You're a small or medium business, and your marketing team's really small (or you don't have one). You see so much advice around, so many things you need to do: SEO, email marketing, PR . . . where do you even start?
Believe me, I feel your pain. Always having worked in small marketing teams with a very limited budget, I know you're expected to do a lot with next to nothing. How do you prioritize?
Below are the six most essential marketing activities that I believe every business should work on, in order of priority. So if you're just starting out, you can start with #1 and work your way down.
1. Website Design
The first thing I'm gonna do if I hear about a new business that seems interesting (maybe I heard a customer rave about you or I met one of your employees at a conference) is to look up your website. And if it's not designed well, your website isn't going to impress anyone. Don't pretend people don't try to look you up online: you need a website, and you need it professionally designed. If you only spend on one marketing activity this year, make it this one.
And that doesn't mean spend your money on having fancy Flash dances and rocking music. (Seriously, kill the music.) It means having a site that looks professional while conforming to your brand personality, and allows users to easily find what they are looking for.
2. Search Engine Optimization
Ideally, SEO shouldn't come after website design, but with it. At the least, read a few books or some good SEO blogs and take care of the basics: writing useful content with keywords in the title and heading tags, copy and URL, and basic link-building. If you're new to SEO, don't go it alone: hire a consultant.
3. Print Materials
At the least, you need great business cards to hand out to new contacts you make offline. If you have the time and the budget, you can create brochures or flyers, case studies or compilations of customer testimonials, or a one-page factsheet. As with your website, the key here is professional design that matches your brand personality.
4. Social Media
Start by building profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and any popular forums or sites in your industry. Monitor your presence and respond to comments. Show that you are listening.
5. Content Creation and Promotion
Write and share answers that your audience (prospects, clients, job-seekers) might be looking for. Don't worry about being creative or unique (at least at first), think about how you can help. What are the most common questions you get in customer service? How can customers use your ordering tool more efficiently? How did you help this customer become successful?
The second step is to figure out what form you'll publish your content in. Do you love writing and think you can handle a blog with at least a couple of posts every week? Do you want to send a print newsletter to your customers every month? Do you just want to publish quick tips and posts on Facebook? Do you want to create ebooks and put them up on your site? The right form of content for you depends on your audience, your resources and your inclination.
The third step is to promote your content. This is where you use the social media profiles you created in #5 and ask people to sign up, download and share. Put up signs in your place of business; talk to customers and employees (even friends and family). Email links to professional contacts if you think they'd be interested (just once: you don't want to be annoying).
6. Email or Direct Mail Marketing
Do you have a band of loyal customers and followers who would like to hear from you regularly? Do you want to keep prospects engaged until the sale is made, or encourage them to buy more? You can do all of this through social media, but in many ways mail (whether electronic or print) is still a very useful medium. Here are some things you should be doing through email or direct mail:
- Thank customers when they register or place an order, and ask them to contact you with feedback (and if you have a newsletter, don't forget to ask them to sign up!)
- Send them a holiday card or birthday wishes and thank them for their business
- Ask blog visitors to subscribe to a daily email with blog posts
- Send a newsletter (weekly, fortnightly or monthly) with tips, exclusive deals and news only to opt-in subscribers
- Thank users when they sign up or download content, and offer other content or services they might be interested in
Remember, if you are asking customers for their email addresses or business cards, they expect to hear from you. (I've lost count on the number of times I've dropped a business card into a box at a restaurant or painstakingly wrote out my email address in a notebook only to never hear from the business again.) So it's best to send at least a monthly newsletter where you tell them what's new and why they should pop into your store or buy from you online this month.
Now, none of the activities above are sufficient in themselves: you can use social media to ask people to sign up to your newsletter or read your blog post you can use blogging and other forms of content creation are great for SEO. And you can vary the mix according to, (as I said above) your audience, your resources and your inclination. And there's a lot more you could be doing: sending out press releases, hosting events, sending out samples.
But if you're starting a business or if you're a small business owner struggling with marketing, here's how I would do it.