Marketing Key: Focus on That Target

Every business plan requires a sound marketing strategy, and that's especially true for start ups. IB spoke to two local experts who are well versed in marketing, advertising, and branding to offer entrepreneurs advice about how exploit the things that set them apart.


Viva la difference

Dave Florin, president of Hiebing, offers this perspective: "It starts at a deep level with knowing your purpose. When I say that, I don't mean, 'Why does your company exist?' from your lens, but from the lens of your target market. I think that is probably the most critical piece in the entire marketing planning process – knowing who your customer is, and why you matter in their lives."

Entrepreneurs should be clear about what differentiates them from competitors, and they should be certain they can deliver on those expectations with a high degree of consistency. In the process, it would be helpful if they establish knowledge leadership, enabling them to own something valuable in the market.

Small business owners often confuse marketing with communication when the latter is far broader and incorporates why you are relevant and to whom. "If people stay disciplined around that target market, a lot of things downstream will work their way out," Florin explained.

Another marketing task is identifying the marketing problem you are trying to solve. Is your company trying to tackle an awareness issue? Is it trying to get people to form a certain belief around your products or services? Or is it simply trying to convince people to come back more consistently? "Each one of those is a slightly different marketing problem to solve," Florin noted. "The strategies and tactics that you would apply would also differ."

A hypothetical example illustrates the challenge entrepreneurs face. "If I were launching an accounting firm, there are a lot of accounting firms in the marketplace, and a lot of individual accountants," noted Florin. "So how would I go about creating knowledge leadership so that I don't just look like another 'me, too' in the category? I'd probably need to dig into some emerging trends, or some specific spaces, or a different style of doing business."

Then you have to think about reaching the target audience. Social media tools can be impactful, but the best means of advertising depends on where your target market is paying attention. "They are not necessarily the end game, but they are fundamental steps," Florin said. "I see a lot of people putting up websites, but they aren't focused on the message the website should be articulating. Your website is not a technology tool, it's a marketing and communications tool."

Entrepreneurs often neglect the search engine optimization component. When somebody conducts a search, the ideal position is to be in the first five or 10 listings (the first or second page) of a search on Google or Yahoo! "I don't know anyone who makes a decision, whether it's a consumer product or a business-to-business decision, who isn't spending some time online researching or validating that decision," Florin stated.

Sporting your brand

Marsha Lindsay, president and CEO, Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, said the start-up phase is not too early to think about branding. In addition to differentiation, entrepreneurs need to make their product or service an ongoing concern, Lindsay said, and the way to do that is not just have an idea of something you can make or do, but think about the meaningful role it can play in people's lives. She noted that Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called it your company's enduring purpose.

"Think about it this way: the world doesn't need another travel magazine," Lindsay said. "It doesn't need another yogurt. It doesn't need another craft beer. If you want to start something amid all the others out there, what would be the meaningful role you could play in people's lives that others do not?"

Well-known symbols are part of any brand, but they should manifest that meaningful role. Lindsay noted that Starbucks' brand isn't just about coffee, it's about a taste exploration, and the iPod's brand isn't just about specific music downloads, it's about enabling consumers to select the soundtrack of their lives.

The best way to make a brand grow is to find a lot of customers fast, and most marketing strategies don't do that because they don't leverage new media with traditional media. "It most likely will require a jump-start in traditional mass media," Lindsay said, "to get folks started with you online."

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