Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur these days. People don’t want to work for companies; they want to create their own product or service.
They have tons of great ideas, they hire talented people to create the product, but their business still fails.
Why? Because they forget about marketing. They don’t implement even the most basic marketing strategies.
Marketing is the bedrock of success, no matter what industry you’re in, or what product or service you have created. We’ve created this marketing 101 guide that explains how to market your business. It’s free of jargon and heavy on actionable advice, and it will allow you to create a marketing strategy that works.
At a glance: The best marketing channels and strategies to try
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Word-of-mouth marketing
- Social media marketing
- SMS marketing
- Paid search
- Organic search
- Website marketing
Overview: What is marketing?
We live in the digital age. Marketing today is not what it was in 1985, although the principles are still the same.
Marketing is about getting your name out there, building awareness of your product and — most importantly — building relationships with prospects and customers to generate repeat purchases and garner loyalty.
Marketing 101: The basics
If you want your small business marketing campaigns to win you customers, you need to get the marketing basics right first before you can move on to the fancy stuff.
Customers are always right
One of the most basic principles of marketing is that it’s not about you; it’s about your customers. It’s not about what you like, what channels you prefer, or what content you like to read.
Just because you think email is an outdated channel that nobody uses anymore doesn’t mean your customers will agree.
Take the time to get to know your customers, then create buyer personas and your marketing plan according to what you’ve learned.
Connect all your channels
Your business marketing plan will consist of a number of different channels, from direct marketing to digital. But you need to make sure all of these channels are connected so they work for you, not against you. This is known as omnichannel marketing
For example, a customer starts following you on Twitter. They then click on a link in your Twitter account, which takes them to a blog post. They like the article, so they sign up for your newsletter.
They then click on a link to a product from your newsletter and make a purchase. This is an example of social media marketing, content marketing, and email marketing all working together to lead to a sale.
Make everything actionable
The point of every marketing campaign is to make a customer do something, to take action. Whether that action is to click on a link, subscribe to your newsletter, or share something on social media, there has to be an end goal.
And if you want to reach that end goal, you need calls to action. You need to make it very clear what you want someone to do, as well as why you want them to take that action and what’s in it for them.
Just because you think you’ve created the perfect email marketing campaign doesn’t mean it will resonate with your customers. It’s important to set goals for every campaign and track these metrics throughout so you can get an indicator of their success.
Over time, you’ll be able to refine your campaigns based on this data as you can see what works and what doesn’t. And never be afraid to experiment; just make sure you track the results.
Marketing channels and strategies for your small business
The marketing world is full of jargon, buzzwords, and terms that just sound made-up. From growth hacking to bizmeth (which means business methods) to deep dive, some marketers seem to want to make everything as incomprehensible as possible.
But it doesn’t need to be.
We’ve boiled it all down to a few key marketing strategies and digital marketing tips that will have the biggest impacts for your business.
Almost all of the channels below are examples of inbound marketing, a term coined by HubSpot that means attracting customers to your business by creating useful and relevant content.
This contrasts with outbound marketing, which involves proactively reaching out to people to tell them about your product.
1. Email marketing
It’s an oldie (relatively), but it’s still a goodie. According to Lyfe Marketing, the median email marketing return on investment (ROI) is 122%.
This highly effective channel allows you to build relationships with customers over time by providing content that is useful, interesting, and actionable. It’s a versatile channel.
Consider all the different types of content you can send:
- Special discounts and exclusive sales
- Company announcements
- Personalized product recommendations
- New lines or product announcements
- Seasonal promotions
- Informative video or blog content
If you personalize this content and send it to segments of your email list — rather than to every single person — you can see even better results in terms of revenue.
Pro tip: There’s a lot to think about when creating email campaigns, and it can take a long time to slot all the pieces into place. Email marketing software can help you automate the time-consuming manual tasks and personalize and tailor your content to drive revenue. A few of our favorites include Mailchimp, AWeber, and Mailerlite.
2. Content marketing
Content marketing is a techniques used by many, but only done successfully by few.
At its worst, content marketing is just a series of lightly plagiarised ideas, text, and graphics that offer nothing of value. At its best, when the content is unique, useful, and includes action points, it shows that you know your stuff, gets your brand name out there, and will generate a fan base of loyal readers.
Take your time to get it right, because quality always beats quantity. It’s better to post a well-informed post that you’re proud of every two weeks rather than three mediocre posts a week.
Pro tip: Your business is unique, which means you have a unique perspective on your industry. Be precise about what you can offer your prospects and customers that nobody else can, and use that as the basis of your content. And use your own data to back up these points — lots of data.
3. Word-of-mouth marketing
Good electricians and plumbers are hard to find, so we often ask our friends and family for their recommendations because we trust their opinions.
In fact, according to Convince & Convert Consulting, 83% of Americans say that a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase that product or service.
That’s why getting word-of-mouth recommendations for your business should form a key part of your marketing plan.
If you want people to share their opinions, you have to provide an outstanding service or product, going above and beyond your competitors so you stand out in the market.
If you’re an electrician, this could be providing 24/7 service and letting people make appointments via text. You also need to make sure customers feel they can trust your brand and that you care about them as an individual.
Pro tip: One of the neat features of some email marketing software is that it can automatically send out email sequences based on customer behavior. These functions are called autoresponders. After someone has purchased your product or used your service, you can add their email to the sequence that automatically sends out a discount code if they recommend you to a friend, or if they share their experience on social media.
4. Social media marketing
Social media marketing is an effective way of connecting with your customers on a more personal, individual, and often fun way. But it’s important to take a targeted approach.
One of the mistakes companies often make is to post all content to all channels.
Instead, you should figure out which social media channels your ideal customers use — you can do this by creating buyer personas — and target only those channels. Tailor your content to what works on each channel, and make sure to test it to see what’s working.
You might find that sharing pictures of your team lunches works on Instagram, while sharing an interesting article works better on Twitter.
Pro tip: With specific softwares, you can track the source of website visits and whether these visits then subsequently convert. This means you can see how well your social media campaigns are performing against other channels, such as SMS marketing. If you add UTM codes to your posts, you can compare stats from different social campaigns. UTM codes are simple pieces of text you can add to the end of a URL that then tell Google Analytics which campaign website visits came from.
5. SMS marketing
We’ve become a nation of smartphone addicts. American consumers now check their smartphones an average of 52 times each day, as reported by Variety.com. While this is bad news for social occasions, it’s good news for marketers who can take advantage of SMS marketing to reach consumers at any time of day.
SMS marketing is particularly useful for campaigns that are location dependent or have some form of immediacy. For example, if you email a customer about a 48-hour flash sale, they might not see the email until after the sale is over. But if you text them, they’ll likely read it much quicker.
Just remember: You need to get explicit permission to send people text messages for both transactional and marketing purposes. You can add a field to your signup forms to collect this information in a transparent way.
Pro tip: You can get SMS marketing functionalities within other marketing tools. SendPulse, for example, is an email marketing tool that helps you create SMS campaigns by importing phone numbers, segmenting contacts according to conditions such as location and purchase history, and allowing you to schedule when you want to send the message.
6. Paid search
When you search for something on Google, you’ll see two types of results. At the top of the page, you’ll see the ads, or the paid results.
These are the companies that have paid Google to be at the top of the page for certain keywords that are relevant to their business. There are also what’s known as organic search results, which you can read about in the next point.
The way paid search — also known as search engine marketing — works is that you bid a sum of money to get premium placement, and then you pay for each customer who clicks on your website link.
The reason paid search ads are so effective is that they only display to customers who are searching for the specific keywords you’ve chosen. Assuming you’ve chosen the right keywords, the traffic you get from these clicks will be highly relevant to your business.
Pro tip: Choosing the right keywords is crucial. You don’t want the keywords to be too general, such as “marketing software,” nor should they be so niche that only five people a month search for them, such as “email marketing software for sports retailers with fewer than five employees based Des Moines.” It’s also important to have snappy copywriting to create an ad that attracts attention.
7. Organic search (SEO)
One of the most basic marketing strategies for getting your products found online is to optimize your website so Google displays it in its organic results.
Organic results are the webpages Google displays based on how relevant they are for the keywords the user is searching for. This does not include paid ads. To appear in these results, you need to optimize your website and use a tactic known as SEO (search engine optimization).
Pro tip: You can’t optimize your site overnight, as it takes time to get it right and for Google to find you, but there are some basic actions you can take to get started:
- Ensure your buyer personas are up to date so you know who you’re targeting.
- Create a list of keywords your target audience might be searching for.
- Make sure these keywords are featured in your web pages in a natural way.
- Test the technical elements to ensure your site displays properly (and speedily) to users.
8. Website marketing
If you run a bricks-and-mortar store, you wouldn’t set it up and then not redecorate or renovate it for 15 years. You wouldn’t have cash registers that don’t work or don’t accept credit and debit cards.
You wouldn’t give customers the wrong change if they pay in cash. Surprisingly, many companies put no care or attention into their website even though it’s the online representation of their brand.
Your website will be many customers’ first touchpoint with your brand. It needs to be:
- Modern in design and functionality
- Responsively designed, which means it adapts to whatever type and size of device the customer is using
- Clearly branded according to your company’s style
- Up to date
- Optimized for SEO
Pro tip: You can track how successful your website is by using email marketing software to look at how well different pages on your site are converting. You can also use heat maps — which provide a visual representation of which part of your pages customers visit and click on — to identify problem areas.
Do what works for your business
We can’t — and won’t — tell you which marketing channel(s) you should use, what content you should share in that channel, and how much money you should spend on it — because there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
We don’t know your customers, and we don’t know the specific needs of your business. But what we do know is that marketing takes time; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And that data counts.
The more you test, measure, optimize, and test some more, the more insight you’ll get, and the more clear it will become what you need to do to win more business.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), HubSpot, and Twilio. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.