Becoming a business tycoon is the dream of many small business owners. Coming up with the Next Best Thing and selling it to millions of people online sounds like a great way to make it big. But coming up with the idea may seem easy when compared to the job of having to market that new idea or invention to the public.
Understanding online marketing and how to reach your potential customers is one of the most critical elements in becoming an online success. There are plenty of moving parts that need to work in unison in order to make your online marketing strategy successful.
Who are Your Customers?
This is one of the first questions anyone going into business should ask. There are different demographics that can help you narrow down your choice of the customers you are going to target. Age, gender, physical location, profession, interests, and family are some of the easier demographics to determine. As a small business owner, you need to determine what segment of the population is most likely to buy your products and services. Once you have determined the profile of your most likely customer (also known as the ‘user persona’), you can begin to attract customers in your target market.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but by narrowing down who you want to target and focusing your energies on the most relevant personas, you’ll likely increase your chances for success. Let’s take an example: if you sell haircare products, you’ll probably want to start by focusing on women. Sure, you’ll get more visibility if you target men too, but you’ll be spending a lot on online marketing for a demographic that isn’t likely to convert.
What is Marketing?
Many people confuse marketing with other parts of the business process, such as sales and advertising. The reality is that sales and advertising are actually a part of the marketing umbrella. Marketing, at its very core, is simply the process through which a business finds its customers. To understand what marketing is, let’s look at another example, that of a local restaurant.
A restaurant owner might put a sign out in front of his establishment so that people driving by can see what the daily special is. With this tactic, the restaurant owner is marketing to a group of people – the drivers –who might be hungry at the time they read the sign, and who might be tempted to stop in for a bit.
Now, the restaurant owner could have also taken out a full-page ad in a newspaper, or had a plane fly past a beach full of people. Both of these methods undoubtedly have a greater viewership than hanging a sign near the restaurant, but may not attract an audience that is as relevant; the newspaper reaches a large audience, but most of the readers aren’t close enough to the restaurant to bother going, and the plane can only reach the people on the beach that day. And, the beach is a 30-minute drive from the restaurant.
While all three methods of advertising are perfectly valid and well-known advertising methods, the newspaper ad and plane banner aren’t likely to draw enough customers to make the cost worthwhile. The sign, on the other hand, lets a specific group of potential customers know what is being sold, and that it’s close enough that stopping in for a bite to eat won’t take them too far out of their way.
Finding customers online works in exactly the same way as the example above. Instead of physical location, though, you want people to be able to visit your virtual business and become paying customers. The questions of where and how and to whom you need to focus your marketing efforts remain the same, and it’s up to you as the business owner to decide how to answer those questions.
When getting started with online marketing, it’s important to remember to have a consistent message that communicates the value of what your business can deliver to your customers, and to make it easy for them to purchase (or ‘convert’). If, for example, you sell a product that can be shipped nationwide, but the shipping costs to some regions are prohibitively high, you may not want to target people in those areas, because they won’t be the most likely to purchase your product.
When you’re trying to get customers interested in your product or service, the first and most critical element is your website. Think of your web site as both your best and worst employee. Your website can remember everything you tell it. It can help potential customers communicate with you. It never sleeps, and it’s available in every country around the world. Unfortunately, it can’t think for itself, so any information your website doesn’t have, it can’t give to a potential customer. So it’s up to you to make sure that your website can answer any question that a visitor might have.
Your website is part of the marketing message. As a successful component of your marketing effort, your site has to be able to clearly and accurately communicate to your potential customers, in language that’s familiar and makes people understand why your product or service is better than your competitor.
Becoming the Subject Matter Expert
People who come to your website want to understand what makes you better than everyone else out there selling similar products and services. You have to be able to convince your visitors that you have the experience and expertise needed to provide the best value in your field. Without being able to personally interact with online visitors, the next best thing is to use the content of your web site to convey the idea that your company is best suited to provide value to that customer.
Posting articles on your website will give people an idea of who you are as a company, and hopefully give them a level of comfort in your expertise that will convince them to use your services or buy your product. Articles can be professionally written or can take a more personal tone as blog posts. It could even be a combination of the two. The important part is to make people feel that you know your industry better than anyone else and create a level of comfort that will turn into a sale for your small business.
Once you’ve started writing articles about your business and your industry, it’s time to make sure people know those articles exist. Since the first place people go when looking for a product or service is a search engine, you need to make sure your articles are being found, indexed, and shown in search results. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the method for creating content that will be read by search engines and returned as a result of a related search. SEO is less about who you’re trying to attract, and more about the ability to attract anyone at all. If no one can find you, it doesn’t matter how well your message is written. There are endless articles online that you can read to learn how to use SEO effectively.
When creating content for your website, it’s important to pay attention to how your message is being crafted, so that people who are looking for information related to your business will be able see your article in the search engine results.
Social Media Channels
In today’s world, search engines aren’t the only place people go to research information. Social media networks connect people and allows them to share information about common interests. This includes articles that people have read that have meaning to them. If someone is interested in a product you sell or a service you offer, they might post your latest article, simply because it was interesting enough. That article posting will be seen by dozens of that person’s friends, which could result in reaching a completely new customer.
Social media channels are available worldwide and are always accessible. Each platform has a different method of presenting information, which works for different kinds of people. It’s important to note that your favorite social media channel might not be the most effective one for your small business. Experiment with different social media channels to determine which one gets the most attention and interaction, or in marketing speak, has the best engagement. That doesn’t mean you should ignore your other social media accounts; you never know when things will change.
Branding is about customers being able to recognize your company and to associate your company with the value of your products or services. Most people think that branding is just a logo: it isn’t. A logo is simply a graphical memory device that companies use to help customers remember them. Your brand is also how your employees present themselves, the consistency of your products and services, your professional tone in your communications, your uniforms, or anything else that customers will use to associate your company with their experience.
In marketing, branding is used to create a consistent customer experience. Companies devote a considerable amount of time developing their brand, so that their customers will feel comfortable using them again and again. When customers know what to expect from your company, it gives them a feeling of comfort and security, which will increase the likelihood that they will continue to do business with you.
In online marketing, your branding is an important aspect of your marketing efforts. It’s too easy to become just another company among the thousands of similar companies that offer the same products and services. Your branding efforts need to always remind your customers of your value to them, so that when they do see your logo, they’re reminded of the positive interactions they’ve had with you.
Often considered the most important part of marketing, advertising is how companies attract the attention of customers and potential customers. Advertisements are used to generate interest in a company by offering a look at a particular product or service, or just the company in general. Nowadays, we can find advertising everywhere we look, both in the real world and online.
How you craft your advertising message is based on how that message is going to be received by your target market. A pharmaceutical company is unlikely to market to doctors using juvenile language and images, in the same way you wouldn’t advertise a toy to a child by listing the safety specifications. Once your company has determined which customers are in your target market, advertising is used to speak to those customers in a way that attracts them to your message.
Online advertising can be overwhelming at first, but the truth is that it’s actually easier to advertise online than it is in print or other forms of media. Aside from the much lower cost, you can choose advertising placement that makes the most sense to your business, and even fine-tune your target potential customers with demographic information that has already been collected by the site. Take Facebook Ads for example. You can choose a very detailed target market based on different interests or language, or even exclude a market segment if necessary.
The visual imagery your advertising uses, as well as the text, should create enough interest that viewers will be tempted to click on your advertisement. The banner should take them to a page on your web site that can explain more about the offer in detail, offer incentives, or otherwise try to turn your visitor into a customer.
Email has been around far longer than most people can remember. As a marketing channel, it is still one of the most critical elements in your marketing strategy. By collecting a list of email addresses from people who have indicated interest in your product or service, you have a market segment that has already indicated an interest in your company. That means they are more likely to purchase your product or service in the future.
Offer customers a way to sign up for your newsletter from your website and use that list to provide information and incentives about new offerings, or special offers that are exclusive to members of your email list.
Once all of your marketing components are in place, make sure to connect them to a statistical analytics service, so you can get an executive view of how your company’s marketing efforts are paying off. Statistics will help you determine the best places to direct funding and content creation efforts, namely to your business’ marketing channels that show the most promise.