Incremental Marketing:

entrepreneurs do a little every day

by William Keyser (aka The Startup Owl), Managing Director of Venture Founders LLC

Marketing is about building relationships and communication about a business, its products and services to encourage purchase, use and satisfaction. It’s a way of life and at the core of the business. This article is about how the entrepreneur can do a little marketing every day.

Vision

Successful entrepreneurs have a very clear vision about the business and what it can do for people. The vision should be kept in mind all the time, keeping it real. You should be bringing the vision to life, even if you’ve hardly sold a thing. What’s your business concept?

Be in the mind of the client and look at the business from there. That’s where the company’s value proposition comes in. Spend a few minutes every day in that place. You may find it helpful to write down how your business looks from over there.

Mindset

Play marketing games with yourself. Make index cards with questions like, “What am I selling?” or “What value do customers get?” and stick them around your workspace so that you come across them serendipitously. Use the ‘onion-skin method’ of working on your business model by asking yourself ‘why’ after ‘why’ to peel back your thinking to bare essentials.

Take nothing for granted. It may be that by questioning your assumptions about the market, you’ll discover amazing new opportunities.

Plan

You’ll have done your business plan and as part of it, your marketing plan. Go back to it at least weekly and check out if you think it’s still valid.

Markets are not static and every bit of prospect or customer feedback, good or bad, will show you something on which you can take action. Here too, it’s small increments, not total revisions that will keep up your business momentum. Plans are great, but they need to be dynamic.

Data

Get all the data you can, but sort it and apply your own insight and transform it into usable information and knowledge. Sometimes you may not know quite what you’re looking for or what data is relevant, so be a ‘data-jackdaw’ (the jackdaw is the bird that’s attracted by bright sparkly things).

Collect the data, process and interpret it; at the same time, don’t be afraid to cull it or let it lead you to more. You’ll find it in surprising places. You don’t necessarily need to indulge in formal market research, but collect facts, numbers, opinions and organize them—hard copies in files or in the computer.

Profiling

You’ll never know enough about your customers and you’ll want to keep revising what you think you know about them. One way to do this is to keep an open file on Customer Profiling. You’ll find a way of organizing the way to profile your customers by looking under Tools & Techniques for the Customer Profiling Grid in the Startup Owl’s Tool Chest.

Make sure it’s a continuous process of asking yourself who they are and analyzing your sales data. The more you can accurately describe your customers, the more you will be able to target your marketing efforts. Don’t forget to speculate as well; you don’t want to leave out those customers that you would like to have, even if you have yet to reel them in.

Branding

Branding is for the creative part of you. Remember, branding is not just a collection of images and ideas representing your business and concrete symbols such as a name, logo, slogan, and design. It is the very way you do business and it’s building all the time through all your actions.

Of course you’ll create names and graphics, but your brand is intangible as well as tangible. Work on it continuously by giving thought to reputation and how your business behavior will impact it. Tighten and simplify the brand, be consistent.

Promotion

I recommend the ‘Dagwood’ (cartoon strip Blondie’s husband) approach to promotion. A Dagwood Sandwich attained such a tremendous size and infinite variety of contents as to stun the imagination. Nibble a bit every day! Make sure you take promotional action regularly. They don’t have to be huge and the little bits (or bites) need not take a lot of time, but they’ll build up progressively.

There will be days when you seem to achieved nothing, but check monthly, you’ll see a difference. The activities can be the slightest thing, like giving you business card to someone influential, adding a telling tagline to your logo, being interviewed by the local newspaper, or writing a blog post. Do it as frequently as brushing your teeth. A handy tool is the Promotional Media Checklist that you can find by looking under Tools & Techniques in the Startup Owl’s Tool Chest.

Prospecting

You may think prospecting is just what sales people do. They do of course, but so should you. Make sure you have an ‘elevator pitch’ or a ‘kitchen table presentation’ so that when you find yourself with a prospect, an influencer or even your next-door neighbor, you can use one or the other.

Carry your business card at all times and hand it out as freely as the Japanese do. Remember that when you’re at the bank trying to raise a loan, you should be prospecting, even if you don’t come away with any money.

Press

The press may seem daunting to you. But think like a journalist choose a news-worthy aspect of what you are doing (not just product puffs). Take a marketing approach: what kind of publication might be interested? Approach the editor of an appropriate publication.

Write a press release (find out how on the Web) and send it to targeted journals, and distribute it via the Web (try www.pressexposure.com for free). Write articles yourself, since you are the expert on your subject. Use www.ezinearticles.com to distribute them or place them in specialist publications.

Colleagues

Marketing needs a leader, but all the followers must be implicated, too. Everyone in the business has a role to play in marketing. Your colleagues may need help and support to become advocates and messengers to help build the brand and awareness of the business.

In finance, production—in all functions, there’s marketing to be done. Remind people and offer ideas and materials that they may communicate with their suppliers and the wider community. Without a fully staffed marketing department they can become a powerful proxy marketing team.

Customers

You may not have thought about getting customers to help you do your marketing. If they feel good about the relationship with you and the support and service that they get from you, they can be even more powerful promoters than you are yourself.

Word of mouth recommendations (watch out for the bad-mouthing of dissatisfied customers) are one of the strongest of marketing tools. Not only should nurture those relationships, but it will help to support them too, with marketing materials they can use. In every customer interaction, think about what aids to marketing you can supply.

Contacts

Networking and co-operative marketing should become second nature. There are formal tools available like your memberships of the chamber of commerce, professional associations, alumni groups and others, or the use of Internet-based networking sites like www.linkedin.com.

Networking is an attitude of mind. If you are in business, you are interacting with others all the time. Take time every day to check that you are maximizing your contacts, but remember to give as well as take—by helping others to make good connections. Keep good records of your networks in address books, databases, or business card indexes.

The Web

Of course you have your website which you keep updated regularly, but the Web gives you many
other marketing opportunities that are neither hugely time consuming or expensive and have a great multiplier effect.

Blogs, webcasts, webinars, email newsletters, and other media can be used every day and interlinked. They give you incremental marketing tools, par excellence .

Start All Over Again

Just when you think you have been through the whole gamut of marketing, it will surely be time to start all over again. In every iteration of the process, challenge conventional marketing wisdom and leave no market stone unturned. It is too easy to limit oneself to the markets that are known or named in the business plan.

There are many others that you’ll be able to reach, or you may be able to go deeper into the ones that you do know. For instance, you might decide to focus on your local market, then to aim at a particular age group, which in turn draws you into a specialist group within the age group.

Integrated as Well as Incremental

If you can string all this together and ensure that you use the layering technique of little and often, the cumulative effect will really work. You are going to be doing all the myriad things that startup artists do in their never-ending days. That’s why regular marketing must not become the business Cinderella. To avoid that happening, try diarizing the activities.

Once a month sit down with your planner and mark the activities so you don’t forget. Be sure to take action every day. I know from my own experience that I can easily become despondent when the orders are not rolling in. Whether they are or not, it’s vital to keep plugging away at incremental marketing.