online marketing on cogwheel

When you’re running a business there is always a lot to do and marketing is one of those things that often gets pushed onto the back-burner.

But what is marketing anyway?

  • It’s not public relations (although that’s part of it)
  • It’s not sales (although that is involved)
  • It’s not advertising (and that’s part of it too)

Marketing underpins everything your business does.  It’s about understanding your market and what they want and then delivering a product or service that meets their needs – and is different or better than your competitors.

So marketing is about knowing your potential client really well.  It’s being able to really understand what’s important to them and then to let them know that you can satisfy those demands.

Last century most marketing was done the hard way – by post or face-to-face, but the internet changed that.   In one way marketing may have got easier, but the potential for overwhelm is high. 

In 2003 LinkedIn had only just got started, Facebook arrived in 2005, Twitter in 2006, then Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest followed in quick succession and blogging was only just being discovered.  Podcasting was around in the early noughties, but didn’t take off until relatively recently.

People did have websites, but they were static brochures with little ability to interact with potential clients.

Advertising was something you did in magazines and newspapers – not online.

The internet has changed everything.

So where do you start with online marketing?

The first step is to have a plan.  If you know what you want to achieve then you’ll be able to see the way forward.

  • Where is your target market? What social media platforms do they use? 
  • What groups and forums are they most likely to be active in?
  • What publications do they subscribe to or read?

When you know the answers to these questions, developing an online strategy gets a whole lot easier.

Step two is to agree what is OK and what isn’t.

I was talking to some Masters degree students studying branding and some of them were of the opinion that what they did outside of work and posted on personal profiles like Facebook, were nothing to do with their employer.  This is not true.  Everything that is posted in the public domain that has an impact on the company you work for influences people.

If you are running a family company that goes double for every family member.  It doesn’t matter whether you think that no customer has connections to you.  What about your Facebook friends?  Your posts appear on their walls and all their friends can see them.  Do you know whether they are connected to potential customers or not?  Is it worth the risk?

Make sure your privacy settings are secure on all your social networks and then agree what the message is that you do want people to see.  Educate your team, if you have one, so everyone is delivering a consistent message.

Step three is about using the available tools effectively to help you with research, promotion and engagement.

The number one priority must be your website.  It’s the place where people go to check you out and needs to be ‘sticky’ so they stay around long enough to take action.  This means that you need a compelling message delivered in the visitors language (so ‘you’ not ‘we’) with no barriers between your message and your reader.

There are plenty of ways to do your research, you could:

  • Carry out polls via Facebook or LinkedIn or use SurveyMonkey and then using your social media feeds to get people to complete.
  • You could ask your offline and online network for feedback.
  • Try asking current customers questions about what attracted them to you, what is most valuable to them in what you deliver, what words they would use if they were searching for a business like yours.

How do you promote your company?

  • Demonstrate your expertise with blogs, tips, how-to documents and other material regularly – not just once in a while. Visibility, reputation and authority are the result of repetition and a consistent message.  There are all kinds of tools that can help you with this to take the time and effort out.
  • Good quality content is critical – if you start selling at people they will quickly disengage – always deliver value.
  • Use the tools available to watch out for people talking about your company and respond quickly. Social media is a great customer relationship tool.
  • Plan these activities and agree responsibilities so they become a habit.

Remember a reputation is not built overnight – it takes time, but the internet is a low cost and effective way to do it with a good plan to work with.