Marketing makes many small-business owners nervous. They aren’t sure just how to approach it in terms of an overall focus. Nor do they know what to do when bombarded with a constant stream of articles touting the new “must-do” marketing approaches. (See Basic Marketing Tips)
The typical response of business owners when facing these issues is to go one of two directions. The first direction is to run some ads, contribute to local fundraising efforts and join local civic organizations.
The second approach is to try every new tool that comes along but often with no thought as to how each tool, or if each tool, fits into the marketing plan.
Two issues arise with both of these approaches. First, the business owner has no plan or goal for marketing. Second, without goals, trying to decide what tools to use becomes nearly impossible. The glitter and idea of new tools becomes the deciding factor instead of what each tool offers.
It’s knowing what you want to achieve that should drive your marketing effort. This means knowing who your potential customers are, where they are located and how to reach them. It is this information that should guide the selection of the best marketing tools to use.
Some of the traditional marketing tools such as meet and greet, business cards and signage or visual pull, offline and online, still are great tools.
And nothing can replace the brand ambassador, or that customer who shouts out how great a job you are doing. But on the flip side, nothing can hurt like the negative review that a dissatisfied customer offers.
Mentioning brand ambassadors or dissatisfied customers brings in the idea of the global marketplace and some of the shiny, new marketing tools available. Where once the dissatisfied customer told maybe 20 people, today the world is his or her stage through new tools such as online review sites or social media. Similarly, the ambassador is of great help. Today’s consumer puts a huge amount of trust in these online comments, even when coming from people they don’t know.
E-commerce, mobile, location-based marketing and social media represent just some of the new marketing tools that small-business owners can use. Each tool may have a place in the marketing plan.
So what’s right in terms of shiny, new marketing tools or tried-and-true old standbys? It depends. The small-business owner’s knowledge of his or her customers, goals and capacity should be the deciding factor on what to use. Business owners shouldn’t select marketing tools based on what those tools have done for someone else or the promises made about their effectiveness.
Two final notes: First, even with a careful selection of tools, no results are guaranteed. That is why the owner constantly must evaluate what’s working and what’s not and make the appropriate adjustments. Second, more new tools always will be coming along and the customer also will change. Thus, what works today may not be the tool for tomorrow.
Effective marketing can pay big dividends. It demands a market understanding and a selection of the best tools to use, whether traditional or new and shiny. Each business owner needs to find his or her best path.
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.