Before you can launch a killer lead-generating website, shoot to the top of Google, reach every last person on the Web who might be a candidate for your business, and build an online empire that’s sure to generate copious amounts of wealth for years to come, we have some groundwork to do. It’s critical that you obtain a solid foundation in marketing fundamentals, as this will help you get more out of your marketing, make better decisions, and realize a higher return-on-investment.
Every change begins with an overhaul.
You change your living room, what’s the first thing you do? Tear down the wallpaper and rip up the floors, right? Maybe reupholster the couch and stain the coffee table; or throw it all out and start fresh with a whole new grouping?
If you’re trying to get in shape, you typically tend to give your sedentary lifestyle a complete overhaul by joining a gym, buying all new sweats and sneaks, and downloading the Rocky theme onto your iPod.
Why should your marketing be any different? The fact is, it isn’t; your marketing plan—if you even have one—is in desperate need of an overhaul, which, once completed, will leave you feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the task that most companies barely address, let alone feel the need to change.
The first step on the path to marketing success is to understand and use a system we call “The 5 M’s of Marketing.” The 5M Marketing Strategy is an incredibly simple, yet powerful system that addresses each of the essential components of any small business marketing program:
Together, these 5M’s make up a successful marketing strategy for any size company, from Mom & Pop’s Market to Microsoft. Each of the 5M’s builds upon the other, and together they form the rock-solid foundation you need for effective marketing.
The primary mission of your small business is to reach and secure customers. Providing your products and services to them is impossible without first reaching them. You must build marketing skills that rival your technical skills.
Before you can start using the 5M Process to help your business reach its full potential, there’s one more thing we need to discuss.
The primary reason most business owners find themselves in roughly the same financial position two, five, or even ten years after starting their business is because of one painfully obvious fact: their marketing stinks.
Your spouse may not have told you. Your employees, advisors, mentors, suppliers, customers, friends, cousins, and definitely your enemies have all failed to clue you in one this single most powerful of truths. Maybe they thought you knew what you were doing. Maybe you thought you knew what you were doing!
But you, and I, know better. Per Hans Christian Andersen’s title, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it’s hard to admit (and for others to tell you) that your marketing stinks. But unfortunately, because of poor marketing, most small businesses spend money on advertising without measuring the results, buy expensive websites before planning how the site will reach and engage new customers, pay ridiculous fees to “SEO experts,” and write blog posts that few people find or read.
Bad Marketing = Bad Internet Marketing
In most cases, the culprit is the lack of an effective marketing system. And you can’t implement a marketing system without marketing knowledge. What’s more, you can’t obtain marketing knowledge until you do two critical things:
And this is where the golden nugget lies: Until now, you’ve been too busy running your business to effectively run your business.
What do you really do for a living? Are you a dentist? Divorce attorney? Housekeeper? Think again.
Most business owners answer the universally uninspired cocktail party question—“what do you do for a living?”—by answering with the products and services they provide.
But herein lies the problem, and the gigantic need for a dramatic shift in your mindset:
You are not what you sell!
So, what are you? Well, first of all: Congratulations—you just got a promotion! You’re no longer a dentist; you own a dental practice. You’re not a lawyer; now you own your own law practice; you aren’t a housekeeper—you are the proud founder of a housekeeping business!
And you are solely responsible for the one central task of every business owner:
Getting. Your. Next. Client.
But I have “Someone Else” who handles that!
This is an all-too-common reaction I get from busy business owners. And it makes sense on the surface: stick to your core competencies and outsource all the menial, repetitive, or “unimportant” tasks, looking for opportunities to automate, consolidate, and eliminate costly tasks.
This is also why most business owners run into problems with marketing: they select a Web designer when they have no idea what questions to ask or what an effective website (in terms of actually generating leads) looks like. Or they hire a blog/content writer without reading the content he or she has crafted before or understanding which content strategy will attract and engage their audience.
Marketing, by definition, is a core element of every business. In fact, marketing is the core element of your business. And that’s simply too important to farm out!
Of course, you can outsource repetitive tasks within your marketing system (such as someone to physically bring the postcard mailers down to the post office or post the tweets you write), but only after you’ve gained a complete understanding of the process, or at least enough to monitor the quality of these vendors’ work. You can’t monitor quality control if you don’t know what “quality” in online marketing looks like. From now on, you must take complete ownership of marketing your business. If you’re a dentist, you might hire a hygienist, but by that time, you’re already quite knowledgeable about teeth.
The New Marketing Mindset Checklist:
RESOURCE: For more on the three personas of a small business owner and a great road map for work on your business instead of in your business, read The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. This is the second book I recommend to small business owners.
How do your marketing skills stack up to your legal/dental/accounting skills? If you’ve identified the need to add more feathers to your marketing quiver—and fast—then the rest is simple, as long as you’ve got the right mindset.
The second “M” of Marketing is all about understanding who exactly your target clients are and what exactly they need.
Market research—and specifically defining your target market—is the most important element of any marketing strategy, period. Why? Because all the best ads, Web designs, special offers, promotions, landing pages, postcards, and flyers add up to squat if they don’t speak to the right audience.
Every component of your marketing strategy points back to this step. And sadly, this is also the step that most small businesses fail to understand or implement.
The Four Steps of Short-Lived Entrepreneurship
Many small businesses use the Field of Dreams philosophy when starting a business: “Build it and they will come.” This assumption is a dangerous—if not deadly—one.
You’ve probably heard the way-too-often-quoted statistic: “90 percent of small businesses fail in the first 3 years.” Have you wondered why this is? Surely the pizza didn’t taste that bad, did it?!
Most small businesses adhere to the following steps when starting out:
As common as this start-up sequence may be, it’s flawed and extremely risky. By skipping over the first and most critical step of market research, many small business owners gamble with their already meager budgets and often perish as a result.
The irony here is that most of the risk associated with starting and running a small business can be avoided by adding just a light dose of market research up front.
A better approach to starting a small business:
The Importance of Identifying a Single Target Market
Until you know exactly who your small business should be catering to, you can’t possibly craft an effective message that resonates with them. This means, no matter how much you spend on marketing, Web design, direct mail, brochures, or bus benches, you’ll be broadcasting bland messages that resonate with no one.
Whenever I ask a small business owner which city he or she serves, the answer that follows sounds like a nervous fourth grader who forgot to study the night before, just after being called upon in Geography class (“Cleveland, Akron, Gainesville, Ohio, Buffalo, Nebraska, Earth, The Shire . . . !”). We want to sell our services to anyone and everyone who will buy.
In doing so, we push out bland messaging that fails to grab or resonate with any one specific group of people. But we must understand one powerful and sometimes painful truth about marketing:
“If you aim to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.”
This means that people resonate with messages that speak directly to them. Not “them” as in humans. Not “them” as in Americans, Females, Truckers, Soccer Players, or any other label that can be pluralized. Them as in:
“Larry, the busy accountant with 3 kids who lives 11 miles from your store and is concerned about finding an affordable suit that looks great and can be tailored quickly!”
Your target customer is one person.
Sound like this could put you out of business? It won’t. The most effective way to approach targeted marketing is to go deep before you go wide. Learn to effectively identify with and market to a small niche (the smaller the better) successfully and then do the same for additional niches.
Pretend you are a forty-year-old professional male who enjoys riding your Harley Davidson on the weekends. While going for a ride last weekend, you were rear-ended by a text-messaging pizza delivery guy at a stoplight, causing several serious but not life-threatening injuries.
You need a lawyer and fast! You hobble to your computer, jump onto Google, and search for “injury lawyer who handles motorcycle accidents in Dallas,” or one of many potential search queries. After just a few seconds, you see the following websites listed among the top search results:
Which of these options do you think would resonate with you enough to click through to the lawyer’s website and learn more? This specificity is true for any type of business. You should be the gym for busy professionals, the cake shop for corporate events, the burger joint for budget- and health-conscious students, or even the website designer for residential real estate agents.
Once you understand, approach, and become the authority on one niche, you can start to market to the next and so on.
How targeted an audience is too targeted? If you aren’t known as the authority in a niche, your target is too large. If you can’t earn a living, it’s too small (think “the best Italian restaurant for albino poker players”).
FOCUS YOUR MESSAGE: CREATE A TARGET CUSTOMER PROFILE
Which segment of your market are you targeting? To identify your market, create a Word document and list the following elements as they apply to your business:
Questions for Identifying Your Target Market
Your answer to the last question can be very helpful in terms of how you can best serve the needs of your target market, and it will inform the way you interact with the rest of our 5M System.
Doing strong market research before making big moves helps you merge the needs of that market with your own reasons for going into business, so that you’ll succeed in that business long after your non-market-research-doing competitors have shuttered their doors for good.
Now that you know exactly who you’re trying to reach (your ideal customers) and what their most pressing needs are, you can craft a unique message that engages them and positions your business as the obvious choice.
The whole point of any marketing activity is to get the right message to the right people (your target audience) in the right place (your target media) at the right time (right when they’re looking and in need!). If the message is off, everything else crumbles.
Most marketing gurus refer to your unique marketing message as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What you choose to call it isn’t important; that you create and use one effectively is not only important but absolutely critical to your business! In this digital, overly plugged-in age, we all have short attention spans when it comes searching for things online. When someone arrives at your website for the first time, they already have their mouse over the dreaded back arrow, spending just seconds subconsciously deciding, “Is this site the right place to get my need filled?”
It’s Not About You
Look at a few dozen small business websites and you’ll be remiss to find more than one or two who meet visitors with a message that addresses their needs. This is especially true for us providers of professional services (consultants, lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, etc.). These sites are the worst offenders when it comes to self-centered, ineffective messaging: “Over 20 Years of Successful Litigation.” “CPA, DDS, PHD, BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Most small business websites just talk about what the business does, not what the business does differently.
As Michael Mastersen stated in his great book on starting and running a successful business—Ready, Fire, Aim—“Your customers don’t care about your company. They care about finding a solution to their current need.”
Let’s head back over to Google and revisit the page of “injury lawyer who handles motorcycle accidents in Dallas” (which you had opened after your recent Harley accident). After a quick scan of the top few results, you decide to click on two sites. Each has a large, bold headline on the home page:
Which would make you stick around, at least for a few seconds, to learn a bit more?
Crafting and deploying a powerful unique selling proposition can be a game-changer for your business. Multi-million-dollar companies and franchises have been built on powerful USPs alone. Check out these powerful examples of companies taking the time to identify their clients’ primary needs and answering them in a simple and consistent fashion:
The Simple Way to Develop Your Unique Selling Proposition
To craft your unique marketing message, combine the answers to these three questions into one simple, powerful, and effective message:
Your goal is to ensure your message will ring out everywhere people encounter your business: on your website, in direct mail, on your menus, in your store or office, and on your business cards. The good news is that you’ll almost certainly and quickly see increased response from your marketing campaigns, as crafting a great USP can transform your company from another “me too” business in a crowded sea to a “market of one” who serves a specific niche like no other can.
The advent of the Internet has made selecting the right places to advertise your business both easier and more difficult: easy because the digital age provides us with never-before-experienced abilities to track and measure virtually every aspect of online marketing, difficult because this limitless number of sources and measures often leaves us paralyzed and unable to see the forest through the trees when it comes to making sound marketing decisions.
Therefore, it’s this step—determining where to reach these elusive clients of yours—that makes all the difference in the world. In order to reach marketing success, you have to deliver the right message to the right people in the right place(s).
The cool thing about the Internet is that it allows for an incredibly high level of targeting, both in demographics (age, sex, income, location) and psychographics (interests and lifestyles). This targeting gives small business owners the remarkable ability to focus marketing dollars to your exact audience.
Common Places to Reach Your Audience Online
Before we talk about the best places to reach your audience online and put together your online marketing strategy, let’s look at a laundry list of eight common online channels that can be used to increase your online visibility:
For each of these, there are a few basic but important techniques to ensure you’re doing the right things—both in terms of connecting with people (your customers) and in terms of showing up in search engines. We’ll cover the “how to” on these techniques in Chapter 8.
The fifth and final “M” of marketing is the most important. Most local businesses lose thousands of dollars and potential clients each year by simply not paying enough attention to the performance of their marketing. Marketing without metrics isn’t marketing at all.
If you think about it, the success of nearly every aspect of our lives is determined by metrics. The effectiveness of an education is measured by grades. The measures of any successful diet or fitness program include pounds lost, change in blood pressure, increase in bench press weight . . . the list goes on!
The quality of any business process, from baking bread to manufacturing microchips, is determined by careful and concise measurement. And marketing is no exception! In fact, as a small business owner, you must be extra metrics-minded, as you have less margin for error than do larger companies. Yet most small business owners I talk to cannot answer even the most fundamental questions related to their marketing metrics, such as:
If you can’t answer each of these, fear not—soon you’ll be able to rattle off the answers faster than an auctioneer on a 5-hour Energy drink.
Key Marketing Metrics for Your Business
In order for you to really use and reap the benefits of a marketing metrics program, the program must be simple, requiring little time to update, and insightful, helping you to keep your fingers on the pulse of your marketing strategy. The end goal is to create a simple dashboard that will reveal the key metrics you need to be watching and acting upon to STAND OUT online and elsewhere.
Get Into the Right Mindset
Identify Your Target Market
Craft Your Unique Marketing Message (Value Proposition)
Identify the Best Media to Reach Your Customers
Measure Your Marketing
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