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The fundamentals: marketing for small and medium businesses

Updated: Mar 23

Marketing is confusing. There, we said it. And we say it because honestly, it's something we hear all the time.

We talk about marketing on a daily basis with an array of medium and small businesses, and something we hear over-and-over again is: 'I just don't know where to get started'.

These businesses -- probably like yours -- are continuously berated by local and offshore companies email-yelling at them about increasing their bid in Adwords, becoming number one in search engines, and having a million social media followers.

And while some of the goals these emailers encourage are possibly spot on, what they don't do is:

a) get to know and understand the businesses they are targeting, and

b) advise the businesses that few of the strategies they are proposing will produce effective results, or maintainable results, if they don't first create a solid and strategic marketing foundation.

So, in answer to the question, 'where do we start?' That's it, that's where you start -- with a solid foundation and some simple fundamentals. When you have those right, kick off some campaigns -- because then they'll be guided, strategic, goal-driven campaigns with measurable results.

Without further fluff, based on our experiences developing marketing strategies for sole traders to large, international companies, here are the foundations you need to think about and invest in before you waste money on campaigns that either don't build, or worse, damage your brand. Don't have time to read it all? Skip to the summary here!

1. Your brand identity

Defining and building identity is an important marketing foundation, and to be frank, it is a foundation a lot of small and medium businesses are either lazy with, or just straight up ignore.

Your business identity is about a lot of things. But to cover the absolute fundamentals, it's about your logo, your look and feel and how it is applied, your language and tone, and your brand positioning. So, let's get stuck in.

Your logo is the visual representation of your business that you want potential customers to recall and recognise. With that in mind, we can't stress how vital it is.

Don't pay $5 for your logo. Seriously, just don't do it. Because coming up with a logo isn't about drawing a random picture, or adjusting some clip art, it's about telling the story of who you are. It is the basis of your identity.

If you want to build integrity and equity in your logo and your brand -- this will be part of what you make money from if you ever sell your business -- talk to a brand strategist.

Get a real designer to create your logo. And when they present you with your options after learning all about you -- and yes, there should be several options -- make sure they explain the meaning and their rationale behind each, before you make a decision.

We've reviewed more than 300 websites in one year, and one of the first factors that tells us about the status of a business and it's perceived capacity to invest in itself and therefore in a customer, is its logo. Get it right.

Next, once you have your logo in the bag, ask your designer to build a look and feel around it, with design elements you can carry over into everything you do -- digital, print, broadcast. Make sure your brand is unified, identifiable, memorable and professional.

When applying your brand, work together to settle on a tone, or a persona your want for your business and the type of language you will always use in all communication and marketing.

Are you formal, cool and professional, or are you warm and relatable? Perhaps you're humorous, but also very intelligent? Choose it and run with it, in everything you do.

This brings us to positioning. Essentially, positioning is the way you are perceived collectively by consumers -- your unique reputation. Maybe you're the 'go-to' innovators, or the genuine nice guys, or the expert marketers.

Whatever it is, it needs to be true, it needs to be unique or applied in a unique way, and it needs to underpin absolutely everything you do.

2. Websites that work for you

Did you know there are more than 380 new websites published every single minute?

And while you won't see a new site for another business like yours pop up in your area every day, a new page with content that will affect your business will more than likely be published at least each week.

This concept of 'build it and they will come' should be a mentality of the past when referring to website visitors, but unfortunately, it's not.

Your website is competing against thousands of other sites in search engines, so it needs to be set up properly, secondly, it should provide something useful, and thirdly, it has to look good.

Here's the hard truth, $500 isn't going to do this. Often a couple of thousand isn't going to do this.

Your website is your new shopfront -- don't have something that is outdated and falling apart -- you wouldn't do it in real life!

A few tips for your website:

  • Plan it carefully before building it so you know what you really need and what will actually benefit your users.

  • Invest in a content management system (CMS) that is super easy to use (or get lessons) so you can edit, update and add... if you don't, your website will become outdated or you will continuously pay a developer to do things for you.

  • Make sure whoever builds it has an intimate relationship with search engine optimisation (SEO). Among many (MANY!) other things, your site should be easy to navigate, have internal links, pages should load quickly, and broken links should be fixed regularly.

  • Your site should be responsive. More than 60% of searches take place on mobile, if you don't have a responsive website that can be accessed on any device, Google will think twice about ever serving your site in response to searches.

  • Get a good designer -- ugly, outdated websites do not attract clients.

3. Content: have a section for it and keep it updated

Content is one of the most underrated and underutilised marketing tools in small and medium businesses. And yet, it can be one of the most cost-effective, stand-out performers for helping you win leads and create relationships.

This week alone, we reviewed around 30 websites. Of those, 80% had blogs or news sections that had literally not a single post, or the last post was at best a few months ago, at worst, three years ago.

Content serves several purposes -- check out our article on why you need a blog to get the nitty-gritty.

To summarise: the more quality content you have (combined with other things), the more likely your site will show up in relevant search results.

The more often you show up in search results, the more site visitors you get (people walk into your digital shop front) and the more potential customers you can attempt to convert.

If your site isn't getting found in search for anything, ask yourself, what is the point of even having a site? If no one ever comes to your shop front because it's just too tricky to find, do you really need one?

Content is also for your current, past and future customers or clients. Recently updated content tells people your business is alive and kicking, it engages them and keeps them on the hook, it makes you memorable and it helps you share knowledge so you can build your profile as an expert.

At minimum, try to add new content to your site at least once each week -- and don't stop at 200 words, because Google likes longer articles!

4. Social Media: build communities, not just campaigns

Social media is important, if you use it right. It may not necessarily always be an introducer -- people don't necessarily search for businesses on it the same way they do on search engines -- but it is an engagement tool.

Social networks, especially the likes of Insta, TikTok and Facebook give you a chance to build a profile by building a community.

They enable you to share your unique personality, your skills and your knowledge so you can create and nurture real, two-way relationships.

Or, if you're not doing it right, they can just be a place where you post all your services or products for sale and sell 'at people'.

The challenge with socials is they are changing. Their algorithms are changing and the way they treat and cater to businesses is changing -- they are now much more commercialised and have really become a 'pay to play' domain if a business wants to have any real impact or return on investment.

This is emphasised by the fact Facebook and Insta only show posts from business pages to less than 1% of that business's own followers in follower newsfeeds -- hence lower and lower engagement. To give context, if you have built up 1,000 followers, each of your posts might only be shown to 10 of your followers for free.

And if a business mainly posts only sales-based content, expect your reach to be reduced even further.

A couple of tips:

  • Ask your staff to share all your business posts with their friends; this will increase your reach.

  • Stop posting mainly sales-based content. Talk to people, create relationships and connections, share knowledge and expertise -- socials might like you better and your followers might share it!

  • To up engagement, invest! Boost/sponsor posts to create in-profile responses like tags, comments, shares and likes so more people see more of your posts. Use ads to create off-page responses like generating visitors on your listing pages.

  • Post regularly, like at least three times each week, to help increase reach.

5. Database marketing: segment and send

Email campaigns are still one of the most effective marketing channels for businesses.

Even low-cost platforms like Mailchimp incorporate some great options for contact tagging, segmenting, retargeting and automating marketing messages -- no B2B or B2C business should look past it.

Building your database should be a business goal from day one. Note that privacy laws have changed and European laws (GDPR) can affect global businesses, so you need to be mindful to get the right consent from people before signing them up or sending them anything.

There are a lot of ways to build your database, so getting names and contact details should not be tricky -- what can be tricky is making the most of them!

A few tips for your email campaigns:

  • Segment your lists into groups of people with similar needs and motivations as much as possible (eg buyer list, seller list) and send separate email campaigns to each.

  • Personalise your subject line and the body of the email if you can, as this makes your emails much more likely to be opened.

  • Be realistic in what you expect: for example, industry standard open rates for many industries are around 19 to 25%, and click rate is around 1 to 2%. Find out the standards for your industry here.

In summary...

After reading this colossal article, it is hopefully obvious why we've listed these tactics or channels as must-haves for any business and created our client marketing services around the same fundamentals.

For those of you who skipped to the end for the conclusion to save time (be honest, we all do it, especially with mystery novels!), here's the basics:

1. Invest in your brand -- it's the best money you will spend. Your logo and its application is the very basis of your identity -- you don't cheap-out on hair cuts or outfits when you're in front of clients, so don't cheap-out on how your business is represented visually.

2. Get your website right -- when you start campaigns, your website is where you will direct almost every single marketing channel (your business cards have it, flyers, social media ads, emails).

If people click on a stunning campaign to land on a poorly-functioning, difficult-to-navigate, ugly website, your marketing spend is useless!

3. Content should be front and centre -- adding regular content to your site feeds into and helps you with so many other communications channels. Blogs give you content to include in your newsletters, original content to post on social channels, and ways to keep past and future clients engaged. The more regularly you add content, the more likely you are to be found in search engines like Google.

4. Socials -- use them for the right reasons! Social media and its users are sick of being sold to, so the social media giants are showing your organic business sales posts to less-and-less of your followers.

If you want to promote a listing, make an ad. If you want to build a community and share knowledge, post in your profile for free and avoid sales-based content.

5. Email is still a strong performer -- build your database carefully and in accordance with privacy rules and then segment and automate so you're regularly keeping in touch with your contacts and providing them relevant insights and information.

Need some help getting those marketing foundations right, or just don't have time? Reach out to us for a chat.

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