Marketing Your Small Business - Story
As a consumer, it might be hard for you to believe how hard you are to reach. I mean, you're surrounded by ads, right? As a business owner, you gain an in-depth understanding of how hard it is to reach consumers. Sure, people are surrounded by advertising… except, are they? All I have to do is look at my own household.
We rarely watch live TV (according to Nielson data, the top-rated TV shows draw half the audience they did just a decade ago). We watch ad-free Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV. Not only that, but we don't listen to radio. We stream music from or listen to podcasts (where we can skip through commercials). We stopped reading the paper newspaper 5 years ago, and we were LATE to do so. I hardly ever walk into anything but a grocery store.
While Amazon and Google make a fortune helping consumers get what they want easily, the flip side of that is how challenging it can be for a new business. The barriers can feel like they are getting higher and wider every year. It can feel like the battle for consumer attention has never been more fierce. As the saying goes, when there is an abundance of information, there is a deficit of attention.
But don't despair! While the marketplace is getting more competitive, sophisticated marketing tools have never been more accessible to small companies. What's more, as people sense options narrow, curiosity grows. The curse of the big brands is that as they become common place. Excessive sameness breeds boredom. When that happens, people subconsciously seek novelty. Consumers become more open to new ideas, if they find about them.
Which brings me to the crux of this post. There are two things small business owners can do. The one is to have a robust marketing system, the second is to clearly understand the kind of marketing you need. What you need is marketing that leads to sales. I'll start with that, and in the next article we'll explore the systems to get your word out.
Words like Marketing and Branding are "feast" words, they mean different things to different people. As a small business owner, what I have learned is the most important kind of "marketing" is marketing that leads directly to sales. This is often called "lead generation". However, before you can dive into the nitty-gritty of the systems and tools you would use to create leads, you first need to understand what exactly would cause your potential customer to seek you out in the first place.
To me, this is all about branding. I define Branding as The Promise You Make to a Customer. Another way to think about it is, what problem do you solve? A strong brand has three components (none of them graphical).
- You know why the customer cares about your business.
- You are distinct from your competition
- What you promise is true.
Another way to put this is, a great brand is a promise, consistently made, and consistently delivered on. I'm sure you have heard the solution for everyone is the solution for no one. The challenge in 2022 is that an abundance of information creates a scarcity of attention. To capture the interest or curiosity of a prospect, you have to already be in their heads. You have to meet them where they are as they think about the problem they are trying to solve. There are two solid rules. 1. If you confuse, you lose. 2. If you give them a problem, you lose. What that means is that if you offer too many things, and it is not clear how you can help the customer, you risk creating confusion. Second, if you make the customer figure out how you can be of service, they will go elsewhere, and you will miss the opportunity to establish your true value.
As I heard from a brilliant marketing executive, everyone is playing a movie in their head of the kind of life they would like to lead. Our job is to see that movie, and position our brand, our company, our product or service as part of that movie. The essential we can become, the more useful and valuable we will be to our clients.
Using the Story Brand Framework by Donald Miller is one great way to begin to see things from the customer's point of view. Creating extremely detailed buyer persona's is another. This may sound trivial, but it's not. Psychology tells us that our brains are biased in a way that makes it hard for us to put ourselves in other people's shoes, while at the same time expecting it to be obvious to other people what we are thinking and feeling. The best brands do this hard work. They never assume the customer will just "get it", they work until they see what the customer sees, feel what the customer feels, knows what the customer knows and act the way the customer acts. Think it's easy? Try it the next time you see someone do something puzzling or something you disagree with. Try to actually put yourself in someone else's shoes and see if you can bring yourself to a place of empathy and understanding. If you're like me, you'll quickly realize how big a challenge this is.
Great brands make the customer the hero. The company is a guide, a solution, a bridge, but it is the customer who takes the journey, has the adventure, and slays the dragon. When you can see your business as a worthy guide, and you deeply understand what the customer cares about, you can now use the tools to connect with your clients, and you won't have to ask, "How can I help you" because you will already know. In my experience, customers want a business to care about their problem as much as they do. Often times, customers are nasty, not because they are bad people, but because they have been burned so many times by companies that only pretend to care about them and their problem. They have been trained to self-protect. In my experience, the best companies create genuine gratitude with their customers because they do care, they do understand, and they do improve their lives by solving the right problem.