Market Research

Marketing: Identify, attract, engage

A few lucky businesses prosper through word of mouth alone. Everyone else depends on marketing — the art and science of turning complete strangers into loyal customers.

Published: October 17, 2014
Updated: February 15, 2017

Marketing in today's world

In many ways, this is a uniquely good time to be promoting a new company. Web marketing tools, email, and social media of all kinds offer new ways to connect with potential customers — many of them at little or no cost. Combine these possibilities with a renewed public interest in small and local businesses, and it's hard not to be optimistic about prospects for promoting a startup.

On the other hand, your competitors have access to all these options too. The "noise level" of information overload can be difficult to break through. And because the internet has blurred or erased traditional lines between marketing, advertising, and public relations, the most difficult question may simply be: where to begin?

  • Marketing strategy. At its core, a marketing strategy describes how you plan to identify potential customers, show them the value of your product or service, get them in the door, and deepen their engagement after the initial contact. This can cover a lot of ground, sometimes including everything from product design to sales. The basics, including a budget for promotional expenses, belong in your business plan.

  • Competitive analysis. Knowing exactly who you’re up against is the starting point for your marketing strategy. Start by listing products or businesses that compete with yours. Then break out the strengths and weaknesses of each, both from your perspective and that of the customer. Organizing this information in a grid or chart can help show where opportunities exist. 

  • Pricing. Hitting the right price point is often critical to success. It's important to look at what the competition is charging as a baseline, but another company's pricing might not work for you. To make sure you can be profitable, include both direct costs and a portion of your overhead in your pricing model.

  • Branding. A brand is much more than a name or a logo. It's been described as what people say about you when you're not around, and more practically, as the sum of all the interactions people have with your business. With this in mind, make sure the face you present to the world is authentic, engaging, memorable, and above all consistent. Because the graphics matter, too, consider investing in professional help to craft a strong brand identity.

  • Advertising. "The death of advertising" has been proclaimed many times, but it's still here for a simple reason: It works. Online ads can deliver your message to prospective audiences through careful placement or in response to specific search terms. You can typically choose to pay by cost-per-impression (CPM) (actual viewers in thousands), pay-per-click (PPC), or both. And don't neglect traditional advertising channels as well, particularly if your potential customers are local.

  • Social. The tools may be new, but social marketing is really just another channel for staying in touch with current customers and reaching new ones. If your potential customers are highly social, then your marketing should be too. A sustained, two-way interaction can give customers a sense of connection, build strong relationships, and create a powerful competitive advantage.

  • Sales. If in-person sales efforts are part of your model, chances are you're your own sales force. However, hiring external, commissioned representation can have important advantages: Experienced reps may be more effective and those who are already established in your prospective market may help you grow business quickly.

The next big thing

The top marketing tools of tomorrow may not even exist today. Be open to the next opportunity. In the meantime, pay attention to what others are doing — whether video sharing, coupon offers, retargeting, or something entirely new. Also, be mindful of customer needs and preferences which may help uncover new or untapped markets.

Crunch the numbers with analytics

There's an old saying that "half the money you spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is you don't know which half." But in recent years, online measurement and analysis tools have changed the rules. These analytics offer real-time, in-depth data: site visits, page views, entry and exit points, referrals, searches, and more. Analytics tell you what is and isn't working for your business, and show you how to maximize the return on your investment. Best of all, a wide range of easy-to-use tools are available inexpensively, or for free. Get started with built-in analytics from Google or your email provider.

Be smart with social media

Make the most of the time you invest in social marketing:

  • Pick your platforms. Social networks vary greatly in their demographics and the business-friendly features they offer. Find the ones that work best for you.

  • Start small. When starting out, don't overreach. Social marketing takes serious, steady work, but if you're not careful it can swallow much of your time. Budget your hours and stick to your plan. 

  • Experiment. Finding the right formula may require trial and error. Build on what works, and if one approach doesn't produce results, move on to another.

  • Track success. Building brand awareness is important, but so are more tangible results such as website visits, referrals, or sales. 

  • Keep up. The social ecosystem is changing rapidly. Stay informed about business and customer trends and modify your strategy to adapt to them. 

Crafting a winning marketing strategy is an ongoing effort. Learn when it might be time to update your strategy.