For many small business owners, marketing is a necessary evil. It’s not really tangible, and doesn’t appear important. Savvy business owners however, understand that it is. Why? Because you can have the best product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, then no one will buy it. And when there’s competition that sells a similar product or service in your area – marketing becomes even more critical. It’s how customers are going to tell your companies apart, and choose you over the competitor.
Marketing is a business strategy – an important one. Because much of today’s marketing is online, it’s easier than ever to look at your area competition and analyze their strategies and marketing success. In fact, there was an article in Forbes that had some great tips to do just that.
The author, Brian Sutter, suggests looking specifically at content marketing. Simply put, content marketing is whatever the company posts on social media or creates for publication, like blogs, articles on their Website, marketing videos, email newsletters, etc. All of this is public, and it’s a great way to see what the competition is doing and how often they are doing it. Join their social media accounts, sign up for newsletters and start receiving Google alerts that include their company name.
Instead of looking daily at the competition’s social media sites, Sutter suggests using sites like SocialMention.com or Mention.com which can “listen” to social media. He also has a number of other research suggestions from Websites that can monitor SEO and Google keywords to whether their Facebook numbers are growing or shrinking. The article is an excellent read for anyone serious about marketing with content online. Content marketing is a powerful ally. It drives traffic to your Website, which ultimately drives sales to your bottom line.
While online marketing should be a large part of your marketing strategy, don’t overlook the local aspects of marketing. In the August issue of Automatic Merchandiser, I wrote about three ways to innovate your business where operators shared their tips for gaining a competitive advantage in the industry. But the one that I want to focus on is “looking at the competitor.” Find out from loyal customers what the competitor is offering and develop ads and direct mail pieces that highlight your advantages. For example, a large operation can offer many different services or perhaps more variety in products. A smaller operation can market its nimble and responsive nature. It roasts coffee to client specifications or perhaps doesn’t require contracts. There are many pros and cons in business, and the trick is coming at the problem with a different angle. I talked to an operator who runs micro markets and in certain locations was having issues with the health department on how to license them. He was forced to spend hundreds of dollars to license all his micro markets with a license similar to on-site foodservice. At first it was a blow, but then he decided to use that in his marketing material. He is the only micro market operator in his area that can claim this license to ensure the quality and safety of his food at everyone one of his locations. He turned a negative into a positive.
I know many operators who consider marketing a waste, but I also know of those who changed their mind about it. They monitored their sales before starting on a marketing campaign and afterwards (6 months to a year) and the difference was real and measurable. Marketing is worth dedicating time and resources too, just like rebate management and product level sales. Be honest and creative – and don’t be afraid to look at the competition for the best (and worst) of what they are doing.