As a business owner, do you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle and losing ground? Doing lots of stuff but getting nowhere fast? Then it’s time to put the brakes on and start working smarter.
We’re all familiar with the saying, ‘Can’t see the forest for the trees’ and this is true for many small business owners. Engrossed in the details and daily operations, owners often ignore or don’t see the big picture. Whether you are solving problems or developing your business, think strategy before tactics.
What’s the difference? In simplest terms, a strategy is a broad plan to achieve desired goals or results; typically longer-term or bigger picture. Tactics are the means, tasks or actions, to carry them out. They are what you implement or do.
According to Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. While true in military terms, it’s equally true in business, especially when it comes to marketing. You have a lot of tactical choices. But if they don’t work together and support your strategy, you waste time and money.
So as you plan for this year, take the time to revisit your marketing strategy before you set up the tactics to get there. Don’t get concerned, it’s not complicated. A good marketing strategy simply requires two things. First, a narrow focus on your ideal customers. Second, some way to differentiate your business. Here is how you can approach this.
Define YOUR Ideal Customers
You can’t be all things to all people and most small businesses know this. They don’t intend to try to serve everyone but end up there over time. With a desire to grow, especially in tough times, it’s easy to lose focus and view everyone as ideal. Unfortunately, more customers and sales do not guarantee more profit.
Even as they grow and evolve, most businesses have an ideal customer segment. To get a good sense of your ideal target, follow these steps:
- Make a list (10-20) of your most profitable customers or clients. These may or may not be customers with the highest sales.
- From that list, identify those who have referred business to you. You definitely want more of these!
- From the smaller list, identify common demographic characteristics. If you lack this information, do a little research or ask the customer.
- Next, take a look at their behaviors. How do they buy, what do they buy, why do they buy? What are the challenges they face? What’s important to them? Not sure, ask.
- Draw a detailed sketch of your ideal client – and use it in your marketing!
Differentiate YOUR Business
This is not a new concept but one that many small businesses don’t do. Making claims for great service or quality doesn’t differentiate you – unless you back it up with something specific.
Differentiation helps you stand out from competition but also reduces your need to compete on price. If ‘how much’ is the first question your prospects ask, then you likely have a vanilla brand. Here are some questions you can use to get to the specifics you need to set your business apart from others:
- What made you decide to hire us or choose us?
- What’s one thing we do better than others like us?
- What’s one thing we could do better?
- Would you or do you refer us to others? If yes, why or what would you say?
If at any time, the customer responds with something bland like ‘you provide great service’, dig a little deeper to get specifics. Try asking ‘What does good service look like?’ or ‘Tell me a story or a time when we provided good service.’
I have done this exercise with a lot of clients. Create a simple survey and start asking your customers relevant questions. It’s not only helpful but can be eye-opening. More important, it will help you uncover some specifics you can use to stand out. And isn’t that the key to attracting more profitable customers?
With a strong knowledge and understanding of your ideal customers and what sets you apart, you now have the foundation for your marketing strategy. Choosing the right tactics to reach your target and creating compelling messages for them is now easier. Most important, your marketing will deliver better results.
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