When it comes to making critical decisions about marketing plans and budgets, it's easy for business owners to get overwhelmed. For every seemingly great advertising opportunity, there are countless others vying for attention and capital, from print ads in local magazines, to regional radio and television spots, to the wider world of social media and online advertising.
Businesses must tune out the fragmented noise, and focus on those marketing tactics that will actually reach their target market to increase sales and build awareness.
Who Are the Customers, Anyway?
Ineffective and scattered marketing efforts often stem from the belief that "everyone" is a potential customer. This is rarely - if ever - true. Every business has a core customer base that shares common demographic and psychographic traits.
Demographic data identify customers by characteristics such as age, salary and education. For instance, demographic research could show that the majority of patrons of an upscale restaurant and wine bar are between 40 and 65 years old, equally male and female, earn a $250,000 average annual salary and hold a four-year college degree or higher. Psychographic data revealing customer interests and values can be obtained through customer observation, interaction, and surveys. In the restaurant case, this critical data could show that most patrons attend the opera, theater or other cultural venue on a regular basis, participate actively in social clubs, and volunteer time and resources to charitable organizations.
The combination of these two types of market research provides direction for marketing plans and strategies. Based on his collected data, the restaurant owner would know that advertising in a local newspaper to a mass audience - or on a country radio station to the incorrect audience - would prove to be a waste of marketing dollars. However, sponsoring a theater production, advertising in a university alumni magazine, and networking on social media websites dedicated to the local art and community scenes would be most effective in reaching existing and potential customers. By focusing on customer data, the restaurant owner can design a strategic integrated marketing plan that zeroes in on his target market.
It's All About the Message
Successful marketing strategies begin with targeted and consistent messaging. Once businesses identify their target market, they should concentrate on developing a unique selling proposition that resonates with it.
When tackling the challenge of creating the correct message, businesses must put themselves in the mindset of their potential customers. Based on their demographics and interests, what would appeal to them? A value message may work well for a discount chain store, but the restaurant owner would need to create a unique selling proposition about the experience of dining at his restaurant, connoting ambiance and luxury.
Also, it is imperative that messages focus on the benefits, not the features, of a product or service. Many business owners fall into the trap of listing the features of their product or service (what it has). This doesn't drive a potential customer into action. However, messaging about the ways the product or service will benefit the consumer (what it does) will attract attention, create a personal connection and provide an effective call to action.
"Above all, make sure you communicate those benefits in a way that truly reflects and caters to the situations, problems, needs, and desires of your target market. Express benefits in terms that relate directly to each individual in that market," writes Michel Fortin, direct-response copywriter, author, speaker and consultant, in "The Oft-Confused Features and Benefits," June 16, 2009, at www.michelfortin.com. "The more intimate your benefits are, the more real, vivid, significant and meaningful they will be. And subsequently the more sales you will generate, too."
Another important aspect of messaging is ensuring differentiation from the competition. Businesses must produce a message that persuades consumers to purchase their product or service rather than a competitor's. Keeping abreast of the messaging used by both direct and indirect competitors is helpful toward achieving a unique and powerful marketing message.
Taking It to the Streets
Businesses can effectively plan and implement their overall marketing strategy once armed with a persuasive, attention-grabbing message. But first, businesses must determine whether mass marketing or niche marketing is most appropriate, based on the business's size and marketing budget.
Large corporations tend to be able to take the mass-marketing approach by utilizing television, radio and more-general print advertising. These big-budget strategies work well for businesses with a wider, less targeted audience. However, most small businesses must carve out a niche for themselves by messaging with their target markets. They should focus their efforts on a mix of online and offline solutions that are affordable and will reach their audiences.
"E-mail marketing, television, search marketing and yellow pages typically yield a better ROI for unknown or unbranded direct response offers," says Michael Weinstein, CEO of Primary Systems, a South Salem, N.Y., Internet marketing firm, as quoted in "Which Ad Strategy Works for You?" by Rosalind Resnick, Entrepreneur, Aug. 14,2009. "Banner advertising, print and social media are better for companies with existing visibility."
Regardless of what media approach businesses take, they should message consistently across all channels. With constant media messaging hitting consumers, it takes repetition, relevance and distinctiveness to increase awareness and convert message recipients into customers. It is prudent to consult an integrated marketing firm to help identify target markets, create impactful, laser-sharp messaging, and design a marketing plan and strategy that will increase sales and build brand recognition.
Article by Linda A. Fanaras, author of Getting Back to Basics: Executing an Effective Marketing Campaign, and president and founder of Millennium Integrated Marketing (www.mill-im.com) located in Boston and Manchester, N.H. She can be reached at 877-873-7445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.