In order to succeed, a business must attract and keep a growing number of customers. Some owners might mistakenly believe this is done through sales alone, but sales are just a part of the overall success equation. Before a sale can even occur, a business must be marketed effectively – meaning the public has to know you exist before they can buy from you.
Selling is the act of getting a customer to buy your product or service; marketing is the actions you take leading up to the sale. Marketing includes all the research and promotional activities you do to figure out what your customers want and then making potential customers aware of what you have to offer.
Marketing involves a broad process of activities, which include discovering what product or service customers actually want, making that product, pricing the product, promoting the product and finally selling the product to the consumer.
As you are marketing your product or service, the public is going to form an opinion of your company, based upon what they see or hear about you. This opinion is your company image – it’s what others think and feel about you, not what you think or what your marketing materials or salespeople say! Your company image is your identity in the marketplace, even if you have not consciously undertaken any activities to build one.
Even if you don’t advertise, produce brochures or issue press releases, there are plenty of things already within your company that help the public form an opinion of you. Your company logo, your website, product packaging, the look of your business cards and how your employees treat customers all work together to create a company image. In marketing terms, this image is your brand.
Your company image can make your marketing communications more powerful than they would be on their own. Marketing communications include all the activities you do to present your business to the market, including brochures, advertising, sales promotions and publicity. It is therefore extremely important to create marketing messages that match or fit your company image. Although your company image is intangible, meaning you can’t touch it or feel it, it is as vital as, or even more important than, the product or service you provide.
To create the type of company image you want, start by evaluating your company and products to determine how they measure up to the competition. Are your prices lower or higher? This is a good opportunity to do some market researchæyou might conduct a survey to learn what your target market thinks about you and if possible, find out how your competition and their customers think too. Once you have this information in hand, you can develop a plan to make changes if necessary or continue the way things are.
As you are developing your company’s brand, make sure your brochures, advertisements, packaging etc. all reflect the same image. Continuity is essential – make sure that your marketing efforts all match your image. This includes the types of magazines where you place advertisements and the types of promotional events your company takes part in.
What you customer wants is the most important part of marketing. All of your company’s efforts and activities should be based on meeting your customer’s needs. But how do you learn what your customer wants? Once again, market research.
For a successful marketing campaign, you have to know how your market thinks. Using market research will identify any customer problems and uncover any problem areas that can easily be fixed. Market research can also identify some new products or services your clients want, paving the way for you to create and sell these products.
Every business needs to conduct market research. This research will show who your customers are and who are your potential customers – and whether or not you’re offering the types of goods and services they actually want to buy. Since it’s impossible to sell something that the public doesn’t want to buy, you can save yourself a lot of grief by doing market research before you start your business and possibly fail.
If you are already in business and decide to do market research after the fact, take a look at the vast amount of customer information you already have, before conducting a formal market survey or hiring a company to do it for you. Sales complaints, receipts and other records that show a customer’s address will tell you where they live and how they buy.
Your market research can be as simple as asking your customers or suppliers what they think about your company or as complex as a formal study conducted by a professional firm. If you choose to do it on your own, first determine what it is exactly that you’d like to know about your customer. This might include learning what products they currently use and their perceptions about it. The survey is probably the quickest and least expensive way to conduct market research. This can be done over the phone or as a piece of mail where the customer fills out the survey and sends it back to you, postage paid.
Once your research is complete, you can analyze the information and reach some sort of conclusionæeither you need to change to suit what your customers want or find customers who want what you have to offer.
It’s important to remember that the focus of marketing is people. If you’re concentrating on your product or your bottom line only, you’re bound to fail. You must aim all of your marketing efforts to a specific group of people, your target market.
The best way for your target market to get to know you is by using a mixture of traditional advertising and low-cost promotional techniques. The Yellow Pages listings are still the gold standard of advertising. Pricey for sure, but almost a guaranteed source of customers. Press releases can be used to announce any newsworthy change or event in your company. Be aware however that even though you think something is important, a newspaper or magazine editor might not feel the same way. A press release is no guarantee of media coverage. Articles describing the benefits of your business are also an effective promotional tool. These articles can be submitted as a informational column in suitable publications or they can be included in media kits or sales packages. Your website may be the first contact a customer has with your company, so make sure it’s effective, well-written and easy to navigate. An intrinsic part of your brand, your website must be professional – make sure you hire the right people to do the job the first time around.
Traditional advertising allows you to have complete control over what the public sees regarding your company. Consistent advertising builds public awareness and trust for your business. It takes time and persistence to see the results, however, so a long-term commitment to an advertising campaign is necessary. Advertising will remind customers and prospects about your product or service and help to establish and maintain your brand. It won’t create a customer base overnight though, but through repeated exposure to your advertising, the public will quickly recognize you as you continue to market in other ways.
Taking the time to discover what people want, and then offering it to them, is a surefire way to build a successful customer base. And by creating a positive brand along the way, you’ll ensure that your customers will stick with you for years to come.
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