Friday, September 20, 2013

Avoid Marketing Blunders When Starting Your Business

imageThis article was written by John Rau, SCORE Orange County Business Mentor

In developing your marketing strategy as part of your business plan, you need to be careful to avoid marketing blunders and related mistakes. These could occur in how you market yourself and your business as well as how you choose to name and advertise your products or services.

The potential for marketing blunders occurs very early in the start-up process. For example, one of your first steps would be to file a Doing Business As (DBA) or Fictitious Business Name Statement with the county in which you plan to operate. One reason for doing this is to avoid duplication of business names in the county. If you intend to incorporate your business, then the State Commissioner of Corporations may not allow you to use the same name as some other company already registered with the state. Your business name, product name(s) and related identifiers or logos may already be restricted for use by Trademark, Service Mark or even copyright constraints. You will need to check this with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as well as with the U.S. Copyright Office for any federal such restrictions. Checking with the state equivalent agencies will enable you to ascertain whether or not there are any state-level restrictions on the use of names or business identifiers you have selected. The “blunder” you are trying to avoid here is to be successful and make lots of money only to find out you have been selling a product with a name owned by someone else. They could easily sue you and demand some or all of the profits. Worse yet, if your product infringes on someone’s patent, you’ve got a real legal problem. These are all types of blunders that you can generally avoid early in the start-up process through working with your business attorney.

When coming up with creative ways to promote your business, you need to carefully think through your plans to avoid marketing blunders that might do more harm than good. A quick search of the Internet will reveal multiple articles regarding marketing no-no’s. A “non-attributable” summary of the “best-of-the-best” such examples by mistake category is as follows:

  • Market focus
    • Marketing to an audience that is too broad, that is, trying to sell your products and services to everyone and their brother, rather than directing your marketing message to a targeted audience. You have to clearly define your target market and narrow the groups of people your marketing is trying to reach.
  • Marketing budget
    • Your ad budget gets blown in a one-shot marketing gamble. If the first try doesn’t work (and often it doesn’t), there is no money left for a second or third try. Business owners who spend their entire marketing budget on a launch, set themselves up to fail in the long run.
    • Cutting marketing when the economy is bad. Marketing keeps you visible when the market is slow and helps generate leads, builds credibility and ensures that your prospects know that you are alive and well. Reduced spending and ensuring your marketing dollar is spent wisely is important, but cutting marketing is the biggest mistake small businesses can make in tough economic times.
  • Marketing message
    • Your approach to advertising is not consistent. You get consistent, long-term results by continuing your ad(s) over weeks and months.
    • Your marketing fails to tie different media together. Make your ads in different media all relate to each other. Don’t present mixed and confusing messages.
    • Your marketing gets lost in the crowd because of multiple marketing messages across many media that people receive daily. Separate your ad from the pack by making it talk directly to something the prospect really cares about. It should point out a problem your product or service can solve.
    • Ads are too passive in the sense that they do not have any “calls to action”. If your sales letters, flyers, brochures and ads are producing no results, the reason might be that they’re boring, poorly laid out, or offer the prospect no solid reason to take action. Some sales letters and ads don’t even tell the prospect specifically what they should do to respond to the offer such as call for more information, visit, e-mail or whatever. Tell them what you would like them to do.
    • Not having a clear marketing message. Marketing messages that are contrived, confusing, too subtle or too long can easily miss your target market entirely. The most ingenious marketing plan is wasted if no one gets it.
  • Social media and web use
    • Not using social media and your web site to your advantage. Social media has become the “top dog” in the overall marketing arena. Having a dormant social page is certainly not going to portray success, nor will it magically create a positive turnaround for any struggling business. Don’t believe the hype that the Internet is somehow dead or dying. Use your web site to give visitors all the information they need to understand and buy your product or service.
    • Ignoring the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. You need to be visible and keep your name before the public. Make sure that your web site can be found on the search engines via Search Engine Optimization.
  • Who are you and what are you selling
    • Lack of branding and/or inconsistent branding. Branding is an essential part of marketing. Launching an advertising campaign before identity has been established gives the impression that you’re not sure about your product or service either. Incorporate your logo, trademarks, service marks and any other identifiers on all of your literature so people will recognize who you are.
    • Marketing without a unique selling proposition. This is the one single statement that will single you out from amongst the competition. If you don’t offer customers and prospects one or more distinctive reasons to choose your company over the competition, you can be sure they won’t feel compelled to try your products and services.
  • Measuring results
    • Failure to measure which marketing campaigns actually benefit your business. You should establish metrics to enable you to assess what works, how well and what doesn’t.
  • Right team structure
    • Acting like a marketing expert when you’re not. Hire experts to help you do the marketing and promotion of your business thus enabling you to focus on what you do best, namely, running the business.
    • Not surrounding yourself with the right people. Don’t necessarily rely on friends and family unless they have a track record of successful business experience. Add experts and specialists to your team who have the proper success credentials.
  • Market research and testing
    • Lack of research and testing of your planned marketing efforts before implementing them. Conduct some “trial runs” with selected customers or focus groups to get their reactions before launching your marketing campaign.
  • Customer relationships
    • Failing to capture repeat customers. Don’t ignore your existing customer base at the expense of trying to capture new customers. Too often marketing campaigns focus heavily on attracting new customers and not building relationships with current ones. Remember that repeat customers can drum up new business for you.
    • Lack of focus on potential customer needs. You need to make sure that you really know what your potential customers need and want.
    • Giving up on your prospects after just one or two follow-ups. Effective marketers know that persistence and repetition are vital for success. By following up repeatedly, you will have a better chance of getting the sale if you are uppermost in their minds. You can only do that by consistently following up.
  • Market planning and strategy
    • Winging it—not doing proper planning. Set realistic goals for your business, assess how you will accomplish those goals, and then launch a marketing plan specifically designed to reach them.
    • Changing your marketing strategy too frequently. Just because you are tired of your marketing plan doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Too many businesses make changes because they think they have to. You should never stop using something that is still working. Try to use a slow, steady, gradual growth strategy because it takes time for marketing efforts to ramp up and gain traction.
    • Basing your marketing strategy on guesses, assumptions or advice from friends, relatives or business associates. The best way to develop a successful and profitable marketing strategy is to use the knowledge, experience and skills of those individuals who have already discovered the marketing approaches that do work as well as the approaches that don’t work. Add them to your team.
    • Starting too late. Time your marketing campaigns to coincide with new products, new services, seasonal sales or an upcoming event that will attract business. Seasonal marketing efforts should start well in advance of any holiday. If you wait too long, your competition may have already “beat you to the punch”.
    • Not focusing your activities. The value of developing a plan is to set the direction of your marketing activities so you can focus your efforts. Once you decide on your strategy, you need to stay focused on executing that strategy.
  • Competitive landscape
    • Ignoring what your competitors are doing and what they seem to be successful at. When a business owner loses market share to a competitor, there is a very specific reason why this is happening. There are only two logical answers, namely: either the competitor is doing something right or you are doing something wrong which your competition is capitalizing on. Always keep abreast of what your competitors are doing.
  • Company image
    • Focusing your marketing message on what a magnificent company you have, how many awards you have won and how you have grown over the last few years. This should be supportive information, not your primary marketing message. Your customers don’t care who you are or how great your company is. They only want to know how working with you is going to fulfill a need or a desire. The reality of the situation is that customers are really only interested in one thing, namely, “How is this product or service that you are offering is going to make their life better?” or “What’s in it for me?”

To put things in perspective, Martin Zwilling in his September 28, 2011 article in Entrepreneurs puts the above discussion in the proper context as follows. “The reality is that making mistakes is part of every successful growth effort. The one unforgivable mistake you should never make is to repeat a previous mistake. In the end, ask yourself this question: Is it better to try and fail, or never have tried at all? To grow in the business world, never trying is not an option.”