What is the right channel for my product? Where is the best place for my ads? Should I be mostly on Facebook? There are a million questions for which you will get an equal number of answers. You will get advice on which channels are hot. People will try to sell you programs and services to reach your customer. In fact, when talking marketing tactics, you’ll get so much input it’s almost useless.
If you ask people starting businesses where they think they will be successful in finding new customers, most will say social media, but ad spending was only 23% of all ad dollars spent in 2015. Television is still the dominant media platform with 39% of the dollars. What about print, radio and billboards? This is another 26% of ad spend. If the SEO and AdWords were enough, you wouldn’t hear or see ads for websites and mobile apps in these other channels, but you do.
This explosion of channels has fragmented the marketplace by income, race, educational experience, sports, personal interests, politics and marital status. The list goes on and gets more granular. What can someone looking to launch into this environment do to have a chance at success? Hint: “If you build it, they will come” is not one of the options.
We’ve studied at the school of hard knocks. The tuition is high, but the lessons stick. A few things learned along the way:
1. It’s always about them – Write this on sticky notes. Tattoo it backwards on your forehead. No one cares about your product. No one cares about features. No one cares how good you say you are, it’s how good they believe you are. They care only about how what you’re selling will make their lives better or less painful.
It broke my heart when I finally accepted this, because I am the most important person in my life. But then I understood that, like me, almost everyone else is the star of their own movie. My job is to get the part of the business strategist who helps them figure out their path to world domination. Good marketing is how I get the audition. Closing the sale is how I get the part.
2. If you don’t know who they are, TEST! – This is the heart of the matter. Identifying your customer is the single biggest, and most difficult, challenge anyone starting or running a business will face – AND IT NEVER ENDS.
When someone calls, ask how they found you. When they buy, ask why they did. If they’re unhappy don’t dismiss them, no matter how nasty they are, without learning why. Ask questions, send out surveys, check out your competition. Learn where people are finding out about products like yours. Learn what channels work. Then test. Test different advertising channels and types of ads. Run ads at different times of day. Use different types of copy.
3. If you think you know who they are, TEST anyway – You will find that as your business grows that who you thought your customer would be is flawed or even completely wrong. Even if things are going well for you, the only way you’ll ever really know why is to test markets outside your original assumptions.
When we started our business, we thought that our core customer would be someone looking to exit their corporate job and start a company. After analyzing years of sales, we found most of our clients had run or owned multiple businesses and liked exploring their ideas and maximizing them by looking at alternative approaches. They liked more intensive interaction because they had more confidence than someone just starting out.
4. Marketing experts, for the most part, don’t know anything – This is especially true if their primary story is how successful they are at selling their product. This is doubly true if their product is how to sell a product.
Nobody will ever understand your product better than you to. Nobody will be able to identify your customer better than you can. Finally, nobody will care about your product, your customer and your company more than you do. That is why you must become the first, and best, marketer for your company.
I’m not saying get that you won’t benefit from help and advice, I’m saying that you need to learn the business. You need to own it and be responsible for your decisions without deferring to someone who won’t feel the pain if you fail. Until the ball is seriously rolling, you can’t outsource it, you can’t hire it. You are it.
The real challenge is not to select the right channel, but the right customer. Channels are tactics, choosing the right customer is the cornerstone of strategy. ‘Tactics without strategy,” Sun Tzu said, ”is the noise before defeat.”
Once you’ve picked that customer, learn everything you can about her. Find out where she gets her information. Where she goes to be entertained. Find the opportunities to get your message in front of her. And TEST, TEST, TEST. Because you may find out that you were looking for him and not her.