We work with a lot of small businesses who often have very limited marketing budgets and resources. Often the ‘marketing team’ consists of just one person (indeed, often the whole company consists of just one person!) and the budget for marketing is small to non-existent. If this sounds familiar and resources (both time and money) are limited then you need to focus your efforts where you’re likely to get the biggest bang for your buck.

This can be easier said than done, particularly these days when there are so many different ways that you could be using your marketing resource. Do you set up some Facebook ads? Send out an email newsletter? Try Google pay per click advertising? Focus your efforts on search engine optimisation? Run some webinars? What about social media? In which case should you focus on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn? It can feel like there’s an almost infinite variety of options. You can’t do everything so how do you decide where to focus your energy?

Sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and think in terms of your overall marketing strategy rather than your marketing tactics. What’s the difference? Your marketing strategy is your overall game plan, setting out what you’re aiming to achieve through your marketing. Your marketing tactics are the tools and techniques that you use to implement your strategy. Trying to decide which tools to use before you have a clear idea of what you’re actually trying to achieve is putting the cart before the horse. Strategy first. Tactics second. And if you have a clear idea of your strategy then it becomes much easier to decide on the most appropriate tactics to use to achieve it. To do this, there are five key questions you need to answer.

1. Who are we trying to reach?

You need as clear as possible an idea of who your target customer is. You might just be able to look at your existing customer base and say “We want to reach more people like them”. If you’re a yoga teacher or a personal trainer or someone else who works personally with all their clients then understanding this should be relatively straightforward. If, however, you’re selling widgets via your website you may not really have a clear idea of who your customers are. Or maybe you’re just starting out and you don’t yet have a critical mass of customers.

It’s useful to be able to paint a picture of who your ideal customer is using four key dimensions.

  • Demographics – What age and gender are your customers? What life stage are they at (new parents, empty nesters etc)? What’s their relationship status? What income do they have? Not all these factors will be relevant to all businesses. If you’re selling widgets via your website then relationship status probably isn’t relevant, but if you’re a wedding organiser then it definitely will be. It maybe that none of these demographic factors are relevant except perhaps income. It’s not necessary to force an age range or gender onto your target customer if age or gender aren’t really relevant.
  • Geographic location – Where are your customers physically located? Again, this will be relevant for some businesses but not for others. Traditionally a personal trainer would have looked for clients located in their own geographic region but now many trainers are moving online and attracting customers from all around the world. If, however, you’re a plumber then the geographic location of your customers is going to be highly relevant.
  • Psychographics – Psychographics defines your customers in terms of their interests, views, beliefs, ideas, values, personality attributes. In short, what are they like? What sort of people are they? Understanding this can be what really unlocks your ability to reach your customers effectively and talk to them about things that they are interested in.
  • Behaviour – This final element is about understanding your customers in terms of their shopping behaviour. How regularly do they buy your product or service? How loyal are they to you? How price sensitive are they? What channel do they prefer to use to shop (online, in person, over the phone etc)?

The more you understand your customers and the more detail you can put into your description of your key customer groups then the easier it is to determine how best to reach them and what messages they’re likely to find appealing. Too often organisations define their customers simply in terms of age and gender, but this doesn’t really give you much to go on when it comes to building a marketing strategy.

The real power comes when you understand the psychographic and behavioural profile of your customers as well. The level of targeting that’s possible on social media these days goes far beyond simply age and gender to encompass the full range of interests, lifestyle, behaviour and attitudes.

2. How can we most effectively reach them?

Once you know who your target customers are then selecting between the many different marketing channels that are available to you should be easier. If you really understand your customers then you’ll have a good idea of what media they consume, which publications they read, where they hang out online and so on. When marketing budgets are limited the key question you need to ask is ‘Where are we most likely to find the people that we’re interested in talking to?’

Perhaps you already have your customers’ email addresses or you have a big audience of potential customers on social media. That gives you a great starting point. The next step then is to find more people who look like those people. Which Facebook groups are they likely to be in? What types of organisations might they have worked for that you could target on LinkedIn? What kinds of accounts might they be following on Twitter? What email newsletters might they subscribe to? What publications could they read? What keywords might they be searching for on Google?

Not all these channels will be relevant to all organisations but somewhere in there you should be able to start to narrow down where you should be focusing your marketing efforts by identifying which platforms are likely to give you the biggest bang for your buck.

3. What messages do we want to convey to them?

Once you’ve identified the types of people you want to talk to and you know which the best channels are to reach them, then the next thing you need to consider is what messages you want to convey to them. There are a couple of aspects to this. At a broad level think about what the key messages are that you want to convey about your organisation and brand. Then, more specifically, consider what the messaging focus of a specific campaign should be.

Try and say what you want to say in the simplest, clearest way possible. Make sure you’re using terminology that your customers will recognise. Talk to them about things that they’re interested in, remembering that generally what people care about most is themselves. Good advertising copy tends to answer the question ‘What’s in it for me?’

4. What do we want them to do?

Whenever you’re communicating with your customers (or potential new customers) you should have in mind what it is that you want them to do as a result of having seen your message and then make it as easy as possible for them to do that thing.

What you want people to do will depend on the nature of your business. Perhaps you want them to buy a product from you, or download something from your website, or request a meeting or a demo, or subscribe to your email newsletter, or call you, or send you an email, or fill in a form. Sometimes it might simply be that you want them to change how they think about you, understand a new piece of information or just have you top of mind the next time they come to need the product or service that you provide.

Whatever it is, you should make sure you’re explicitly telling people what it is that you want them to do – there needs to be a clear so-called ‘call to action’ in whatever you have sent them – and then make sure that it’s as quick and easy as possible for them to do that thing. This means checking (and double checking!) that all the links in your emails or social posts go where you think they go and are working correctly. It means checking that any forms on your website work as they should and that you’re notified when someone fills in a form. It means checking that your online store is working correctly.

The best way to do this is to go through whatever the process is as if you were a customer. Make sure you’re not logged into the website, use a browser in incognito mode and then go through the process of filling in the contact form on your website or buying a product from your online store, or whatever it is that you’re asking customers to do. Almost inevitably you’ll discover glitches, technical problems or ways in which the process could be simplified, speeded up or made easier when you do this.

A good rule of thumb to have in mind is that the more work the customer has to do in order to buy something from you, fill in a form, subscribe to your newsletter or whatever it might be, the less likely they are to do it. You should be looking to streamline these processes wherever you can. Every time you add an extra click into a process you’ll loose some people who would otherwise have responded.

5. How will we know whether what we’re doing is working?

When your budget is limited you really need to focus your marketing efforts on what you know works, so you need to be able to measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing. At the simplest level this might just mean keeping track of how many responses you get to an email or how many completed contact forms are submitted via your website each week, but in an ideal world you’d go a step or two further than this.

As a starting point everyone who has a website should be running Google Analytics on that site. See this blog for more information about what Google Analytics is and how it can help you and book a place on our Introduction to Google Analytics webinar if you want to learn more.

These days, every digital marketing tool that you use will come with its own suite of analytics to help you measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing. Mailchimp (and other email marketing packages) gives you detailed analytics showing how people have responded to your email (we cover this in our Introduction to Mailchimp webinar). All the main social channels include analytics tools so you can see which of your posts are generating the most responses and which don’t seem to be landing with people.

Understanding what works and what doesn’t is really the key to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing as it enables you to cut out those activities that don’t generate results for you and focus purely on those that do.

Next steps

We have a whole series of webinars covering different aspects of digital marketing for small businesses. Why not start with our FREE Introduction to Digital Marketing webinar and take it from there?

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