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Simple rules for marketing your business

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


Marketing your business is one of the most important things you can do to ensure its success. This may sound obvious to you, but many entrepreneurs who are specialists in their own fields find themselves stumped when it comes to marketing.

A marketing strategy must be carefully developed with an estimated costing around the activities you envisage. Your potential clients need to know about your products or services, and about the benefits they offer. Here are some basic principles and guidelines to follow when putting together your marketing plan.  

Define your business clearly

Before undertaking any form of marketing, it’s important that you've clearly defined what your business is about. Ask yourself:

  • What are our key products and services?
  • What are the benefits of these to existing and potential customers?
  • Are our products or services unique in any way?
  • Is our location unique in any way?
  • Are our times of business different to those offered by our competitors?
  • Do we offer any special technological competencies?
  • Do we offer any specific lifestyle benefits and/or conveniences to our customers?
  • Do we offer any unique innovations?
  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • Know your customers

This is one of the most important aspects of marketing, yet it is often overlooked. Too many businesses focus on selling existing products rather than on meeting evolving customer needs and, in an increasingly competitive business environment, this isn't always effective.

It's important to take into account whether your customers and potential customers have particular needs or specific likes and dislikes. For example, if you own a shoe store, you need to know whether your customers want exclusive imported one-offs, elegant local shoes or discounted lines. The influence of geographic location on customer needs also needs to be considered. Surfboards aren’t a big seller in Johannesburg, for instance.

Also don’t forget that customers have actual and psychological needs, and the solution you offer to both of these should ideally be present in all of your communications. For example, communicate that a range of healthy ready-made meals not only takes care of suppers for stressed working moms, but will also make them feel secure that they’re providing nourishing meals for their families.  

You can get to know your customers better by:

  1. Analysing and discussing your sales figures
  2. Analysing and discussing feedback from the sales team
  3. Doing in-store or mailed customer surveys
  4. Commissioning formal market research
  5. Watching out for developing trends in the media, in your area and in your industry
  6. Taking note of competitor activity designed to meet new or developing needs

Advertise where it counts

Advertising is expensive, but effective when used correctly. When advertising in any form of media, it’s important to do it regularly, in the right media for your business and to be consistent in your message.

Large retailers have long understood the benefits of regular advertising supplements in their local and community newspapers, for instance - supplements that their customers have come to expect and depend on. Similarly, advertising in trade publications works particularly if you want to reach a well-defined trade audience.

When planning to advertise:

  1. Define your advertising objectives and plan your advertising accordingly (for example, define whether you want to advertise seasonal specials, launch a new product or promote a specific benefit)
  2. Choose your media carefully - or get a professional company to help you do so
  3. Design the best ads you can afford to produce – or get a professional company to help you
  4. Focus on a small selection of media and aim to advertise there regularly to maintain a good
    awareness of your products or services
  5. Keep your message clear – a good general rule to remember is “one ad, one thought”
  6. Speak to your customers directly

Nothing works better than taking your message directly to the people most likely to purchase from you, whether they’re consumers or trade customers. Some of the most effective to do this include:

  • Direct mailers or leaflet drops in targeted areas
  • Inserts into targeted community and local newspapers
  • Eye-catching posters on-site or in targeted areas
  • E-mail communications, such as regular newsletters
  • Interesting and informative sales kits to use when meeting with trade customers
  • For companies that don’t have existing mailing lists, mailing companies often offer a list rental service that provides targeted lists of potential sales candidates.

Remember that the average response rate to direct mailers is about 3%, so take this into account if you’re planning one. 

Take advantage of trade shows and local events

Trade shows provide an excellent opportunity of reaching a large number of trade customers in a short space of time. Pick one or two events a year and which products you'd like to market. Choose the best location for your stand that you can afford and make sure it looks good. And remember to have plenty of take-away brochures, leaflets and business cards for those who show interest in the stand.

For consumer businesses, local events like spring fairs, sporting events and fêtes can offer excellent opportunities. As for trade shows, choose a few good local events in which to participate and do so every year, preferably working around a new theme each year.

Develop seasonal and special promotions

Most customers, whether consumers or trade clients, tend to purchase in cyclical or seasonal patterns. So, at the beginning of every year, it’s advisable to work out a seasonal promotional calendar that’s appropriate to your business.

If, for example, you own a commercial bakery, offer special products to retailer for sale on occasions like Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Similarly, if you’re a retailer, seasonal promotions attract customers by appealing to their specific needs at a specific time of year. Always try to come up with unique and interesting ideas to cut through the general promotional clutter in both the trade and retail environments.

Be consistent

The marketing and media environment is very cluttered and, for this reason, it’s important to be consistent in both promotional message and look and feel. If you’re an independent entrepreneur and not part of a franchised chain, it’s worth investing some money in designing an eye-catching logo, interesting packaging, impactful signage and a good basic range of stationery and posters.

As they saying goes, 'a picture says a thousand words'.

Copyright © 2016 Business Partners Ltd.  All rights reserved.

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