Getting back to marketing basics

When it comes to making critical decisions about marketing plans and budgets, it’s easy for business owners to get overwhelmed. For every seemingly great advertising opportunity, there are countless others vying for attention and capital — from print ads in local magazines to regional radio and television spots to the wider world of social media and online advertising. Businesses must tune out the fragmented noise, and focus on those marketing tactics that will actually reach their target market to increase sales and build awareness.

Ineffective and scattered marketing efforts often stem from the belief that “everyone” is a potential customer. This is rarely – if ever – true. Every business has a core customer base that shares common demographic and psychographic traits.

Demographic data identifies customers by characteristics like age, salary and education. For instance, demographic research could show that the majority of patrons of an upscale restaurant are between 40 and 65 years old, earn a $250,000 average annual salary and hold a four-year college degree or higher. Psychographic survey data, revealing customer interests and values, can be obtained through customer observation, interaction and surveys. In the restaurant case, this critical data could show that most patrons attend the opera, theater or other cultural venue on a regular basis, participate in social clubs and volunteer time and resources to charitable organizations.

The combination of these two types of market research provides direction for strategic integrated marketing planning. Based on the data, the restaurant owner would know that advertising in a local newspaper to a mass audience – or on a country radio station to the incorrect audience – would prove to be a waste of marketing dollars. However, sponsoring a theater production, advertising in a university alumni magazine and networking on social media Web sites dedicated to the local art and community scenes, would be most effective in reaching existing and potential customers.

It’s all about message

Successful marketing strategies begin with targeted and consistent messaging. Once businesses identify their target market, they should concentrate on developing a unique selling proposition that resonates with it.

When tackling the challenge of creating the correct message, businesses must put themselves in the mindset of their potential customers.

Based on their demographics and interests, what would appeal to them? A value message may work well for a discount chain store, but the restaurant owner would need to create a unique selling proposition about the dining experience.

Additionally, it is imperative that messages focus on the benefits of a product or service. Many business owners fall into the trap of listing features (what a product/service has). Rather, messaging about the benefits to the consumer (what it does) will attract attention, create a personal connection and provide an effective call to action.

Another key aspect of messaging is ensuring differentiation from the competition. Keeping abreast of the messaging used by both direct and indirect competitors is helpful in achieving a unique and powerful marketing message.

Businesses can effectively plan and implement their overall marketing strategy once armed with a persuasive, attention-grabbing message. First, businesses must determine if mass marketing or niche marketing is most appropriate based on the business’ size and marketing budget.

Large corporations tend to be able to take the mass marketing approach by utilizing television, radio and more general print advertising. These big-budget strategies work well for businesses with a wider, less targeted, audience. However, most small businesses must carve out a niche for themselves by messaging with their target markets. They should focus their efforts on a mix of online and offline solutions that are affordable and will reach their audiences.

Regardless of what media approach businesses take, it takes repetition, relevance and distinctiveness across all channels to increase awareness and convert message recipients into customers.

<font size=1>Linda A. Fanaras, president and founder of Millennium Integrated Marketing, Boston and Manchester, N.H., can be reached at 877-873-7445 or</font size>