Last time, I addressed the first support pier of the Business Bridge, Product-to-Market Fit. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend reading it before you read this one.
One of the big mistakes I see in new entrepreneurs is they worry about their website, their photos, their descriptions, and their branding before they know they have Product-to-Market fit working. It’s like wanting to click “send” on an email when you don’t know who you’re sending it to… and you haven’t even written the email yet! It’s too soon for “send.”
Market Communications is about building relationships with the market you are trying to reach. That means you need to listen a lot and speak a little, with the things you say/write highly tailored for the people you are trying to reach.
Think of your communications as being focused very tightly on a specific group. You want your message to be so direct that your target customer will see it and immediately think “this company understands me better than anyone else.” In today’s attention-overloaded world, that will make your company stand out more than anything else.
It’s OK to have more than one target market, as long as each market has their own marketing campaign. Just imagine going through all of the tasks described in this article for each market you want to pursue… then ask yourself if you are that dedicated to each of those target markets. If so, then go for it. If not, then you are likely to run into problems reaching them. They will know you aren’t dedicated to them.
Marketing Communications is pretty broad and contains several areas, some about deciding what you will say, others about actually saying it, including:
- Social Listening
- Marketing Channels
- Sales Channels
Lastly, this might go without saying, but all of your communications need to be done “in good faith,” meaning that you are representing yourself and your business as accurately and honestly as you know at the time. You will make mistakes (and how you deal with them will also affect your business relationships), but you don’t get to be intentionally dishonest and stay in business.
Social listening is first on this list because it’s the most important: it is understanding your target market BEFORE you try to talk to them. Listening, watching, paying attention, and then analyzing what your target market is saying are the first steps to understanding them.
It could be online or in person.
In person, it can go a little more easily. You have body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice in addition to their words. The challenge in person is to make sure you interview enough people to understand what is an individual desire and what is common across an entire market. It’s easy to let one or two customers who are more willing to talk guide an entire product line to become something that only they would buy.
Online, it takes a lot more to get a complete picture. What people say in original posts and in comments on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms all needs to be taken in context, trying to read the emotion around the typed words. You need to read hundreds (or thousands) of posts with comments to get a rough picture of who these people are, what needs they have (both met and unmet), and what frustrations they have.
Online listening tools can bring the posts to you. Following hashtags on Instagram and setting up Twitter lists let you see what people are posting and talking about relatively quickly. If you really want to get detailed, there are paid services that give you more detailed collection and analysis.
Anything that is posted on or about your business is included. If people write reviews, post on your social media account, or make comments on your blog, you need to read what they said and consider what you can learn from it (regardless of whether it’s positive or negative).
You are looking for patterns that help you answer questions such as:
- What phrases, needs, concerns, and complaints do you see in common and what do you see that are different among the people who are posting?
- What hypotheses for market problems can you make based on what you are seeing? How can you validate if that market problem actually exists?
- Over the last few months, what changes have you noticed in what the market is saying? (If the answer is “nothing”, you might not be paying close enough attention. Very few markets don’t change at least a little bit every quarter, even if it’s just talking about new competition that came out during that time.)
Despite popular belief, Brand is not your company name or logo. It does include those things, but that’s not all there is to it.
Brand is about establishing an emotional response when customers come into contact with anything your company puts out, whether it’s the product you make, your physical storefront, or an ad you run.
It’s the emotion or belief that a customer feels after repeated experiences with your company or hearing stories about your company from others.
Maybe it’s a feeling of warmth and happiness. Maybe it’s cold and corporate. Maybe it’s financial security or personal safety. It could be quality and performance or value and stability.
Whatever it is, your brand, which includes your logo, company name, product names, and the way you speak/write, should all help connect your target customer to that emotion.
Positioning is how your market thinks of your product in relation to something else they are familiar with. It’s a way of explaining your product through comparisons and analogies, without teaching your customer a whole new concept.
I know, people don’t like to compare themselves to others… but your customers are going to do it, whether you like it or not. You are better off to control the messaging and make sure they see your product accurately.
To make it simple, most companies pick one or two primary positions that they want customers to think of. More than that gets confusing, even though customers might get more detailed on their own.
- Mercedes: Luxury and status
- Apple: Design and innovation
- McDonalds: Value and consistency
- Toyota: Quality and safety
- Starbucks: Atmosphere and consistency
For medication, it might be “easy to swallow and easy on your stomach.” For a restaurant, it might be exclusivity and atmosphere.
To their customers, these companies want to be seen as THE BEST at these two things. Their products, their physical stores, and their websites use every design trick known to represent their position.
If these two things aren’t important to someone, then that person isn’t their target customer. If these things are important to someone, you won’t be able to keep them away.
It’s a major decision for you to decide what two primary attributes you want associated with your business, and then build your brand around those two attributes. That positions your company to be the leader in the combination of those two things.
Marketing channels are all the methods you use to get your message to the market. It can be a pretty long list. It includes both messages you send out to them (outbound marketing) and information that customers come to you to get (inbound marketing).
Some of the most common ones are:
- Social Media Content – posting on any number of websites where potential customers already regularly visit to get updates on their family and talk about hobbies. Your goal here is to show interest in them and offer them interesting or entertaining content that helps them to know, like, and trust your business.
- Website: Static content: all the information on your website, with background on your company, on you, on things the company has done, and detailed information on your product line.
- Website: Recurring content: Things that are regularly updated, like a blog and events page, that tell a customer what your company is doing or working on or where you are going now.
- Email: I wrote an entire article on email marketing, so I’ll just say that you need to regularly update your customers with content they find useful.
- Advertising: Location/Targeting: When you pay for advertising, you are paying someone else to show your content to a market they have access to. It’s up to you to decide who you want to show your ads to, and verify that potential advertisers can reach them.
- Advertising: Content: Also referred to as “creative.” When you run an ad, there is some mix of a headline, a call to action, and images, all of which needs to convey your brand and positioning to your target customer AND get them to take the action you want them to take today (visit your store, make a purchase, or sign up for a mailing list).
- Third party: Someone else who is reselling your product or service is marketing it for you, using materials you license to them for marketing purposes (usually your name and logo).
Sales channels are all the places a customer can go to buy your product, either directly from you or from a reseller.
This is a form of communication because your packaging, your catalog listing on a website or market place, your banner at a physical market, or anything else that a customer sees when they make a purchase that conveys your brand, positioning, and any detailed information about the product (size, shape, color, etc).
Some of the more common sales channels are:
- Your web store: the commerce end of your website that lets you take orders, calculate shipping, and process payment.
- Online market places: A website that is dedicated to bringing in potential buyers, where you then need to capture their attention. Amazon, Etsy, and eBay are the big three.
- Physical market places: a physical location that brings in potential buyers, then it’s up to you to attract them and convince them of your product’s value.
- Physical stores: retail stores carry an array of products and services. The hard part is finding one with access to your target market and that is willing to rent you shelf space.
- Physical Catalog: even in 2019, businesses send out physical books of products. Some of them save on shipping costs by sending them as electronic PDF files or links to an interactive book online.
- Agent Sales: a freelance contractor you hire to sell your product, usually for a base fee plus commission. This is most common for larger, more expensive products with a very small market, so you hire an agent familiar with that market.
I know… this was another huge post. Communication and relationship building takes a lot of work. You NEED to put in the time on product-to-market fit first so you understand the people you want to talk to and know what to say to them. It will save you from a lot of embarrassing communication problems.
I’ll be digging into these concepts (and more) in the coming weeks.
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