived the crisis – they actually thrived. Fueled by a strong marketing presence, these companies pushed forward with bolder strategies, and thereby gained a competitive advantage.

The reason that marketing is so important to businesses is that marketing is your main lifeline to customers and sales. Without it, you can’t be sure that customers know who you are, and what you are selling.

I’d like to share with you a few tips to consider, if you are ever in a situation where you are contemplating stopping or “pausing” your marketing activities:

  • Sync your business operations to be in line with your marketing strategy, so that if you have a “weak” month, you can pick up sales leads and revenues via another avenue.   For example, if you know that August is traditionally a bad “cash flow” month for your business, plan to combat that with a campaign running in July and August. Your marketing strategy plays a key role in your success.
  • Stop the marketing activities that are using non-measurable tactics, and replace them with other more measurable marketing practices.
  • Focus your advertising campaigns on lead generation instead of simply brand recognition.
  • Leverage social media strategies to increase engagement, audience and potential leads.
  • Find more ways to connect with your customers, so that you will be “top of mind” when they are making a buying decision.

I understand why, when faced with a crisis or dip in revenues, companies look to cut marketing budgets. But, simply stated, as “marketing” encompasses everything you do to place your product or service in the hands of potential customers, your marketing really needs to be continuous.

With markets becoming more competitive, it is more important that you get ahead of your competitors – by any means necessary.  That should start with a great marketing strategy, and continue with “smart”, measurable tactics that attract customers to your business.

Have you ever contemplated stopping your marketing?  What impact did this have on your business?  Please share your experiences on the importance of continuous marketing in the comments below.

The Advertising Essentials for SMBs

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More so than with a larger enterprise,  when you are a small-to-medium sized business, every customer counts. Business-owners often hear about the next “cool” thing in advertising and marketing, and immediately want to try it to see if it will bring customers through their door, with little thought to cost and overall fit within their marketing strategy.

I decided to highlight a previous blog post, compiling a list of best practices when it comes to choosing the advertising that best fits with your budget and your business’ overall goals.

As a SMB owner, once you’ve decided you want to advertise the challenge is making a choice about which type of advertising is best for your business. From online adverting to print ads, flyers, banner ads, radio and TV spots, the amount of selection seems endless.

We all know that to gain customers for your product or service you’ll have to invest in some advertising. One of the most important things for a product/company is to be seen and recognized by its target audience.  Advertising is the main avenue marketers use to attract customers to your specific brand, but it can also be the most expensive, so choosing the right type of advertising will be key to your success.

Here are a few tips to I’d like you to consider before investing in your advertising this year.

  1. As advertising can be costly, consult your marketing strategy to align your advertising goals with your overall marketing strategy.
  2. Consider your audience before choosing the type of advertising. E.g. if you are a tattoo service targeting a younger audience, then an ad in the newspaper (which older people are more likely to read) would not be a good investment of your advertising dollars.
  3. Keep the goal in mind.  In consultation with your strategy, be clear on what you want to achieve with this advertising.  Some may advertise to increase brand recognition or to actually drive sales.  Be as specific as possible about what you hope to achieve through advertising. E.g. increase sales by 10% in product “x”.
  4. Timing. Decide the frequency and duration.  Advertising is won and lost based on how many times it is seen or heard by your audience, so think about how often you will run an ad and, if it’s a radio ad, how long will the spot be.
  5. Use a mix of different methods.  Unless you know your audience is using a certain type of media 100% of the time, versification is also important. Think of a radio ad you may have heard and then read that ad in the newspaper or trade publication, and then possibly seen the exact same ad in a local bus shelter.  Increasing your audience’s exposure to your brand directly correlates to their buying decisions.
  6. Make sure you have measurement in place to track your advertising. You’ll need to track it so you can determine what the ROI is and if it met your goals.

If you want to grow your customer base you have to advertise, but before you spend one dime, be sure you choose advertising that helps you to effectively reach your target market and attract new customers.

Have you considered advertising your company? Have you included advertising in your marketing strategy?  What kind of success have you had with your advertising? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

The ABC’s of SEO

seopuzzleWe all know the Internet is becoming increasingly competitive and it can be tough these days to get noticed on the web. This competition has spurred many changes to how we write, design and list websites. It has also introduced the need for ongoing web support to ensure your site is indexing properly and staying on the first page of search engine results.

As a SMB owner it seems as though companies who perform SEO have a decided advantage in visitors and customers, so how does a SMB get seen these days?

Before I go any further let me briefly describe what SEO is: SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page, key words in your site tags and descriptions to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing are only as successful as their ability to provide a user with links to the best websites related to the user’s search terms.  If your site uses those search terms then it has a higher chance of being listed by a search engine. The trick and all the buzz about SEO is that there are literally thousands upon thousands of companies all doing the same thing; competing for the same key terms. Your job is to find a way to show search engines that your site belongs at the top of the heap.

As the owner of Creativeworks, a marketing agency dedicated to increasing marketing results for SMB owners, I have a few SEO tips I’d like to share with my fellow SMBs to help you better understand and ensure you’ve covered the SEO basics on your website.

Write for SEO

The most important component of SEO is excellent content. Without strong content, SEO tips and tricks will only provide a temporary boost in your site’s ranking (at best). That said, your site won’t rise to the top of every search engine’s results based on content alone.

Get Listed

If you have a new website, submit it to the major commercial search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!  If your site cannot be found by search engines, or if your content cannot be put into their databases, you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities available to websites provided via search.

Create Search Terms

Search terms (or key word terms) are the words that users type into the search box at Google, Bing or Yahoo and they carry extraordinary value. Search engine traffic can make or break an organization’s success. Investing in SEO, whether through time or finances, can have an exceptional rate of return when compared to other types of marketing and promotion.

Organic vs. Paid

In the world of SEO, organic does not refer to the use of toxic and persistent synthetic pesticides and fertilizers! It refers to listings that will appear because of their relevance to the search terms. Paid SEO is using key search terms tied to adverting which may have your website appear on the first page as well, but as advertisement listings. A common Pay per click (PPC) (also called cost per click) advertising tool is Google AdWords.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another term gaining popularity these days: content marketing.  Many companies who have been practicing SEO for years and want another approach to help increase their rankings are now turning their attention to content marketing.  I’ll discuss this in more detail in next week’s blog.

Depending on your time commitment, willingness to learn, and complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. But no matter if you hire a SEO firm, marketing agency or handle your SEO yourself, the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and attention.

I am always interested in hearing from you. Is your website optimized?  What types of rankings have you experienced? If you are not listed on the first page search results, is that acceptable to you?  Let me know in the comments below.

Client Referrals: Don’t Ask… Don’t Get

Many SMB owners describe client referrals as one of the hardest things they have to do. No matter if they receive client emails thanking them for their service and singing their praises, very few see that feedback as marketing opportunities to ask their clients for referrals.

With November drawing to a close this week, I can’t think of a better time to set up face-to-face meetings with your existing clients to wish them well for the holidays, discuss their plans for the new year, and ask them for a referral.

I am not suggesting in any way that we substitute client referrals with other lead generation tools such as social media, landing pages, online marketing, QR code campaigns, etc., but there is no better lead than a “warm” lead or “endorsed” lead from an existing client.

Although many business owners feel comfortable asking their clients for a testimonial, when it comes to referrals they seem to steer clear.  I’m not sure if it’s that they are shy or just afraid of the client reaction, but referrals are not only a fantastic source for lead generation, they are “free” and therefore should be included in every marketing strategy.

Here are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you approach your clients and get the business referrals you deserve:

  • Book a face-to-face meeting with your client. People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. Although it is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you’re in a situation where a face-to-face is not possible, you will have greater success when meeting in person.
  • Use the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to set up this face-to-face.
  • Make it a more casual setting – since it is holiday time, a lunch offer would be nice with the idea to thank them for their business and also to connect on plans for the new year.
  • During your holiday lunch or coffee, and after you have discussed their business needs, be as sincere and direct as you can be and say something such as, “I’m really glad that you’re pleased with my work. I’m always looking for referrals and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do).” If they do offer names, take them down and ask the person if they mind if you contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them yourself.
  • Another approach might be to add: “May I leave a few of my business cards with you in case someone comes to mind?” Leaving extra business cards with a person makes it easier for them to pass your name and contact information to someone else.
  • Keep this meeting upbeat and never ask for a referral when presenting your client with their invoice.

It does take some effort and possibly courage to approach your clients for referrals, but the effort promises great rewards.

How have you asked for referrals? Do you have any approaches you would add to this list?

Get To Know Your Competition

Following last week’s blog about how to increase sales, I received some great feedback, specifically regarding checking out your direct competition, and so I decided to focus this week’s blog on getting to know your competition. As the old expression goes: “Keep your friends close and your enemy even closer”.

As a small or medium business, knowing what your competition is doing will help you to define your competitive edge, determine your marketing strategy and plan for what types of tactics will be successful for you in increasing your sales and long term growth.

Competition research and assessment doesn’t need to be complicated, but it can be tricky and time consuming, so you might want to consult with a marketing expert to help you. If you have the time and resources, here are a few tips I’d like to share with you on what should be included in any good competitive analysis.

Write The Names Of Your Competition

Write out who your direct competitors are that largely mirror the products/services you offer. You cannot strategize and learn about your competitors if you don’t clearly establish who they are. Consider adding companies that may indirectly compete with yours, but offer products/services that address the needs of the same target audience.  Also, include here where your competitor is located, as geography also plays a role in direct competition.

Perform a SWOT Analysis

No competitive analysis would be complete without a SWOT analysis to analyze the Strengths (S), Weaknesses (W), Opportunities (O) and Threats (T) of your company and competitors. “Strengths” facilitate business growth, whereas “weaknesses” are factors that hinder business growth including low quality products or services, poor customer service, etc. “Opportunities” and “threats” are external factors that can hamper your business’s performance, including (1) economic forces; (2) social, cultural, demographic and environmental forces; (3) political, governmental and legal forces; (4) technological forces and (5) competitive forces.  Take the time to look at if the company is expanding or cutting back.

 

Examine Their Materials

What are the company’s marketing activities?How do they market and advertise their businesses? Look at materials like their quarterly and annual reports, press releases, interviews, website, and SM sites. The annual reports will give you an idea as to their annual sales, and possibly their pricing structure. Check out their SM networks, and see who they are talking to, and what they are talking about.  You should be able to determine what their target audience is and what their competitive advantages and disadvantages are compared to your business. All this valuable information will help you form a clear picture about your competitors’ objectives and strategies.

 

Research The Market

You will have covered some of this in the SWOT analysis, but make sure you’ve looked at the growth potential of the market. Consider whether you have the technical, marketing, or engineering expertise to capitalize on the market’s opportunities to grow your business.  Is the market concentrated or fragmented?

As a result of your businesses competitive analysis, you can identify competition, what their planned strategies are, and how to capitalize on your business’s distinctive competencies to achieve business growth.

If you invest in marketing without performing a competitive analysis, you run the risk of creating marketing tools, and product/service offerings that are way off the mark. This can cost you valuable time and money.

Another great saying comes to mind: Knowledge is power. Knowing what your competition aren’t focused on can be very powerful by helping you develop a strong marketing strategy, and dynamic branding with targeted activities that will increase your sales and ROI.

Do you have any questions about how to conduct a competitive analysis? Have you ever conducted a SWOT analysis for your business? If so, was it helpful? What has your experience been in gaining the competitive edge? Please share your questions and comments below.

How to Increase Sales for Small and Medium Businesses

It is often small and medium sized businesses that need to increases sales the most. The dilemma? It is because of their small/medium size that these businesses often do not have the resources to do so.  As such, how do you increase sales when you have little-to-no budget to spend?

Without a sales team, or the internal resources to invest in costly advertisement campaigns, the SMB owner must be savvy about how they invest, as the bottom line is directly impacted in every marketing spend.

The answer to increasing sales is improving your marketing. Although marketing and sales are not the same, they have a symbiotic relationship that is key to the success of your business.  Marketing is everything that you do to reach and persuade prospective clients. The sales process is everything that you do to close the sale and get a signed agreement or contract.

To move a prospect from marketing to sales, you’ll need to develop a plan that combines both sales and marketing.  This will enable you to reach prospects at all three levels: cold, warm, and hot.

As an owner of a marketing agency that specializes in helping small and medium sized businesses increase sales through the development and implementation of a marketing strategy, I’d like to share with you a few tips on what should be included in your marketing plan, as it specifically relates to sales growth.

1.       Investigate Your Direct Competition

Always know what your competition and industry are doing, to help assess what is working, and what isn’t.  For example, if your competitors do not use social media, that might be an area in which you could shine.

2.       Chose One Product or Service to Focus on

We have a tendency to want to promote everything; to set out the largest net, so to speak. To increase sales, however we want to direct our prospective buyers to a simple “yes” or “no” decision. You can do this by developing separate promotions for each product or service you sell. Or, you can combine several products and services into one package for one price. In any case, always make your prospective customer’s buying decision a simple “yes” or “no”. It produces the maximum number of sales.

3.        Start with your Biggest Benefit

Tell your potential customer upfront what the biggest benefit is of your product or service. Leading immediately with your biggest benefit captures your prospect’s attention, and provides a compelling reason to continue reading or listening to your message.

4.         Make it a Personalized Approach
People buy from people they feel they know, so develop a personalized sales message for each product or service, and tailor it to the specific interests of prospects in each market you target.  If you are talking to the 18-24 year olds, use terms and a style that they can relate to.

5.          Provide Real-Life Examples

Generate more sales by telling your prospective clients exactly how your product or service operates in real life – share real-life examples and standards! For instance, “Our Emergency Response Team will respond within 30 minutes”, or “Available 24 /7, or the repair is free”. This differentiates your service offering AND motivates prospective clients to call you, by showing that your promises aren’t simply online fluff – they’re the truth!

6.       Customize Your Message Online

To give your clients that personalized approach on your website, and in all online marketing, create a landing page on your site that is specifically customized to your audience.  For example, if you have an advertisement for school supplies, link that ad to a new page on your site that speaks directly to this audience.

7.       Ensure Proper Tracking

When considering any marketing tactics, ensure that there is proper tracking and measurement in place.  How will you know what your ROI is on any campaign if you do not track it?  Every campaign you create must have a measurement in place before it is launched. Measurement forces you to outline your expectations and goals for your campaign. For example, when placing an online advertisement, your goal might be to generate 15 leads and 2 new clients.  The measurement should tell you not only if the campaign reached your goals, but also if it should be considered next year, and highlights any opportunity for improvement.

With a strong marketing strategy, you can create a robust marketing and sales plan that will increase your sales.

Do you have any questions about the difference between marketing and sales, and their differing tactics? Do you have any other marketing or related questions for me?  Please share your questions and comments below.