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Small business marketing basics

Chelsea Iversen Jan. 30, 2020

Marketing often takes a back seat to product development in small businesses, and rightly so. Many small business owners are passionate about what they have to offer the community, not the hustle of trying to sell and market. Still, a business is a business, and an understanding of small business marketing basics can set a successful company, store or service apart from all the others. Better marketing means you can reach more people more effectively with what you have to offer.

What are the small business marketing basics?

  1. Brush up on digital marketing fundamentals 
  2. Map out your customers’ needs 
  3. Establish a presence online 
  4. Tackle social media with precision 
  5. Measure everything 
  6. Repeat

You may be starting from scratch, or maybe you’ve marketed your business a bit but need better direction. Or, maybe you are growing your team and want to educate your employees on small business marketing strategies. Whatever the reason, you’re looking for answers. And the first is, there are so many directions to go, depending on what your business is and what your customers want. Take any and all advice with one eye on your business and your audience. Remember your customer’s needs at all times, and you’ll be able to apply the basics of marketing to your business in the most effective way.

1. Brush up on digital marketing

Start by learning the ideas behind making marketing effective in the digital age. If it seems like an odd place to start (you want to jump right in, of course), it’s not. You should spend some time figuring out why marketing works before jumping into how it works and spending money on a bunch of ads that you don’t need. This will ensure you understand the basic concepts when faced with decisions like, should I use facebook? or are print ads still relevant?

Start by diving into modern digital marketing tactics to understand how to approach marketing in the first place.

Does this mean you need a business-school level of marketing knowledge to get started? Absolutely not! You can spend less than four hours learning small business marketing basics — and you only need the fundamentals to get started. The rest you can learn as you go.

2. Map out your customers’ needs

Your customer is the focal point of your marketing efforts. In fact, they are the only reason you’re in business at all. That said, so many businesses struggle to make the connection between tapping into the customer and maintaining a thriving business. Marketing is a way to not only reach more customers, but to understand them, as well as understand the people who could be your customers. Marketing today isn’t just about throwing up a billboard and hoping for the best. It’s calculated, measured and much more effective.

Start by taking a look at the customer journey — what it is and how it can be applied. Then create a customer journey map to see all the ways in which a customer or prospective customer could interact with your brand, from seeing a social media post to clicking “buy now.” Seeing this information mapped out will help you establish what your marketing efforts should be focused on.

3. Establish a presence online

Once you have a little foundation on marketing in today’s digital age, it’s time to establish (or refine) your online presence. If you haven’t already, find an SEO plugin for your website and add keywords, meta descriptions, meta titles and other SEO-friendly things to your webpages. Starting here is the first step to making sure people can find you online through organic search.

SEO is very basic, but once you have these good practices down, you can begin to think about search marketing. The state of search today is such that you can stick with SEO for slow-to-come-about traffic to your site or you can opt for paid search — think of the ads you see at the top of the Google search results page — for a jolt of traffic. Typically, some combination of the two is ideal to drive searchers to your website. You need to choose the strategy that your budget and time will allow. 

Learn more about search marketing in the State of Search course

4. Tackle social media with precision

Social media is something people tend to jump to first when starting marketing efforts. You may wonder if you should post on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Should you consider social ads? What should your posts say?

All these questions have the same unsatisfying answer: It depends. Your business is unique and is therefore going to require a unique combination of social media and other online interactions to get customers’ attention, pique their interest and drive them to buy. Social media isn’t a marketing savior, but for some brands, it’s the best way to market.

So how do you know how, and how much, to market on social media? Remember, your primary job is to get to know your customer. Find out where your customers are. If they’re on Instagram, you should consider diving into that platform. If they’re on Facebook, try putting some of your marketing budget toward building up your brand on that platform. If they are more of the cable-TV-watching type than the social-posting type, you might want to prioritize TV advertising over social media. Once you determine where to allocate your budget, get to know a few social media basics like top trends, stories, hashtag marketing and how to tell a compelling story.

5. Measure everything

To be the most effective, you should always be thinking about measurability. It’s easy to get carried away with fun, beautiful creative or just put something out into the world (whether it’s an email, social posts or an ad) because you feel like you should. But when you find your niche audience, target them, and then measure, measure, measure — you’ll likely end up with results that can help you find even more success.

Today, you have access to tools that give you insights you can use to improve your marketing ROI. You can see which web pages aren’t converting, and thus make improvements. You can see which of your social ads are tanking, thus eliminating an uninterested audience and illuminating another. You can see the trail of cookie crumbs leading up to a purchase, thus showing you a customer journey you can make sure is seamless. Measurement is a key part of campaign effectiveness. It simply keeps your budget working for you all the time. Today, with so many measurement tools at your disposal, the key is to choose a collection of platforms that give you the metrics you need based on where your audience is.

6. Repeat

Once you’ve established a good marketing standard for your small business, it’s the time to set it and forget it, right? Fortunately, that’s not the case. It’s time now to dig in, see how you’re doing and even start the process over. Why? Why do you need to do this over and over again when once should be enough? Well, it turns out once isn’t enough. It isn’t nearly enough. Many small businesses run into the trap of launching a marketing strategy, being thankful they don’t have to deal with it anymore and moving on to some other aspect of the business.

The truth is, once you start marketing, it becomes an inextricable part of your business. And it’s a welcome asset, too — especially in the digital age. What you learn about your customers’ needs through your marketing can even improve your product or services. Marketing can help you serve your community better.

That, and online marketing rules and best practices change every day, and you don’t want to be playing catch up. Spend a few hours a week with your marketing plan and execution and brush up on trends, and you’ll be agile enough to keep bringing in business.

Some courses to learn small business marketing basics:

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