By Christine Graf
Business planning involves many things. Budgets, staffing equipment and much more go into the process.
Marketing, to grow business and build a brand, is an important part of the process.
Asked what trends he sees for clients in 2019, Christopher Ryan, president of SIX Marketing said, “Everything today is based online. People are going to research you before they even do business with you,” he said. “Your web site is one of the most important tools. Make sure it is saying what you deliver. Make sure it’s clearly representative of your business.”
Marketing Kangaroo’s Kim Hickok, a brand strategist with decades of experience, said the first step is to develop a brand strategy. It defines what a business stands for, as well as the image it conveys. It also establishes long-term plans designed to achieve specific goals.
“It means knowing who you are as a business and having a story about your business. It’s about asking ‘Who are you? What’s your story? Who are you talking to?’ The brand strategy should be shared in a way that connects with an objective,” she said.
Ryan said his company doesn’t recommend canned language on a website.
“We want it to be as real as possible. Authenticity is probably the biggest trend moving into 2019. People want to see real. They want to see who works for you. They want testimonials. They want reviews. Reviews are probably the biggest thing that any small business could start to work on and make a dramatic impact on their growth. It is the review generation. What real people is saying is super important.”
He said businesses should not feature only five-star reviews.
“I think the stat is that a 4.3 to a 4.7-star review sells significantly more than a 5-star review,” he says. “Every business gets a bad review. You can’t be perfect all of the time. And if you get a bad review and you just respond to them in a professional manner, other people will see that conversation.”
Ryan also says there is power in converting the writer of a bad review into what he refers to as a brand evangelist. In order to do that, a business must listen to and address the complaint in a positive manner.
Ryan also suggested local businesses consider using live video to reach their customers.
“We see a lot of Saratoga businesses going on Facebook Live, or You Tube Live, or Instagram and just kind of talking about their business,” he said. “People respond to that, and it tends to get more engagement and reach more people because of the nature of live video and how popular it is. It is probably the easiest, most underserved thing that small businesses are not doing. So, if you want to go live and you feel comfortable, have a plan before you execute and just kind of show who you are and why you are in the business and why you do what you love. People will respond to that.”
In addition to developing a brand strategy, Hickok said businesses must learn how to reach their customers.
“Our advice to a lot of small, local businesses is to find your customers and then communicate with them where they are consistently,” she said.
She uses a combination of direct mail, email, social media marketing, print ads, and Google ads. She also assists with blog posts, web site updates, and newsletters.
“All of this is content that has to be generated with a point of view,” Hickok said. “Businesses need to focus on content.”
When it comes to content, Hickok says the importance of a company’s web site cannot be overstated. Its content must accurately reflect the business and its story.
“Your web site had to be on point. That trend is not going away,” she noted.
When he is asked to dispense advice to business owners, Ryan said it all comes down to knowing your customer.
“Take the time to really understand who your customers really are. Know who your clients are and develop marketing that speaks to them,” he said. “It’s about the right message to the right people at the right time. If you have three to five top, ideal clients, then every effort that you do should be speaking to that segment of the population because that is who you want to attract to your business. It’s better to have a personalized message to the people you want to talk to than have a generalized message that talks to everybody.”
“Ask them questions. Is there anything we can do better? How was your shopping experience at our store?” said Ryan. “The more you delight your customers all throughout the process, the more business you will develop.”
Social media continues to be a valuable tool, but Ryan says social media algorithms have changed how content is being delivered to users. Businesses can no longer rely on their followers seeing their social media posts. As a result, he recommends investing in social media advertising.
“Paid advertising in social media can go a long way,” he says. “For a minimal investment, you can get a very broad reach.”
For social media advertising to be successful, Ryan says it must be tailored to the audience as well as to the specific social media platform on which it is appearing.
“What works in print and radio and TV does not work in social media,” he says.
There is one trend that Ryan is not recommending currently. It involves marketing through devices such as the Amazon Echo, Alexa, and Google Home
“People don’t like that Big Brother marketing,” he said.
“I think for local businesses it’s really about connecting with your customers,” said Hickok looking at forward trends. “People want to feel like they are part of a community. If you can create that feeling either through your message or by an event or something that people can kind of put their arms around. For example, a lot of business have a component of giving back or adopting a nonprofit. Customers like that. They like to know they are working with businesses that are doing good in the community.”
Hickok encouraged business owners to focus on millennials in the new year. Most millennials use their smartphones to connect with companies through social media networks.
“Millennials are becoming the largest growing consumer base. Do not discount communicating with millennials,” she said. “They are looking to have an experience. They are looking to spend their money in a socially conscious way, and they want to be communicated with digitally. If you don’t exist online, then you really don’t exist to that market. The yellow pages are not here anymore, so your Google game needs to be strong.”
Hickok advised business owners to incorporate high-quality photography into marketing plans.
“We are realizing that it’s worth it to spend the money on good photography because that’s content and because we are visual,” she says. “All of the social media outlets and printed pieces are visual. Something’s got to catch your eye.”
To get started with a marketing plan, Hickok suggests business owners begin by mapping out a three-month plan. It should include a marketing budget as well as a prioritized list of objectives. For those who feel overwhelmed going it alone, she suggested reaching out to a professional marketing service.
“If you don’t think you can do it, then find someone you feel comfortable working with. Set aside a budget and just pick one thing and start doing it consistently,” she said.