Author: Douglyss Giuliana
Owner-managers of start-ups and small businesses have a long hill to climb. In order for the business to generate sufficient revenues let alone be successful managers must get the word out to the buying public. The entrepreneur must creatively marshal limited resources to promote, sell, and distribute the product. This is clearly a challenge for the small business for a number of reasons.
First, start-ups and small businesses have limited capital to spend on marketing campaigns. The capital they do have must be split between product development, personnel, operations, sales, and marketing. In addition, the battle for consumers attention from the growing number of companies and brands has driven up marketing costs. Managers must find ways to make the most of the marketing funds available, often relying on inexpensive and even free marketing vehicles.
Second, traditional marketing techniques have become less effective. Television, newspaper, and magazine advertising have simply become noise. Consumers are bombarded with so much advertising that they often tune it out, change the channel, or fast forward past it. In addition, consumers have become more and more skeptical of and insensitive to traditional broadcast advertising.
Third, these traditional techniques may not reach the target market. More people are heading to blogs for their news, satellite for radio, MP3s for music, and the Internet for entertainment. These media are, for the most part, beyond the reach of traditional marketing.
This post digs in to a number of alternative marketing techniques appropriate for entrepreneurs and owner-managers engaged in business-to-consumer venutres.
The Challenge of Entrepreneurial Marketing Start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures suffer from very limited resources, including personnel, time, and money. Yet, every business large and small must learn to cope with less, especially during times of downsizing, cost cutting, and reorganization. Even Fortune 500 enterprises wish for larger budgets and bigger departments.
Marketing also plays a key role in attracting other critical assets employees and capital. The start-up or small business must be visible, attractive, and look like a winner; these are things that customers, employees, and investors all look for.
The start-up or small business must be visible, attractive, and look like a winner; these are things that customers, employees, and investors all look for.
The Owner-Manager Difference:Decisions are made almost exclusively by the owner-manager in a small business or entrepreneurial venture; there is little if any delegation of tasks involving strategy, finance, control, and marketing. Therefore, any marketing activities will rely heavily on the owner-manager’s experience, expertise, and knowledge.
Marketing Strategy for the Entrepreneur
The small business owner-manager must often focus so much on daily operations that strategy is something left for much larger companies. In fact, entrepreneurs often start with an innovative product but little understanding of the target market. They are content to use their intuition, throw the product into the market, and see who buys. As customers start rolling in, the entrepreneur simply tries to find more of the same. This is quite the opposite of traditional marketing techniques where the target market is identified, a message is crafted, and a strategy to reach the target is developed. The traditional top-down approach of segmentation, targeting, and positioning is replaced by a bottom-up approach that starts with identifying an opportunity, attracting initial customer, and expanding by finding similar customers.
In choosing methods of communication, it is important to use as many methods as can be executed successfully. Multiple methods will reach a broader audience, and different consumers will be affected by different techniques. The investment in marketing is a bet on future returns. Much like an investment portfolio, you should spread the investment around to different vehicles. The trade-off is that spreading too thin might dilute each piece to be ineffective. Also like an investment portfolio, understand the potential cost and return of each option and craft a mix that maximizes that return.
While most entrepreneurial ventures are based on an innovative and therefore differentiated product, it is important to understand why this is the case and the subsequent responsibility of marketing. Simply because of their limited reach and capacity, small firms perform best with a narrow focus. While the narrow scope allows the small business to cater to a specific market, it is also likely that the small market is not enough to attract the attention of larger competition, allowing the small firm to fly under the radar.
It is rather common for an entrepreneur to start the business with only a limited understanding of the product, the market, the plan, and the competition. They go with their gut; they use intuition. They sense a need rather than rely on analyst reports or detailed competitive analysis. In fact, many entrepreneurs start with only a product or service idea, and then try to find a market for it. They focus on developing a great product and only later shop it around, then focus on the market that had the strongest response. Indeed it is innovation and creativity that propels the small business to success, but this contrasts the customer orientation that lies at the heart of marketing.
Word of Mouth and Buzz
Word of mouth is the direct person-to-person communication in which one person describes the attributes or experience of a product or service to another person. It occurs when we tell a friend about a great movie or when we brag to a colleague about a new car or a fabulous vacation. However, word of mouth is just as likely, maybe even more likely, to occur when we tell someone about a terrible meal we had at a restaurant or a new computer that constantly crashes. Good or bad, the word spreads. Word of mouth spreads from those who know about your product, typically existing customers, to those who are unfamiliar or maybe familiar but not yet convinced or sold. Many start-ups rely on word of mouth to attract that initial critical mass of customers, and many small businesses count on the recommendations for all of their new business. In either case, the high effectiveness and low cost of this marketing method makes it a staple for any resource-constrained venture. According to a 2001 McKinsey report, 54% of sales in the United States are affected by word of mouth.
Viral marketing is a special case of buzz in which the product itself is the way that word spreads. This term was coined by Steve Jurvetson who was one of the venture financiers of Hotmail. At the bottom of every email sent through Hotmail was the line Get your private, free email from Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com By using the product, customers were passively spreading the word. This small start-up, with no spending on large media advertising, grew and grew until it was acquired by Microsoft.
A customer evangelist tells your story and tells it to everyone. He purchases your product, believes in your business, recommends it to friends and colleagues, supports you even when you make a mistake, and provides feedback even before you ask. He wants you to succeed. This action and belief is based on an emotional connection the customer has with your product, service, or company. Customers become evangelists when they are so pleased with their experience with the product or service that they want to tell others and even want to help the business succeed. People love to talk about their experience with products and especially like to be the one that pointed out a great product that everyone subsequently adopts.
While strong brands are typically associated with larger, established companies that have had years to build a reputation and become widely known, a strong brand can also be successfully built by the small business. The purpose of developing a strong brand is in its ability to communicate the value proposition easily and effectively.
There are two types of partnerships that small businesses can take advantage of. First, by partnering with another small business, the two can join forces and their limited resources to promote, package, or distribute their products together. Beyond simply sharing the bills, the two businesses can split up the work and offer expertise that the other business might lack. Second, a small business can partner with a larger, established company. While this is typically much more difficult to accomplish, if a relationship can be forged, the small business can benefit greatly.
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