By Jeffrey Barnhart, President and CEO
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Small businesses need to have a solid marketing strategy, so they can stay focused and not get distracted by the “shiny” stuff. There are many challenges that small businesses encounter. I’ve seen it with my company, Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) over the years, as well as with the small business clients we’ve serviced. The top one is running out of money, which is why it’s smart to be conservative and only concentrate on the marketing tactics that will maximize results. Most importantly, realize that you can’t do everything all at once. A phased approach, that addresses your topline goals and objectives, is best.
I’ve outlined some of the ways to approach and overcome marketing challenges, as a small business:
Develop a plan and measure success.
Thanks to the emergence of the digital age, there are even more mediums to consider when marketing your business. With so many multimedia marketing channels, including digital marketing, public relations, social media marketing, branding, advertising and event management, it’s imperative to harness and develop a plan that includes only the ones that will give you the biggest return on your investment. The plan should begin with a branding strategy, which will set your business apart from its competitors. Also, include ways to measure the success, so you can determine what’s worked, what hasn’t and adjust accordingly.
Be visible online and in the community.
Let’s start with online. Doing business in a digital world means two things: 1) You must be “found” and 2) You must be “seen.” When prospects have a question or problem, they don’t “Ask Abbey” or go to the library. Instead, they type their problem, in five words or fewer, into a search box on Google, Bing or Yahoo and click enter. Then they expect a full screen of answers to appear. That brings me to the second point, which is that you must be “seen,” once you are found because people no longer seek, then search. In other words, your business must make a good first impression online and should be positioned to be helpful and likable. There’s a reason the button on Facebook says “Like,” not “Buy.” However, the two are closely linked. People buy from people that they like. Finally, once you are found and seen, make sure your website is user-friendly, easy to navigate, warm and approachable. In addition to having a strong online presence, your business and its people need to be visible in the local community. That can be accomplished through volunteer time, speaking at and attending local events, and/or lending your expertise. At CMA, community is a central part of who we are. The agency has dedicated more than 2,000 hours to its community, over the past three decades.
Hire people with shared core values and reward them.
One thing I’ve learned over the course of time is to hire and surround yourself with people that share your core values, to ensure that they will buy into your company’s philosophy and provide excellent service to your customers. I always say that “our product is our people.” A superior customer experience can drive positive marketing, either through word-of-mouth or reviews on social media channels. With 85 percent of consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations, that’s a big incentive. Also, recognize and reward those employees that go above and beyond and who exemplify those core values. To support that philosophy, CMA implemented the “Crew Star” award. It acknowledges a team member each quarter for his or her dedication to the company’s core values, including passion, excellence and teamwork, while spreading these positive principles to the team. CMA recently announced its latest Crew Star.
One of CMA’s customers, First Bank, a New Jersey state-chartered bank with 17 full-service branches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had some marketing challenges to overcome. CMA created a marketing communications plan that included public relations and social media, to address them. The goal of the program was to expand brand visibility in the marketplace and support its commercial lending business, as well as growth in additional branch locations. In an industry that is challenged in differentiating one brand from the next, the bank desired to reposition itself as a “true community bank.” CMA launched an ongoing public relations campaign, targeting regional media in business and consumer print publications and online venues. CMA also initiated press campaigns for business achievement and growth, executive recognition, volunteerism and community involvement, and events. Results included more than 14 million impressions from local and national media, a 42 percent stock price increase since beginning work with CMA and as of this month 17 branches – expanding their true community.
In today’s market, small businesses need to be found. That can be achieved through having a focused marketing plan, a website that represents who you are and can sell for you, as well as employing people who share your core values. Finally, be a business that is visible in the community, as well as can be found in five words that solve your customer’s problem.
How is your business overcoming its marketing challenges? Do you have a plan in place or a strategy that has worked? Do you have an interesting story to tell on this topic? We’d love to hear from you. Please share it in the comments below.
Jeffrey Barnhart is president and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance, an award-winning, full service marketing agency that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. To ensure that you are successfully managing your small business marketing, it would benefit you to work with professionals who are experts in this area. CMA can help! Contact us at 800-852-4269 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.