If you build it, they will come. Wise words if you’re building a baseball diamond for ghosts in a cornfield. If, however, you’re like most entrepreneurs, simply building your business is just the beginning. To attract customers—to really succeed—your business needs a marketing strategy. After all, the world won’t beat a path to your Field of Dreams unless they know you have something of value to reward their journey. Let’s talk about how to make it happen. Planning Your Marketing Strategy Identify Your Value Proposition A value proposition is a simple answer to the question: Why should a customer buy from you? Take Slack’s value proposition for an example: Be More Productive At Work With Less Effort. Simple. Clear. Appealing. Effective. Many successful companies can trace their growth and popularity to a clear and effective value proposition. Perhaps your business offers something completely new and previously unheard of. More likely, you are entering a competitive or semi-competitive space and hoping to carve out your own corner of a pre-existing market. If this is the case, it’s important to know what makes your business special. What sets you apart? Have you uniquely solved a customer pain point? Have you found a way to improve upon a previously existing product or service? Are you faster than the competition? More modern? Why Should Anyone Care? Ultimately, what differentiates you? Hopefully you have answers to these questions locked and loaded, because if you don’t, your potential customers certainly won’t. If you aren’t sure, become sure. If you can’t, you may need to rethink your product, your service, or your approach to the market. You need to add value to be viable, and that value needs to be clear and obvious. Otherwise your business will struggle to stand out. It’s just that simple. As a business owner, define what makes your approach—your product, your service, your model—unique, and not just one more option in a mountain of gray choices. Then make this special difference abundantly clear to the customer in an engaging way. Find Your Audience And speaking of your customers, who are they anyway? An excited entrepreneur may respond, “Well, everyone!” But let’s dig a little deeper. It’s been said that if you aim to please everyone, you’ll wind up pleasing no one. This can be true in marketing just as surely as in personal relationships. To really capitalize on a target market, you need to first identify that market. Not all business owners are sure how to do market research for a startup. Often, entrepreneurs may be tempted to simply “go with their gut,” or make impulsive marketing decisions before gathering sufficient information. Market research is more than valuable—it’s essential. Narrow It Down Is your business geared toward young people or retirees? Urban trendsetters, or blue-collar workers? Tech-savvy jet-setters, or suburban moms? You may want to sell to everyone—that’s understandable—but to make your message clear, you need a specific kind of customer in mind when you prepare it. Before you worry about excluding potential customers by focusing too narrowly, understand that it’s possible to have multiple target audiences. This practice, known as segmentation, can work wonders if you play your cards right. Either way, though—targeting one type of customer or five—you need to know who they are before you can market to them effectively. Knowing the value you bring and who your customer is seems simple enough, but it’s worth considering thoughtfully. Getting this right is the key to launching a great marketing strategy. Set Your Goals Once you’re confident in your business’s competitive advantages and in the identity of your target customers, what do you aim to accomplish? Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are quantifiable measures of performance over a period of time. What KPIs will tell you if you’re making adequate progress? What benchmarks do you need to hit in conversions, sales, referrals, etc.—and when? Get motivated and specific. If you’ve planned your goals thoughtfully, they will serve as a great measuring stick for your marketing strategy’s performance. If not, you may either fail to recognize golden opportunities or—even worse—fail to recognize poor performance before you’ve dug yourself into a hole. The trick, of course, is to establish goals that are “SMART” (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based). Goals are powerful stars to follow, but they may well wind up leading you in the wrong direction if they aren’t SMART. Secure Your Budget and Scale As all entrepreneurs can attest, the pursuit of lofty goals requires sacrifice, and it requires adequate resources. For entrepreneurs of all stripes, Lendio serves to empower the pursuit of meaningful goals through startup business loans and many other services. With a budget expanded by a startup business loan, your ability to grow your startup marketing strategy and scale your business can be unlocked sooner than you might think. Whether big growth happens today, tomorrow, or further down the road, a good startup marketing strategy is one that can facilitate (and grow with) the expansion of your operations and a growing pool of customers. Don’t shortchange your marketing plan—it will pay for itself many times over if done right. Reaching Your Audience You know what makes your business special. You know who your customer is. You have the resources to reach them. Your next step is to help them catch the vision. Paid Marketing and Advertising Paid marketing (“traditional advertising”) is the approach most people immediately think of when it comes to marketing. This includes television, radio, and print ads, as well as online approaches such as Google Ads and ads on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Paid marketing is great for promoting general awareness and name recognition, as well as keeping your business in your potential customers’ minds. There’s a reason radio and TV ads repeat over and over: The repetition builds memory pathways that call your business to mind. Not all paid marketing is equally effective in all situations, however. Some types of advertising may be more or less effective depending on your business type and market segment. A thirty second ad on a talk radio station may be effective in some instances, but not if your target audience is tech-savvy teenagers. Be sure to research thoroughly and determine which paid marketing will give you your biggest return on your investment. Owned Marketing and Branding Another layer to effective marketing is what your business does outside of paid advertising. This includes meaningful social media engagement, the use of email, and your business’s website. We can talk about each of these individually. Social Media Social media is truly a golden opportunity for startup businesses. With little to no cost for basic account creation and continuous engagement, it can be extremely cost-effective if managed properly. Using social media effectively isn’t always easy. In some cases, poorly managed social media can be worse than no social media presence at all. An insensitively worded tweet, a clumsy customer service interaction, or an online misunderstanding can embarrass a brand in front of large numbers of potential customers, and can even lead to large scale public backlash. Effective social media management is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity for most businesses in today’s marketplace. You may consider hiring a social media manager (or consultant) to help ensure your startup’s rollout is a success, generating followers and buzz. Email Email is likewise a very powerful tool for the discerning entrepreneur. A simple form on your business website can help you create an email list of interested browsers, enabling you to follow up with them and keep your business at the forefront in their minds. From news about new products and services to coupons, surveys, and other promotional content, an email list can serve to keep customers connected to you for months and even years at a time. You can even, for example, customize email signup forms to collect birthdays and send customers well wishes, complete with the gift of a special discount or other offer. This kind of personal touch can make a big impression on a customer (or potential customer). Email marketing has increased in its impact for business owners in recent years. A great marketing strategy for any startup business would wisely include email in its approach to customer acquisition and retention. Business Website Lastly, website content is a crucial vehicle for a startup business to establish and maintain credibility in today’s world. More and more frequently, customers in all markets are making it a habit to review a business’s website before making a purchase. Make the right impression! SEO (Search Engine Optimization) In addition to having a professional, organized aesthetic, an optimally effective business website will capitalize on search engine optimization (SEO) opportunities, directing more and more traffic to connect with your presence online. To get to work in this important area, see these local SEO tips. Earned Marketing and Public Relations Having done all you can to capitalize on both paid advertising and owned marketing opportunities, ideally you will have put your business in a position to receive the third type of marketing: earned marketing. The name is appropriate, because it doesn’t always come easily. Earned marketing may include positive PR or recognition from the news and other media (which is not uncommon if a startup business makes a splash, especially on a local level), formal and informal reviews, and word of mouth. This positive attention may come from a novel, newsworthy product or service your business offers, or perhaps from an action your business undertakes (charitable giving, community service work and sponsorship, and more) Make A Lasting Impression While media publicity may meaningfully promote name recognition and community awareness, in many cases nothing drives customer conversion and sales quite like positive word of mouth. It’s worth asking: How is my business building its reputation and rememerability in each customer interaction? If you serve your customer in a way that leaves a lasting impression, chances are they’ll tell their friends and family about it. And then you’re really off to the races. The cascading effect of positive word of mouth can be just the springboard it takes to launch a startup business forward. Focusing on public relations is critical. But startup PR is about more than blasting your audience with advertising. It’s about forming a lasting impression that continues to bring loyal customers (and their friends) back to the well over the months and years. Measuring Success Now that you’re really doing the work, reaching customers on several fronts and levels, how is it affecting business? Let’s look back to our discussion on goals above. What KPIs are you looking at, and what kind of picture are they painting? In today’s data-driven world, a business owner can quantify and record not only sales and profit figures, but also web impressions, clicks, and engagements; customer traffic and return visits; new customer acquisitions and conversions, and much more. Learning how to track, capture, and crunch these numbers is key for all business owners who want to leverage every possible piece of information to their advantage. And those who do are often richly rewarded. Learn, Apply, Repeat They say a farmer’s work is never done. Likewise, a wise business owner is never done revising and enacting a successful marketing strategy. Just as crops will stop growing if the farmer doesn’t plow and water the fields after a rich harvest, so will a startup marketing strategy wither and choke if it isn’t continually cared for, even after a successful campaign. Pull the weeds. Remove aspects of the marketing strategy that are limiting your progress. Till the ground. Take a fresh approach every now and again so things don’t get stale. Water the crops. Offer customers exciting ways to be engaged, and do it regularly. Harvest the field. Don’t leave fruit to die on the vine. When customers are ripe, sell to them, giving them a memorable experience they won’t forget. If you do, they’ll help you with the last (and most important) step, and the summary of every good business owner’s marketing philosophy: Never stop planting seeds. At every step of this journey, Lendio stands ready to help, with an array of business funding options and other valuable financial insights. Whether your business is just taking off or refueling for a revamped marketing campaign, these principles and resources will help ensure your time and effort is well spent—and richly rewarded. Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice. All information, content, and materials available in this post are for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to their situation, readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.