The marketing battle is hard, unrelenting work, but it can also be fun. It costs money, but any business or organization can afford it, no matter how small its budget, how unique its activity, or how ferocious its competition.
Whether you’re starting a new venture or your business has been around for generations, chances are that you’re reading this because your competition has more marketing experience or muscle than you. But that fact can work in your favor. Marketing techniques change quickly, and most of your competition will be relying on principles that have been out of date for years. You will be amazed at how many simple, affordable, and effective marketing tactics your competitors ignore or don’t even know about. While some of these tactics may not suit your particular activity, you’ll find more than enough of them that will fit and work well. With true commitment, careful execution, and continuous follow-up, they will work their magic, and your business will flourish.
There are a number of steps you should go through, even if you think you already know what you’re doing, to ensure success each and every time. In doing so, you may be surprised by what you will learn about your business, the people you’ve hired to work for you, and your role and perception in the community.
- Determine objectives. Is your goal to stimulate trial purchases by new customers or to stimulate more frequent purchases by current customers? Are you aiming to increase your average transaction, enhance your image, boost employee productivity or morale, stimulate community awareness, or a combination of these? These are all important goals, but you need to determine which ones you want to achieve first, second, and so on, and which are most easily and effectively executed.
- Be specific. If your objective is to get new customers to try you out, what is a reasonable goal — an increase in new customers of 5 percent, 10 percent, or 15 percent? Would it be reasonable to shoot for an increase in customer frequency from three purchases a month to four? If your objective is to increase your average sale, what is a reasonable increase based on your current pricing? If your objective is employee morale, how much can you reduce employee turnover by running this promotion?
- Be realistic in your goals. Success is rarely achieved in one fell swoop. Remember, this is a way of life. Each incremental improvement builds on the last. If you get too ambitious, you and your staff will quickly become frustrated and disappointed, and you will be less enthusiastic next time. Set your goals high enough to make a difference and low enough to have the best chance of success.
- Set your strategy. Once you’ve established your objectives and selected some tactics, you must decide how to make those tactics successful. What can you afford, and how can you maximize your results?
- Consider various aspects. Consider such aspects as timing; frequency; capitalizing on local events; seasonal population variations; competitive challenges that call for extra effort; variable costs of materials, labor, and real estate; and other factors that are unique to your situation.
- Create a plan. Create a carefully thought-out plan for each promotion, and make sure that each promotion is slotted into its proper place in your long-term objectives.
- Zero in on your target. What type of customer does your business attract—upscale, blue-collar, families, singles, ethnic groups? Ideally, the group or groups that are predominant in your neighbor- hood (within a 10-minute drive of your front door) should be most attracted to your concept. Once you’ve zeroed in on your target audience, review your tactical options and pick those that would most appeal to that audience and would be the most appropriate.
- Calculate your payout. Almost every promotional tactic that is intended to increase sales should have a measurable result and pro- duce a profit. You should know how many new customers you need in order to cover the costs of your promotion. How many of those new customers must you convert to regular customers to consider the promotion a success? If you do your homework ahead of time, you’ll be able to tell how realistic your objectives are and what, if any, adjustments are necessary for next time. Improving employee morale or improving the image of your business is more difficult, but not impossible, to measure. Ask yourself, or your bookkeeper or accountant, “What does it cost us to hire and train a new employee?” or “How much traffic will an improved image generate?” In most cases, you can find a way to track the results of a promotion. Remember, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Or, as Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else!”
- Check the calendar. You shouldn’t be mailing announcements today for a promotion that starts tomorrow. You don’t need New Year’s noisemakers delivered in January. Leave extra time to make sure that each element of your promotion is in place in time. Leave time for creating, producing, and implementing each element. Make a promotion calendar or schedule showing each phase, and pad the time a little to allow for the inevitable changes and delays.
- Refine your products and services. Be sure that the service or product you offer is right for your target customers—that you’re offering the right varieties, with the most customer appeal, the right pricing, and the right presentation. Keep track of what is most popular, what’s producing the most sales, and what’s producing the largest profit margin. Compare what you know with what your competitors are offering. Survey your customers by questionnaire or one-on-one conversations. Take the temperature of your market, and be a good listener by leaving your ego and your preconceived ideas out of it.
- Polish the brass. Go a step beyond your regular maintenance procedures. Make sure that your selling, operating, and customer areas are attractive; that your physical space is clean and tidy; that any background music appeals to your audience; that unpleasant sounds or odors are neutralized; that fading paint, broken door handles, and any other flaws are corrected. It all sells, even sparkling bathrooms. You may not see the grimy windows or the litter because you pass them every day and they’ve become invisible, but your customers will.
- Check the logistics. You can execute your tactics with minimum difficulty by making sure that you have the technical know-how, the space, and the resources to handle the promotion without disrupting customer service or staff efficiency. Plenty of otherwise successful promotions have been ruined by insufficient or poorly trained staff, poor product quality, or equipment failure. Practice run-throughs, when appropriate, to help iron out any kinks and increase the chances of a smooth promotion.
- Cheerlead. Hold a team meeting of all your employees and explain the objectives, the rationale, the implementation, and the fun of your upcoming promotion. Let employees know what is expected of them, what is in it for them personally, and how much you care about their job satisfaction and feedback. They are your customers, too, and you should work just as hard to earn their loyalty. It’s the right thing to do, and it pays.
- Plan your analysis. Successful promotional activity is a learning process. You take lessons away from each effort, and you build on them. Setting specific objectives allows you to measure the success of your promotion. For example, before your promotion even begins, you might prepare brief customer and employee questionnaires that you can use afterward to solicit reactions. Review every aspect of your promotion, and gather the information you need to make your next promotion even more effective.