Marketing is not a recent concept, nor is it fundamentally complex. The term dates back some 500 years, referring to buying and selling cattle at a market.
Only in the late 19th century did the emphasis change to what we now know as promotion, advertising, and sales generation. But the rise of the World Wide Web, together with all the opportunities it brings, has undoubtedly made marketing more complex than ever.
As a result, there’s an air of mystery surrounding marketing, but it stems only from a lack of knowledge and understanding, much like the way many of us feel about hedge funds, cryptocurrency, or quantum mechanics. It has been explained to us more than once, but we still don’t really understand the ‘what’, let alone the ‘how’.
“Ignoring online marketing is like opening a business but not telling anyone.” - KB Marketing
The ‘how to’ of marketing isn’t particularly easy to master because effectively executing the ‘how’ requires considerable practical experience. However, there are few barriers for anyone with the time, dedication, and discipline to get involved and learn.
By contrast, the ‘what to do’ in marketing is far simpler. Nothing about that is shrouded in mystery because everything you ever wanted to know is out there for everyone to find, learn, and implement, and largely for free, thanks again to the internet.
Where should you begin?
The key areas anyone interested in marketing their own business needs to have at least some knowledge of, albeit more in some areas than others, are:
- Marketing strategy
- Market research
- Brand positioning, values, and messaging
- Public relations
- CRM systems,
- Graphics, photo manipulation, design, and layout
- Copywriting, content generation, and content marketing
- Direct marketing
- B2B marketing
- Consumer and retail marketing
- Oh, and a reasonably good understanding of the inner workings and cultural positioning of half a dozen social media channels.
The list is pretty daunting and always begs the question, “Where do I begin?”
Today, the internet empowers us to feel we’re capable of learning anything and achieving everything. But when a single search for, “How do I create a marketing plan,” returns 1.1 billion results (and even narrowing the search to include ‘UK’ produces a mere half a billion results), it’s more than a little confusing.
And if that weren’t enough to make your brain hurt, the search results include paid (sponsored) ads for products and services, FAQs, how-to videos, and an endless list of websites promising the ‘truth’. What do you believe, and where do you begin?
The answer depends on your starting point. Whoever is responsible in your organization for marketing has three main options: do it yourself, build an internal marketing team, or outsource to a trusted, expert provider.
Do it yourself
If you have no or only basic knowledge of marketing, consider signing up for Google’s brilliant Digital Garage (about 62 hours of free training). Alternatively, there are plenty of online resources, from how-to guides to mini-courses all the way up to free university-level MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from edX https://www.edx.org.
And if you’re a business owner with experience in marketing, well, what are you waiting for? Oh, aside from running your business at the same time, of course.
You’re already stretched thin managing the company’s day-to-day operations and ensuring it remains profitable. Adding marketing to the list when you lack expertise, resources, or time to create and execute a successful marketing strategy is often a non-starter.
Doing it yourself means literally getting stuck in and figuring out what to do and how to do it. It’s very cost-effective because only your time is required, and that, of course, has no value – you can burn the candle at both ends and work weekends at no monetary cost to you. Your health, well-being, family, and friends might suffer as a result, but you can always make up for that later.
Sort of. Eventually.
Build an internal marketing team
This option is by far the most challenging. Unless you’re in a position to pay high-level, experienced individuals, you’ll need to truly understand what your business does and what you actually sell or provide.
You’ll need to understand who your customers are and what they need from you, the organization’s identity, your brand values, your position in the market, your competitors, and your voice (how you communicate with them).
All of this is critical because you’ll need to be able to give your new, perhaps less-experienced, marketing person/team clear guidance on how to market your business and not waste money in the process.
Outsource to a third-party provider
For some business owners, outsourcing their marketing feels like losing control. For some, there’s the risk that communication will be challenging; others may feel there could be confidentiality issues. However, all of the above depends entirely on who you engage and the length and breadth of their experience.
Your key consideration should be expertise – not personality, not process, and not price.
There’s a distinct gap between experience and expertise. The latter is crucial because it defines ability at a higher level. And for you to hand over control of marketing to grow your business the right way, you need to be supremely confident so that you can get on with running your business while they get on with marketing it.
Highly effective marketing – that is, marketing that works for your business and is not simply the mindless posting of content and spending money on paid advertising – is challenging and constantly evolving, with new technologies and trends emerging all the time.
Keeping up with the latest developments can be tough, but outsourcing your marketing to experienced and highly competent specialists means you don’t have to concern yourself directly with this.
“When you say you’re great, it’s marketing. When your customers say you’re great, it’s magic." - Brittany Hodak. Award-winning entrepreneur
The fear of marketing
Some business owners aren’t fully engaged in marketing, and others haven’t yet begun. For some, this will be because of a lack of funds or resources, but for many, it’s deeper than that. It’s fear. Fear of failure, fear of wasting money, fear of negative feedback, fear of not being able to keep up or scale.
Let’s dig into each of these fears:
Fear of failure
This is the fear that your marketing efforts won’t be effective, won’t resonate with your target audience, or won’t generate the desired results. Marketing is risky because even the most well-thought-out campaigns can sometimes fail to resonate fully with the target audience. Business owners who are too risk-averse may miss opportunities to connect with people and generate new inquiries.
Fear of wasting money
The first rule of marketing: commit to a budget.
The second rule of marketing: see the budget as an investment, not an expense.
Of course, your marketing spend needs to be affordable, but it is an investment in the future of your business, so if you only ever see it as an expense, you’ll constantly be focusing on the wrong things.
Business owners who are too focused on the cost of marketing will often fail to invest in effective strategies that could generate significant returns, ultimately missing out on valuable opportunities to grow the business and increase profitable revenue.
Fear of negative feedback
While negative feedback can be difficult to hear, it also provides an opportunity to improve and grow. Business owners who are afraid of negative feedback may be less likely to engage with their customers to ask for feedback at all, fearing that negative reviews or criticism of their marketing campaigns may cause reputational damage to their business.
Fear of losing control
While growth can be exciting, it can also be daunting for business owners who may feel they’re losing control of their business. They might, therefore, hesitate to invest in marketing strategies that will help build the business.
It feels counterintuitive, but only some businesses want to continue growing. Others are satisfied with their status, their position in the community, and the income they generate. The desire to grow brings with it a level of unanticipated commitment.
Fear of scale
Business owners might doubt their ability to keep up with the demands of a successful marketing campaign. They may fear an inability to maintain the quality of their products or services as demand grows, leading to negative customer experiences and hurting the reputation of the business.
Positive solutions to the fears associated with marketing
The above are real fears that can be both debilitating and restrictive, even if they’re largely unfounded. Some say the word ‘fear’ is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real, which may be true in certain settings.
This is not to belittle in any way the fears business owners experience at various stages, but to stress that fear in the context of marketing is more likely to stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding. Unless you happen to sell a product that’s naturally in high demand, or you’re a high street shop positioned in a location with high foot traffic, allowing yourself to be controlled by these fears could eventually kill your business.
On the other hand, being open to new ideas and taking calculated risks means business owners can find success with marketing that may ultimately lead to growth and success, thus allaying the fears and concerns that might otherwise have prevented them from doing so.
“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” - Seth Godin
Taking a step toward strategic and effective marketing can and will feel like a daunting prospect, as it requires significant time, effort, and resources. Less so when working with a highly experienced and successful marketing partner, but there’s no getting away from the need to be involved.
It is, after all, your business, and with careful planning and execution, marketing campaigns will help your business grow and thrive in today’s competitive marketplace – whatever sector you’re in.
Below are some positive spins on the fears some business owners may experience when thinking about marketing.
Fear of failure
The antidote to the fear of failure is to approach marketing with a growth mindset, seeing marketing as an opportunity to learn and grow, even if initial efforts do not yield the desired results. By trying new marketing strategies and tracking the results, you’ll gain valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. Celebrating successes along the way, even if they’re small, is also important to help build confidence and momentum.
Fear of wasting money
Addressing the fear of wasting money with a data-driven mindset, where the budget is allocated according to specific, predetermined goals, is important. But you need to be pragmatic with this approach.
The saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” presumes that seeing higher engagement figures justifies an increase in investment too.
But what if your engagement figures on Instagram are nonexistent, and your ideal client happens to see one of your posts. Instead of clicking the trackable link to your website, they call you two weeks later, having made a note of your number? Should you stop spending money on creating new posts for Instagram?
Have respect for data, and use it as a high-level guide, but don’t allow it to give you tunnel vision. To paraphrase a quote from a previous article, “Business owners should use data the way a drunk uses a lamp post; for support, not illumination.”
Fear of negative feedback
You can’t please all the people all of the time, but you can’t ignore feedback either. Regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Negative feedback is tough to see, especially when it’s plainly inaccurate or untrue. Rise above the negativity and see it as an opportunity to improve your business.
By engaging with customers and soliciting feedback, business owners can gain valuable insights into what customers want and how to improve their products or services as a result. It’s essential to view negative feedback as constructive criticism and use it as a learning opportunity to make meaningful changes to the business.
Fear of losing control
The solution to the fear of losing control is to plan for growth and anticipate the challenges it brings. By building a solid team and developing processes and systems that can scale with the business, you’ll feel more confident in their ability to manage growth. It is also important to seek outside help, such as working with a marketing and/or business development consultant, to ensure the business is well-positioned to handle change and growth.
Fear of not being able to keep up
Focus on building a solid foundation for your future business. This includes investing in the right technology and infrastructure to support growth, hiring the right team members to manage increased demand, and developing scalable processes and systems that can handle the increased volume.
It’s also important to plan for growth and anticipate potential challenges, such as supply chain issues or staffing shortages, to ensure that the business is well-prepared to handle increased demand.
“There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can.” - Henry Ford
The business marketing journey
Marketing is not a destination. It’s a journey that typically begins with a marketing strategy, the ultimate goal of which is to build brand awareness, increase sales, and establish a long-term relationship with customers. Let’s explore some key steps on your business marketing journey.
- The marketing strategy: A marketing strategy can be complex, but for micro-businesses (turnover up to £2m) and SMEs (turnover £2m – £10m), a marketing strategy is an essential step. It encompasses purpose, meaning, tactics, and expected outcomes of every step along your journey. It involves identifying the target market, researching competitors, defining unique selling points, setting marketing objectives, and creating tactics to achieve those objectives.
- Market research and analysis: Understanding your target audience, their needs, preferences, and pain points. Analyzing your competitors. Finding their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis).Identifying trends, opportunities, and challenges in the market.
- Defining marketing goals and objectives: This is a crucial step in developing an effective marketing strategy. Marketing goals refer to the overall outcomes that a company wants to achieve through its marketing efforts, while marketing objectives are specific, measurable, and time-bound actions that a company takes to achieve those goals.
- Brand development: Establishing your brand positioning, messaging, and unique value proposition. Designing a logo that reflects your brand’s personality and visual identity (colors, typography, imagery, etc.). Creating a document outlining the proper use of your logo, colors, fonts, and other brand elements across all your marketing activities.
- Website development: Planning the website structure, including the layout, user experience, and content. Incorporating your brand identity and ensuring it is responsive and search engine friendly. Testing to ensure it meets user needs, functions seamlessly, and supports your marketing goals.
- Content strategy and creation: Developing a content plan for your website, blog, social media, and email marketing. Creating high-quality, engaging, and valuable content tailored to your target audience’s needs and preferences.
- Paid advertising: Identifying appropriate channels (e.g., Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads) based on your target audience and marketing goals. Creating ad campaigns, including targeting, ad creatives, and budget allocation. Monitoring and optimizing the performance of your ads to achieve the maximum return on investment.
- Email marketing: Building one or more email lists by encouraging website visitors to subscribe. Developing email marketing campaigns to engage subscribers, promote content, and drive conversions. Segmenting your lists and personalizing email content to improve engagement and results.
- Social media marketing: Choosing the right social media platforms for your target audience and marketing goals. Developing a social media strategy, including content planning, posting frequency, and engagement tactics. Monitoring and engaging with your audience, responding to comments, and addressing customer issues.
- Analytics and performance measurement: Setting up tools to track and analyze your marketing efforts (e.g., Google Analytics, social media analytics, email marketing metrics). Monitoring and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the success of your marketing plan. Adjusting and refining your marketing strategies based on data-driven insights.
- Continuous improvement: Keeping up with industry trends, emerging platforms, and new marketing techniques. Regularly reviewing and updating your marketing plan to ensure it remains relevant and effective. Iterating and optimizing your marketing efforts to achieve better results over time.
“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” - Seth Godin
A FUN WAY TO EXPLAIN MARKETING CONCEPTS
You’re at a party, holding a sign above your head that reads, “I’m very rich, will you marry me?”
You’re at a party, and you give a friend five pounds to approach a beautiful person, point at you, and say, “They’re very rich, will you marry them?”
That’s paid advertising.
You see a beautiful person at a party. You go up to them and say, “I’m very rich, will you marry me?”
That’s direct marketing.
You see a beautiful person at a party. You go up to them, but before you say anything, another person comes over to the beautiful person and says, “I’m very rich; will you marry me?” The beautiful person goes off with them.
That’s the competition eating into your market share.
You see a beautiful person at a party, you get their telephone number, and you call them the following day and say, “Hi, I’m very rich, will you marry me?”
You’re at a party and see a beautiful person. You get up and straighten your tie, walk over, and pour them a drink. You open the door for them, pick up their coat, offer them a lift home, and then say, “By the way, I’m very rich, will you marry me?”
That’s public relations.
You approach a beautiful person at a party and say, “I’m very rich, will you marry me?” They slap you hard around the face.
That’s customer feedback.
At a party, a beautiful person walks up to you and says, “I know you’re very rich.”
That’s brand recognition.
You’re at a party, and you approach a beautiful person and say, “I’m very rich; will you marry me?” They turn and introduce you to their partner.
That’s the demand-supply gap.
Marketing is not fundamentally complex, especially if each stage is taken one step at a time. However, it’s staggering how many companies still either don’t understand it or don’t get involved because they’re simply too busy or hampered by fear of the unknown.
Technology has made marketing far more accessible, but it’s also responsible for a lot of confusion. This makes it a potentially serious distraction for business owners to consider taking on marketing alone or, in some cases, even consider building an internal marketing team.
Whatever your starting point, if you feel your marketing journey would benefit from engaging a third-party marketing consultant, remember that your key consideration should only be expertise – not personality, not process, and not price.
Make the leap. You never know; it might just transform your business.
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