I recently started my own marketing strategy consulting company and one of the first things I did was visit a reputable organization that advises start-ups. I also read as many online articles about starting a business as possible. I met with several people who had started their own businesses and asked them to share their most salient advice. The information I received was hugely beneficial and I’m grateful for all of it. Upon reflection, I realized that most of these sources suggested that, without delay, I should consult with a/an: attorney, accountant, bookkeeper, banker, and insurance agent.
Upon further reflection, I realized that most (not all) of these sources omitted one significant professional from their must-talk-to lists — a marketing professional! How could this be? How could so many smart people and dependable resources NOT see the value of start-ups immediately getting some brand and/or marketing advice?
I drew the conclusion that oftentimes people think that marketing comes naturally to business owners and can/should be done by them. I couldn’t disagree more. Entrepreneurs start companies because they believe they can offer a superior product or service. They know how to run the business, but that definitely doesn’t mean that they can market the business.
This next statement probably seems a little self-serving, but I honestly believe it regardless of my career choice. Sound strategic marketing advice for new businesses is just as important as sound financial and legal advice. Here’s why.
Effective marketing consulting for start-ups will offer brands a/an:
1. Clear definition of your niche target audience — which specific people will see the most benefit from your product/service
2. Distinct brand positioning — how your product/service will be different than what already exists and what your business will stand for in the marketplace
3. Integrated marketing plan — which tactics are right for your business and how they can create a seamless customer experience with your brand
#1 NICHE TARGET AUDIENCE
Defining your target customer carefully and clearly is essential. You need to know what type of person will benefit most from using your product or service. This doesn’t mean that you simply create a list of demographics (age, income, and gender). This means that you define what their lifestyle is like, what they believe in, what they do, how they act, etc. The customer should be the central focus of any new company, not investors or employees or the Board. The customer should drive and shape your business, and must take the highest priority in your criteria for decision-making as a start-up and down the road as an established business. This is why you need to have a clear picture of who they are at (or before) launch.
#2 DISTINCT BRAND POSITIONING
To ensure that you are different than what’s out there, you need to find a way to specifically position your brand or business. The way to go about this is to determine how you can make your target’s life better. Think about the target description you created in #1 above, then figure out how your brand can meet their needs in a logical and an emotional way. Also, think about how your brand will behave in the market — meaning what personality traits your brand will exhibit. Will your business be seen as smart, unique, friendly, serious, funny, quirky, sophisticated, or something else entirely? Another way to describe your positioning is what your brand stands for that no one else can or does. (Don’t forget to then develop your brand identity at this time — logo, color palette, and stationery set.)
#3 INTEGRATED MARKETING PLAN
With the recent prolific shifts in customer behavior and their effects on marketing, it’s difficult to make sound tactical decisions. How do businesses decide which tactics will work best and are right for them? How can the methods on which you decide work well together to create a flawless customer journey? Answering these two questions requires that start-ups think early on about their specific target and the customer life cycle for their brands. This means they must decide on:
Establishing the three marketing foundations listed above is crucial to starting and running a successful business. Most owners probably don’t have the time and/or expertise to strategically develop each of these items. This is why it’s necessary for start-ups to hire a marketing consultant (or internal director) or marketing firm during the early business-planning stages.
- The best marketing channels to drive AWARENESS (knowledge that you exist) & create INTEREST (an affinity toward your business)
- Which techniques will convert customers and drive PURCHASE
- Ways to generate REPETITION so they buy from you again and again
- How to build customer INVOLVEMENT with your brand so they become emotionally connected, leading to long-term relationships and referrals
Emily K. Howard, a marketing strategist since 1997, developed her skills at some of the country’s top marketing firms including DDB Worldwide, while working on brands like American Airlines, Pepsi, Bloomberg and Merck. Now as Vice President of Esparza, Emily’s integrated communications approach helps clients find order in marketing chaos. She’d love to hear from you and can be found on LinkedIn or @ekhoward on Twitter.