Digital marketing is difficult. There’s a lot to manage.
It’s easy to overlook things or drop the ball. All too easy.
The complexity and sheer amount of work involved with multi-channel marketing explains something we need to be honest about…most business digital marketing is far from optimal.
Check it out for yourself. Do a search for a local service provider or niche eCommerce product. You’ll find clunky, out-dated website designs. Vague messaging that doesn’t communicate value. Generic images and derivative, boring content.
Business owners run the gamut from confused to complacent. The complexity can make you want to throw your hands up in the air. If you have marketing that (sort of) works, you’re afraid to take risks in new channels.
This is a problem – but like all problems – it’s also an opportunity.
It feels like getting a business to stand out from the competition is a monumental task…how does a plumber who does the same work as all plumbers distinguish his services?
But with the right strategy and tactics, it’s always doable. Why? Because – for the most part – your competition isn’t the New England Patriots. It’s the 8-8 local high school team.
Here are some vitally important marketing strategies and tactics that many businesses continue to overlook. Get these right and you’ll create a big gap between you and your competition.
#1. Maintain a Modern, Updated Website
Websites remain the focal point of digital marketing overall, but many business owners fail to realize something. A five-year-old website is old. It’s not optimal.
A 10-year-old website is ancient. Positively Jurassic. The first impression it will give is that you’re out of business.
Today, there is no excuse for letting your website design lapse in digital senility. Conversion-tested templates are affordable and quick to design (at Marketing 360®, our UXI® templates are free to marketing clients, and usually take about two weeks to complete working with a professional designer).
These templates are also easier to maintain and update, so you can keep up with changes in user experience and technology.
Today’s design elements lean more towards mobile users, with a lot of imagery, intuitive navigation, and easy scrolling.
If your website hasn’t changed since the iPhone 2, you’re putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage.
#2. Craft Your Value Proposition
Even a beautiful website won’t save you if you don’t communicate your value offering.
For SMBs, lack of a clear value proposition is the most common mistake, and one that leaves them stuck in the back of the competitive pack.
Your value proposition is – literally – the reason you put forth that explains why someone should choose you over your competition. It clarifies exactly how you solve a problem your prospective clients have. It’s the core of your offer and the very reason someone would be persuaded to spend money on your services.
One of the lamest statements business owners ever make is “We don’t have any competition.” Of course you do. In the internet age, there’s always another choice.
It’s up to you to compare yourself to your competition and develop content that’s explicit about why you’re a better choice.
- Check your website and see if you’re answering the “What’s in it for me?” question (try this with minimal scrolling or having to read for more than 5 seconds).
- State or imply why people should choose you over your competition.
- Check your analytics data for the top 10-20 entry pages on your website. Make sure all those pages communicate your value proposition.
When you identify a clear advantage you have over the competition and effectively communicate it in all your marketing material, you’ll create the biggest competitive advantage possible.
If you don’t, you’ll just be a commodity hoping to get chosen from the pack at random.
#3. Develop Images and Videos
Another way to break from the competitive pack is to effectively use imagery and videos in your marketing.
The web is increasingly image focused. Images and videos are easier to consume and much faster at conveying ideas. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and few people surfing online will read a thousand words.
Yet this opportunity goes to waste. Instead of creating information-carrying images and hero shots that help communicate value, websites waste space using cheap stock photos.
The ROI on a thirty-second video – that introduces your business and makes the case for your value proposition – is overlooked.
Businesses labor through long explanations of complex topics instead of using infographics.
Most SMBs don’t have a YouTube channel, even though it’s the second most used search engine online.
Effective imagery and video are trending as effective marketing collateral, but most smaller businesses are way behind. Get ahead of that curve and you’ll have a big competitive advantage.
#4. Test and Modify Your Marketing
Marketing is not a one shot and you’re done discipline. You can take Mulligans – and lots of them, if needed.
Yet most SMBs set-up their initial designs and campaigns, then cross their fingers. They make assumptions, but then forget they were assumptions and act like they have to force their initial idea to work.
Marketing data can’t tell you what to do. But it can tell you the results of what you did.
It’s rare to come up with a campaign or design that’s at its most effective with the initial effort. You test and tweak your materials, then compare the results. Eventually, you’ll find that sweet spot where you’re finding the right audience and message. You may make drastic changes, but often it’s a few words, a changed image, or variation in layout that make the difference.
Why don’t businesses make more modifications in response to data? Lack of time and expertise are the big problems. It takes a trained eye to assess data and create an action plan based on it.
Learn how to interpret data or hire a marketing company to help you with it. When you dial in your campaigns, you’ll dust the competition that’s waiting for things to go their way with no effort.
#5. Give Your Campaigns Time
Here is the saddest of mistakes in small business marketing.
A business spends months developing materials and running campaigns – but it’s tough. The results don’t come in right away, and a lot of sleep is lost.
The business owner gets nervous. She’s starting to see the entire effort as a sunk cost. How much more can we put into this without a return?
But there is good data coming in. The plan is heading in the right direction…until…the business owner panics. We have to get out and stop the bleeding.
They pull out just as the corner was about to be turned. The problem?
They didn’t set proper expectations with time. Digital marketing campaigns can take months to develop, both to gain exposure and to gather enough data to start testing assumptions. You must allow for this time – from the beginning – or you’ll pull out before you can get ROI.
Often you don’t know about the competition that makes this mistake – because they disappear without gaining market share. Don’t join them.
#6. Manage Your Reputation
I was at a recent meeting of small business owners. The conversation turned to online reviews.
“I hate Yelp,” said a restaurant owner. “People just go on there to bitch. Half of what they say makes no sense.”
“I hear ya,” said a chiropractor. “A few idiot clients hit me with bad reviews on Health Grades, and all of a sudden my appointments are down 30%.”
“And what about Google itself?” chimed in a carpet cleaner. “My Google business listing got hit with some 1-star bombs from morons, and they’re the first thing you see when I show up in search. I hate online reviews!”
I wish I’d had a hanky to wipe their tears away…
Here is a fact for you: online reviews are here to stay. Furthermore, you need to realize that review platforms aren’t really there to please business owners; their audience is the consumer. And consumers like reviews a great deal. They use them to decide on services every day.
You can either be like the business owners I met (stuck in the back of the pack), complaining about how their “moronic” clients are hurting them, or you can take control of the situation and start managing your reputation.
Businesses with strong customer service and great products welcome reviews. Part of their content management is making an active effort to secure positive reviews from happy clients. They look at negative reviews as feedback and a chance to improve their services.
Most of all, they realize that consumer-created content in the form of reviews is a reality, and they make great efforts to get that content working in their favor. They start with the services they deliver, realizing every client has the power to create online reviews in response to their work.
The way to beating the competition here is clear. 5 stars look a lot better than 1 star.
#7. Stay Ahead of the Curve
Ever notice how some businesses seem to always be in the right place at the right time? When an online platform becomes popular with the masses, they’ve already established themselves. How do they do it?
To be competitive today, it pays to put your ear to the ground. You have to be on the watch for trends, and when you see something that is a fit for how you want to craft your message, you need to jump on it.
Gary Vaynerchuck, who became famous tasting wine on YouTube, often talks about how he started on Google Adwords – when nobody else was using it. He was able to buy ads for the keyword “wine” for $.10 a click.
A few years ago, Snapchat seemed like another trend for 13-year-olds. Today it has 160 million active users.
Facebook video ads are – today – effective and cheap. The bandwagon hasn’t taken off yet.
But once everybody figures this out prices will elevate and content engagement will drown in the flood.
Beating the competition implies staying ahead of them. Keep your eye out for the next big thing.
#8. Look at Marketing as an Investment
Most businesses look at marketing as a cost. They put it in with expenses like buying a truck or renting a warehouse.
But marketing is not an expense. It’s an investment in which you should carefully plan expected returns.
In other words, marketing should make you more money than you put in. If you could put in a buck and get two back, you’d put in as many as the opportunity would allow.
Businesses that have trouble competing come to Marketing 360® and ask “How much do your marketing services cost?”
This is not the right mindset for competitive marketing. To beat the competition, you have to spend what is necessary. It depends on your vertical and competition, as well as your goals. How much do you want to make? How big do you want to be? How fast do you want to grow?
To be competitive, you must look at marketing as an investment. Plan your budget based on what’s necessary to compete, and modify as needed. There is no one “cost” to marketing. You get out of it what you put in.
Your competition’s marketing is not optimal, but it’s not because they don’t care. Keeping up with technology and trends is tough. Crafting an effective, crisp value proposition requires insight and effort. Gauging time-frames and investments take patience and planning.
But taking those steps is the difference maker. It separates you from the pack and gets prospects thinking:
These guys look better. They can solve my problem. This will be worth it.
Today you either separate yourself from the pack, or you disappear into it.