Don’t Have an Identity Crisis
In the early stages, most entrepreneurs may still not be clear about who they are trying to reach and how to speak compellingly about their business. Owners may not notice this disconnect at first because customers somehow manage to come through the door in spite of it. But these are customers who found the business through random means and, as such, are the lowest hanging fruit on the revenue tree. To realize growth, an entrepreneur needs to find and focus on her ideal clients, the ones who will propel growth but are harder to attain.
The key to finding these clients is to dig deep to determine who they are and how best to reach them. In this way, reaching clarity can actually be seen as a marketing challenge. The solution does not involve big online campaigns, spending a lot on advertising or tweeting 24/7. At least not initially. Instead, it involves taking a step back and working out the answers to some basic questions that will lead to a marketing message, platform and strategy. Here are seven ways to help you refine your business message.
What are the (Emotional) Benefits?
There is an old advertising adage that says: Features tell; benefits sell. While the features describe your goods and services, a laundry list of what you offer will not generate an emotional charge. Although we like to believe we make rational purchasing decisions, buying choices are made just as much, if not more, with the heart than the head. Think about Nike: Do we choose their workout gear because of the cotton to rayon ratio or because we have bought into the idea that their attire will bring out our inner warrior and get us to “Just Do It?”
Now think about what you offer: How do your coaching sessions help people get unstuck? How do your throw pillows transform a room? How do your skin care products make a woman feel fantastic? Your marketing language needs to make people feel the answer. When you can start to talk about your products or services in terms of the benefits they provide, you will be well on your way to a great marketing message.
Who Are Your Ideal Clients?
Ask a new business owner who their ideal client is and the answer is likely to be, “Everyone.” Many small business owners believe that by casting a wide net they increase their chances of attracting more clients.The reality is that if you are fuzzy about whom you are trying to attract, you will have a hard time reeling in customers.
If “everyone” is your ideal client, how will you determine how to position your offerings, create compelling marketing materials and promote your business? After all, you would likely use very different language, color schemes and photographs in an appeal to millennials than you would in a campaign designed for boomers. And when it comes time to promote your business, the smart money is on selecting outlets based on the sites and media your ideal client visits and reads.
One example that really drives this point home is McDonald’s. Now, you could argue that based on its size McDonald’s’ target audience is in fact everyone. But when you look at their commercials and see their tagline, “i’m [sic] lovin’ it,” you know immediately that they are attuned to a young audience. And you can be sure that the images on their homepage and in their ads reflect this target market.
If you go after your ideal client in a targeted way, you will reap an additional reward. By systematically approaching a market segment you can effectively track your success. If your message is resonating, you should start to see an uptick in revenue and traffic to your website. If nothing happens, it’s time to retool. On the contrary, a “here, there and everywhere” approach is likely to only generate analytic confusion.
The Importance of a Great Tagline
Now that you know what your main benefits are and you have a clear idea of your ideal client, you can start thinking about a pithy tagline to address both. Ultimately, a great tagline should deliver an emotional punch directly at its target.
Let’s look at McDonald’s again. The tagline, “i’m lovin’ it” is 100 percent based on emotion. They are selling a feeling: Go to McDonald’s and have a great time. There is nothing in that tagline about hamburgers, french fries or shakes. And, clearly, between the lower case “i” and the apostrophe at the end of lovin’, they are addressing a particular demographic –– youth.
A tagline that accomplishes this much may be hard for you to achieve. If your business is just getting off the ground, you may be a little unsure about how to frame a knockout tagline in roughly three to eight pithy words. In that case, you can go the explanatory route. Just make sure that you lock in a key benefit so that your ideal client says, “That’s just what I’m looking for.”
My colleague, Liz Picarazzi of Checklist Home Services, a Brooklyn-based handyman business, summed up her motto nicely with “Handiwork Done Right.” As your business progresses, you should check in with your clients from time to time, either through calls or SurveyMonkey questionnaires, to make sure that you and your clients are in agreement about the key benefit you offer. If not, it is likely time to refresh your tagline.
Establish a Professional Look and Feel
A lot of small business owners think graphic design is an extravagance. Not me. Your logo and color palette are part of the outfit your business wears every day and you need this outfit to work for, not against, you. A professionally crafted logo in the right color palette will both help you feel good about your business and confidently convey your message to your ideal client.
In your initial conversations with a graphic designer, you will want to make sure you explain your company’s personality. That’s right, companies, like people, have personalities that can be translated into a visual look. Have a look around at business logos and homepages and try to get a sense of the personality they wish to convey. As you do this, you will also start to see how graphics succeed or fail at conveying benefits as well.
To find the right graphic designer, it is important to shop around. Look at people’s portfolios and ask them about their process. Evaluate candidates as though you were hiring an employee. It’s an important relationship that is likely to grow over time, so try and get it right at the outset.
If price is a major consideration, you can shop your project around to the lowest bidder online. Personally, however, I like my designer to be in close proximity so that we can meet, when necessary, to discuss ideas.
Start With Your Website
By now, executing great marketing materials should be pretty easy. You know what you want to say and to whom, and you have a great graphic designer to pull your collateral together. If your graphic designer is proficient with Squarespace or WordPress (as many are) you may even have found yourself a developer who can build your website.
A clean, crisp website that speaks to the benefits of your business and describes what you offer is probably the most important marketing tool in your arsenal. Even if most of your business is word of mouth right now, most clients and the people they refer to you will head to your website at some point. When they do, a strong web presence will reinforce the positive feelings and sentiments generated by your happy clients.
Beyond a website, there is a whole host of marketing collateral you can design and print — from business cards to flyers to brochures. But before you go out and buy a whole bevy of collateral materials, think about what purpose each item would serve. A brochure is great to leave behind or give away if you are selling face-to-face, but you probably do not need one if most of your selling is done online or over the phone.
Many small business owners are so busy toiling with their heads down in the day-to-day of running a business that they forget to look ahead. But as business magnate and financier T. Boone Pickens’ father once told him, “A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan any day.”
Establishing a plan with clear goals is important because it turns the vague ideas you have about your business development strategy into tangible objectives that require action. In short, goals give you something to work toward and a way of measuring your success. Without goals, you are basically running a marathon without a sense of distance or a finish line.
Having goals will also help motivate you to stay focused. No one likes to feel they failed to accomplish something they set out to do. And, conversely, nothing feels quite as great as Mission Accomplished, especially when it required hard work and dedication.
You have your marketing materials and you know your goals, now it’s time to create a marketing strategy for spreading your message and building your client base. Most entrepreneurs are strapped for time, money and help. If that describes you, then you need to conduct smart, resource-conscious marketing. With your message and a clear idea of your ideal client in hand, the effort will become a whole lot easier.
For example, when you think about publications you would either like to write for or be published in, consider your target audience. What do they read? Where do they turn for information? Create a list of those publications that fit the bill. Rank them by how well they would serve you. Everyone wants to be discovered by Oprah and featured in The New York Times, but in the early days you need to be realistic. Do you have the clients to warrant national attention? If you are still building your base, local PR might help you more effectively achieve your immediate goals.
And when you start to pitch your story or create your content, whether in the form of a blog, a newsletter or a social media campaign, remember to stay consistent with messages that are relevant to your core benefits. Use these promotional opportunities to tell the story you want to tell.
Jennifer Friedlin helps small business owners hone their message and create smart, resource-conscious marketing plans through her company Iris7 Marketing. She also features the work of outstanding entrepreneurs on her company’s small business blog Build.Grow.Exit.