marketingYou could have the best product or service in the world, but if nobody knows about it, how are they going to buy it? Steve Takle, editor of The Business Show Guide, explains why marketing is essential to the success of your business. There have been entire books written about the subject by far more knowledgeable people, but it seems to me that the prime function of any marketing is to bring your company, product or service to the attention of potential customers, with the ultimate objective that they spend money with your business instead of another.

Why would they do that? Because you have identified and clearly communicated what it is that makes your business ‘different.’ You’ll often hear this referred to as your Unique Sales Proposition, or Unique Selling Point (USP). When identifying your USP, research what customers value and play to that strength. This could be anything from a product feature, to a difference in quality, or a service. Arguably, it’s almost irrelevant what your USP is, as long as it is established early on and reinforced with every message you send out.

Each of those messages should have a clear objective and fit into an overall strategy. Marketing activities can be general (establishing your brand), or specific (announcing a sale, special offer or new product) and the best strategies will combine both to complement one another. Having a schedule will help you to ensure that each activity builds upon those that preceded it with a cumulative effect, rather than conflicting. It will also enable you to schedule your marketing to build up to milestone dates like a product launch or new branch opening, as well as key times of the year for your market sector, such as the new financial year or Christmas.

You could also factor in consumer shows, trade events or relevant diary dates. Ring-fence a large proportion of your annual marketing budget for these peaks; forward planning means that you can allocate funds appropriately to deliver effective marketing at each key phase. You can always maintain customer awareness throughout the year with cost-effective activities such as emails and newsletters.

You should monitor response to your marketing to evaluate whether it has met its objectives by setting deadlines, targets and budgets. Your criteria will differ depending upon what it is that you want to achieve with each activity, but common measurables include sales growth, amount of enquiries, new customers, or average transaction value. This data will enable you to identify the areas in which your marketing is working effectively and which areas need to be improved.

There are more potential marketing channels available to you now than ever and it’s important both to remain consistent across them, while choosing the appropriate one for each activity. There’s little point booking an ad in a weekly trade paper for tomorrow’s 24-hour special offer, but a tweet would make perfect sense. Other channels to bear in mind are TV, radio, display advertising, leaflet drops, direct mail, direct selling, website, mobile and text messages. Monitor each phase of your marketing so that you can gauge which is most effective, as this will inform your strategy for future phases.

Finally, remember that your marketing doesn’t exist in a bubble, so keep in mind the context in which your prospects will encounter it. Is it up to date with your market sector and does it reflect any notable trends? How does it compare with your competitors?