Imagine that you went shopping to buy yourself a new shirt, and the salesperson offered you a garment three sizes too big, saying, “This is one of our most popular colors.” Or showed you a shirt in a child’s size, telling you, “This style is new this season.” You’d probably think the salesperson was crazy, right? And you certainly wouldn’t trust his or her judgement about what shirt might be right for you.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing goes on with marketing all the time. Without asking you a single question about your situation, an acquaintance describes the latest marketing idea they heard about, and urges you to try it. Or a workshop leader who knows nothing about your business explains the best way to market your services and recommends you adopt it. Or a consultant advises you to use a specific marketing approach with almost no understanding of your business.
It can be tempting to follow recommendations like these. After all, these folks sound so sure of themselves, and perhaps you feel on shaky ground where marketing is concerned. Maybe you should just take the advice of people who seem to know more. Or maybe not.
Maybe marketing needs to fit you every bit as much as a shirt does. If it’s too big or too small, casual when you need something businesslike, or designed for a party when you’re planning a workout, it won’t do you any good.
Here are four different types of “size” to help you measure the fit of your marketing.
1. Marketing a professional service is not the same as marketing a product. Products are tangible; you can see them, touch them, maybe even taste them before you buy. Services are intangible. You can’t experience them until they are demonstrated. Because a service is intangible, until it is performed for you, you have no idea how it will turn out, whether you will like it, or whether it will work for your problem, situation, or opportunity.
Therefore, when clients purchase a service for the first time, they must rely on their judgment about the person delivering it. They must trust you. Trust is built through positive experiences over time, by referrals and recommendations from reliable sources, and credibility-boosters like speaking, writing, or media stories.
Marketing your services with any approach that doesn’t build trust (or may even harm it), is a bad fit. Examples are mile-long sales pages filled with over-the-top hype, subscribing prospects to an email list without explicit permission, or ads offering low prices and deep discounts. These are tactics that sell products; that’s why you see them so often. But that doesn’t mean you should copy them.
2. Small business marketing is different than big business marketing. Big businesses have marketing departments and sales departments performing different functions. They have full-time staff dedicated to marketing and sales. They have substantial marketing budgets, and they can afford to invest in name recognition.
You, however, as a small business owner, must manage both marketing and sales, and that’s only part of your job. If you’re a solo business, you have to actually perform all the work of sales and marketing, too, except for those portions you might be able to contract out. Your budget doesn’t allow for marketing approaches that only result in name recognition; you need your marketing to turn into closed sales.
Bad fits for a small business include promotion and advertising just to “get your name out there,” selling strategies that require making dozens of phone calls per day to pay off, and maintaining multiple websites and social networking profiles to increase your online visibility.
To find approaches with a better fit, the key is to be realistic. What can you actually execute well with the time and money you have available? Successful small business owners often rely on low-cost, low-tech strategies like personal networking to build their contacts and referrals, public speaking, or pursuing high-value clients by researching contacts or leads and contacting them directly.
3. One-to-one marketing doesn’t use the same tactics as one-to-many marketing. How many clients do you need to have a successful year? Three, or three hundred? The answer makes a world of difference to the sort of marketing that fits your business best.
When your business consists of a handful of large, ongoing contracts, one-to-one marketing is a perfect fit. Your marketing plan might include no more than attending or presenting at professional meetings, following up consistently with a small group of prospects, and lunch with colleagues.
But if your business is made up of many small sales to a large number of people, one-to-many marketing is called for. You’ll need approaches that allow you to become known to a substantial audience, such as publishing an ezine or blog, public speaking, or a strong social media presence.
4. B2B marketing isn’t the same as B2C marketing, and SB2SB marketing is its own category. B2B stands for business to business, B2C means business to consumer, and SB2SB is small business to small business, a lesser known classification, but a rapidly growing group.
Depending on which of these three labels fits your target market best, you might focus your social media marketing efforts on LinkedIn (best for B2B) or Facebook (best for B2C or SB2SB). You might include cold calling in your marketing plan (B2B or SB2SB) or leave it alone (B2C). You might do best by giving presentations to corporate audiences (B2B or B2C), or to small business networks (SB2SB).
Clearly, knowing where you fit among these different marketing “sizes” is essential to choosing the right marketing approaches. Are you a small business marketing B2B services one-to-one? A small business marketing B2C services one-to-many? Or perhaps you need a custom size.
If you truly want your marketing to fit your business, you’d better know your measurements. And, when someone tries to tell you how to market, they’d better know your measurements, too.