The secret to small business marketing

Beware of those who tell you the secret to marketing success is all about upgrading your technology. For any business, good marketing - digital or otherwise - starts with understanding your customers.

I came across an interesting report this week via The 2016 Small Business Marketing Trends Report surveyed over 1000 small businesses. It asked about their marketing goals, tactics, and effectiveness.

Almost half of the businesses who responded didn’t think their marketing efforts were effective. A further 13.9% had no idea if their marketing was effective or not.

Despite this lack of measurable success, businesses were still investing in marketing. And their priorities were digital: websites, social media, online advertising, and email marketing.

Keep calm and buy more technology?

There’s no lack of temptation when it comes to spending on digital marketing. The report notes that from 2014 to 2015 the number of marketing technology companies almost doubled. There are now 1,876 of them. And every single one of them will be publishing articles explaining why their tools are essential to your marketing success.

The 2016 Small Business Marketing Trends Report is a case in point. “By investing in tools like email marketing, content marketing, and CRM/automation software, small business owners can achieve the marketing mix necessary to compete in an increasingly digital world.”, says the report.

And who is sponsoring this report? LeadPages, who sell landing page software (landing pages are a special kind of web page which can be helpful in capturing sales leads). And Infusionsoft, who sell email marketing software.

Marketing technology is a means, not an end

I’m not against email automation, or landing page software. I recently switched to a new tool for my own marketing. I rejoice daily in the time it saves and the new subscribers it pulls in.

But you should buy technology for a reason. ‘Being better at digital marketing’ isn’t a reason.

Well, it’s a reason, but it’s not a good one. Your real goals are more likely to be getting more leads, increasing repeat business, or reducing customer complaints. Once you know what your goals are, you can start planning your marketing. Then buy the tools you need.

If you don’t know what you want to achieve, you won’t achieve it, however fancy your marketing toolkit.

Good marketing starts with your customer

What does your customer want from you? Once you understand their needs you can evolve your products and services to meet those needs. Maybe your products and services are fine as they are. Maybe you just need to do a better job of explaining how what you offer is exactly what your customer needs?

You can also find out how customers want to hear from you. Jay Baer points this out in his book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype

. “You have to understand not just what your customers need, but how and where they prefer to access information.”

If your customers love emails, great. Go ahead and buy that great email tool. But if your customers prefer inspirational pictures on Instagram, an email tool isn’t going to help you much.

Listening to customers isn’t hard.

With today’s technology, you have no excuses. Online surveys, blog comments, and product reviews are all great ways to tune in to your customers. But here too it’s easy to get caught up in technology anxiety. Sometimes, a real world conversation is easier.

For example, a business I know runs regular events for their customers. The owners get to see customers using the products they sell. It allows them to tweak their products to suit changing needs.

When the same owners wanted specific feedback on a new service, they didn’t send out a survey. They invited a group of customers in for a few beers and a chat.

(This post has 15 more ways to find out what your customers want.)

Stop worrying, start planning.

What would understanding your customers better look like for your business? What would you know that you don’t currently know?

What would serving customers better look like? How would the feedback you get be different to how it is now?

Set yourself some clear goals. Work out how you’ll know when you’ve hit those goals.

Then - and only then - see if you need some new marketing technology to get you there.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.