Any small business marketing plan needs to be based around a clearly-defined business objective. You’d think that much would be obvious, right? You’d be surprised…
During an average week we receive maybe 50 inquiries from startups and small businesses looking for help to develop specific marketing projects. Maybe it's a startup looking for a logo and brand guidelines. Perhaps it's a small business wanting a new website. Or a social media content strategy. Or SEO.
Whatever the request may be, more often than not the startup or small business owner concerned is making one of two mistakes in their decision making process:
- (Bad): They fail to identify the underlying business issue the particular marketing initiative should be designed to address.
- (Worse): They have identified the business problem, but have come up with their own take on what marketing action needs to be implemented.
Addressing the first example is relatively easy. Dealing with the second one is usually a lot harder.
Issue #1: What's The Business Problem?
A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a business owner. She wanted to know more about our marketing services, and how they could improve her small business marketing efforts. I inquired as to what, in her opinion, was the biggest problem facing her business today – but I wasn’t prepared for the answer. She told me that she didn't have any business problems!
I asked her "If you're happy with the performance of your business and don't have any problems, then why are you contacting us?" After a protracted silence, punctuated with an occasional "um…" and "err…", she hung up on me.
I’ll probably never know what made her put the phone down. However I can certainly hazard a guess – I’ve seen this movie before. Many small business owners don’t correlate their marketing investments against the needs and aspirations of the enterprise. They assume that a pretty website, a bunch of social media updates, and the occasional Facebook ad is what it takes.
The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes all businesses require similar marketing initiatives – which clearly isn’t the case. Marketing a startup is different to a small business, which is different from a large one. B2B marketing is different from B2C. A marketing plan for a business selling baby clothes will be different to a startup selling IT services – you get the picture. Every company’s marketing plan is different for the simple reason that every company is different. Even copying the marketing activities from the competition probably won’t work for you – it may not even be working for them.
Any sustainable plan has to be based upon the commercial needs of the business at the time. Identify what needs improvement, then devise and implement a plan. Any marketing action needs to be based on addressing a particular business problem. Otherwise all you’re doing is creating noise without any way of knowing if anything’s working.
The particular business problem could be anything. Perhaps there’s a lack of audience awareness for your product or service – so you’re not getting many leads. It may be that you're not converting enough inquiries into sales. It may be that a high percentage of customers aren’t renewing their service contracts. Whatever the business problem is, unless you can identify what needs to be improved, it's clearly impossible to put together a plan to address it.
Issue #2: Why Do You Think You Know The Solution?
Supposing I feel a pain in my chest. Clearly, the root cause of the pain can be due to any one of a number of reasons. Sure, there's a chance it could be something serious like coronary artery disease. But it could also be something as trivial as trapped wind.
Cardiologists say that 75% of the people who complain about chest pains don't have an issue with their heart. Since I've never been to medical school and am not a registered physician, I'd be a very foolish person indeed to diagnose angina when the reason for my discomfort is due to having too much spicy food for dinner last night. Of course that doesn't mean that I should ignore my symptoms. But it does mean that I shouldn't be self-diagnosing.
It's the same with marketing a small business (or indeed any sized business). Perhaps you think that your business needs a new website design, when the actual problem is that the text and images on your existing site aren't resonating with your target audience. As a result, investing in a new site design that simply carries-over underlying issues present in the old site won't change things. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pig. By the same reasoning, spending money on Google AdWords advertising may well bring more people to your product landing page. But if the page is poorly designed there's no guarantee that you'll get more sales.
The apparent problem may not be the actual problem. You're making assumptions as to the cause, and self-diagnosing the solution. You think you need heart medication, anti-coagulants, or statins. In reality perhaps all you really need is a pack of Tums. Your role is only to highlight the problem: Defining the subsequent course of action isn’t really your call.
Transactional vs. Consultative
There are two ways of engaging with most suppliers – let’s call them "transactional" and "consultative". An example of a transactional interaction is "I need you to do X for me. How much will it cost?" In contrast, the consultative option could be "I have X problem and I define 'success' as looking like Y. How can you help me?"
It’s not that different from engaging a doctor, plumber, or car mechanic: Your job is to identify the problem, not find the solution. If you're employing the services of someone who does this kind of thing for a living, it's up to them to propose the best way to address the issue.
Ultimately, of course, it's your decision as to whether you choose to take their advice. But if you decide to ignore them and do your own thing, then you only have yourself to blame if the result fails to meet expectation.