Thirty years in marketing have taught me a thing or two. Here are my top suggestions to avoid learning your own marketing lessons the hard way.
Marketing Advice 1: Get Real
When I launched my first business into the world, it was a vulnerable feeling. I had a natural fear that what I had on offer would be rejected. As a result, I did what so many of us do: I tried to intuit what would appeal to the largest number of potential clients, and came off as vague and unclear.
My advice to myself then would have been, own who you are, and take a clear stand for that. Be real, and specific about what you do well – as well or better than anyone – and even if you only serve a very niche group, serve them with everything you’ve got.
Marketing Advice 2: Make Time for Strategy
Like 80% of small businesses today, my previous self had no business plan or strategy, and was head down in a sea of tactics and project work. Those were boom years, and although a crash was coming, small businesses could make it easier without a strategy.
My advice to myself would be to be strategic as a natural part of every day. That would mean observing what my industry, peers, partners, competitors and clients are doing and talking about. It would mean joining the conversation in associations, groups, and now, online. It also would mean visioning where I was headed and how I might intentionally take meaningful actions to get there. None of this would have to be time-consuming. Just 30 minutes a day would be more than I was doing in a year during that period in my life, and would have made everything so much easier when the recession did hit.
Marketing Advice 3: Give More of What They Want
Promotion can be a confusing space for us. It sure was for my younger self. Like many Facebook pages and newsletters today, my growing agency focused our promotional efforts on our features, services, and offerings. That might have worked for awareness, but it did little to close any sales.
Today I would advise my younger self to put herself in her clients’ shoes. Create content that was inviting and helpful.
That old self had a keen understanding of what clients wanted, as well as their daily struggles. But, bless her, she focused instead on what she knew they needed, rather than wanted. She was frustrated that they didn’t want what they needed, but did nothing to help them bridge that gap. That is a recipe for a big disconnect, and a whole lot of wasted marketing.
Advice 4: Communicate Value
My old self made a very big assumption that the value her agency provided was, quite simply, understood. She was very product-focused. However, she had a lot of competition, and they were delivering essentially the same product. She harbored a suspicion that to break out of the pack, and stop being a commodity, she had to offer something so original and so revolutionary that there was no competition at all.
I laugh at that idea today. I would advise her instead to focus on the transformation she and her team created for clients, and talk about that. The emotion a client felt on successfully completing a project was euphoria. That’s what the next client wanted as well. Case studies and testimonials can only scratch the surface of that feeling, but she could build content and context to bring it to life.
Advice 5: Get Personal
Picking up the phone, going to gatherings, and taking the time to know someone is a vulnerable experience. It also feels like there isn’t enough time to build that personal connection with enough people as fast as needed. My old self felt both the fear of rejection, and the pressure of not enough time. As a result, initially most of her business came haphazardly on referral, from people she knew. Not once did she stop to consider that this personal approach to business could be harnessed, rather than left to chance.
I would have encouraged my younger self to stop for a gnat’s breath, and look at her growing network of connections, reaching out to them to see if there was someone she ought to connect with. Far from the uncomfortable cold-call, this referral outreach is proven to close business at 83%.
The ability to turn our marketing entirely over to social media, websites and emails doesn’t mean we should. Those are added visibility, but a poor replacement for the effectiveness of the personal connection, especially in business-to-business interactions.
I may not be able to re-orchestrate my history, but certainly, I have learned those lessons, and they are as relevant today as they were then. I hope this is helpful to you in your own marketing – and if, by chance, you get a call from me, asking if you know someone I should connect with, I hope you will take the time, knowing I am happy to return the favor.