The Best Marketing Advice You’ve Never Received

My company sells sales-and-marketing software technologies. Really good ones. Customer relationship management applications. Bulk email services. Quoting software. Mobile apps. Outbound and inbound lead, opportunity and campaign management tools. We also help implement these technologies by providing design, training, customization, integration and development services. All for an hourly fee, of course.

So are you looking to increase your sales with these great technologies? After more than two decades doing this I have some advice for you and it’s the best advice you’ll ever receive: Don’t. Really, don’t. Don’t do this until you hire someone first.

The software companies won’t tell you this. They’ll tell you that you can double your business, improve your sex life and reap great profits just by buying (or more likely subscribing) to their services. Just hit a few buttons and all your problems are over. Technology partners (like my firm) will make similar promises. “We’ll customize this for you,” we say. “So, it’ll be exactly what you want. We’ll make it talk to your other systems, generate sales, clean your apartment and train your dog. Really. We will!!”

We are all BS-ing you.

Over the years my company has implemented hundreds and hundreds of sales and marketing systems. We have had some glorious, fantastic successes. And, we have had our share of horrible, profanity-filled, tear-stained failures. What was the difference? Why do some companies succeed with these technologies and others don’t? It just comes down to one thing.

A person.

Technology is nothing more than a tool. It is a bat in the hands of Bryce Harper and a calculator on the desk of an engineer. It is a microphone for Beyonce, a computer for Mark Zuckerberg and an outfit made of meat for Lady Gaga. It is an implement that enables marketing people to do their job.

Want to succeed on social media? Hire a marketing major from the local university.Tell her to record a monthly video and post it on Google Hangouts or Periscope. Tell her to post one blog a week on your website and combine it with messaging on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Give her permission to log onto your social sites, even when mobile, and respond to any communications. Of course, supervise her. Give her ideas to write about, give her access to your employees and customers to interview. Read what she writes before she posts it. Have metrics to track your growth in followers, likes and fans.

What will happen? Eventually, you will have a growth in followers, likes and fans. Some of those people will buy from you.

Want to do a great newsletter? Hire someone to do it for you. Make him in charge of your monthly newsletter. Sign up for a good bulk-email service like Constant Contact, My Emma, A Weber or another. Have him manage your data. Give him ideas to write about, then let him do the research, interview the right people and produce the content. Review the content, of course. Then let him use these marketing tools to get it out and delivered. Have him provide metrics telling you who received, who opened and who clicked. Do this again and again, month after month, year after year. Over time, as your recipients are getting useful advice consistently from your company, a strange thing will happen: they will start remembering your company when it comes time to buy a product or service you provide.

With the right amount of effort, you’ll start getting leads from this, too.

There’s a cost, of course. You can probably pay a college kid minimum wage and promise them a great experience to add to their resume. Or you can pay someone older and more experienced from UpWork or Freelancer anywhere from $20-$150 an hour. You get what you pay for. My preference is to find someone local who can interact with you and your people, take photos and videos and get a good feel for your company.

Do you want to do a great mailing? A successful telemarketing campaign? A vibrant website? Do you want to maintain a complete and accurate database in your customer relationship management system?aEnsure that nothing falls through the cracks and every contact who gets entered there is “touched” by your company on a continuously? That’s marketing, and you’re not going to do this with just technology. You’re going to do this with a person who’s using the technology.

Don’t be a cheapskate, and don’t believe the stories software companies tell. They only want to sell you software. When you budget for your next technology purchase, budget for a person who you will be paying to own this technology and make it really work well. This is a cost no one tells you about. But it’s critical if you want to succeed.

And that’s the best marketing advice you’ve never received.

How Your Business Can Copy the Marketing Strategies of the Fortune 500

We’re so used to seeing the big brands. We see their ad campaigns and outputs so often that we sometimes forget something really obvious: How did these big companies become big?

Related: With Orgying Models and Public Breastfeeding, Are Equinox’s Latest Ads a Desperate Ploy or Pure Genius?

Sure, many of them had visionary leaders. Some even had massive marketing budgets. Some just had a few lucky strokes. But what about their marketing? The world’s most successful brands work hard and spend big to achieve their marketing goals.

And the fact that these companies are so enormous makes it important for them to work harder than ever at that marketing.

Obviously, no small business can copy the exact marketing moves of these brands; however, we can adopt their strategies on a smaller scale. Here are four such strategies that you can start using right away in your small business marketing plan.

1. Coca-Cola has kept its brand identity and product consistent for over 130 years.

Coca-Cola is the world’s most well-known brand. Its product is in every country and on every continent and reaches millions of consumers around the clock. But this reach doesn’t come cheap: Coca-Cola spends an estimated $4.3 billion on marketing and advertising alone. With a budget like that, you can do almost anything you want to do.

But rather than make radical moves, Coca-Cola has worked hard to stay the same. Its emblematic marketing features and products have changed very little in the company’s long history. Why does this matter?

As North Star Marketing has observed in question form:

The difference between a good brand and a great brand? Consistency.

Coca-Cola’s consistency is communicated in its iconic logo and its soft drink’s familiar taste. The company has paved the way for global domination.

Now, you may not have a single product such as Coca-Cola, but you can still practice rock-solid consistency. Many business owners are too quick to run after the shiny balls in marketing: Every so often they’ll add shiny tricks and ad hoc alterations to their marketing scheme in hopes of renewing their image and increasing their revenue.

But maybe there’s some wisdom in stability and dogged determination.

2. Apple satisfies the cravings of a passionate tribe.

Another of the world’s most famous brands is Apple. What is its marketing strategy? Apple created a movement.

This didn’t happen by accident. Everything about the company’s marketing and advertising produced visions of world-changing experiences. It adorned this vision with unprecedented technology and mind-blowing innovation.

Whether or not Apple’s products live up to the hype doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the company created the hype and turned ordinary citizens into a tribe of frenetic fans. How many times have you heard someone say, “Yeah, I’m a Microsoft fanboy,” or “I buy every new product that Microsoft produces” or “I waited in line for 12 hours to get my hands on a copy of Windows 7″?

Probably never, and it is unlikely that you ever will. But, with Apple? Definitely. Apple founded a tribe.

Can you? The answer is, “Of course!” even if your customer base isn’t as large or your product as expensive. Any brand can create raving fans through a few simple strategic mindsets:

  • Create an awesome product.
  • Deliver unparalleled customer experiences.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Related: 4 Millennial Marketing Tips From Taylor Swift

3. Colgate publishes top-notch information on oral health for its customers’ benefit.

You’ve probably used Colgate toothpaste before. Maybe you even used it this morning!

But Colgate doesn’t merely make toothpaste. It imparts oral-care education to the masses. It has an Oral Care Center that is packed with user-friendly information, and engaging videos that provide all sorts of preventative care how-tos.

Obviously, this type of content makes complete and logical sense for a toothpaste company. But it’s interesting to discover how Colgate’s technique can be applied to small businesses.

The company is doing content marketing here, plain and simple. Instead of merely shoving its products down customers’ throats (or mouths), Colgate is giving information.

Any small business can do the same thing: Identify your target audience members. Understand their needs. Deliver the kind of content that they want. Simple.

4. Starbucks takes social media to a whole new level.

Starbucks has a lot going for it in the marketing arena.

But when it comes to social strategy, Starbucks is an absolute genius.

Some 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies are active on Twitter and Facebook, but Starbucks takes this activity to a whole new level. Let’s take just one channel that the coffee company dominates and consider a few facts:

  • Starbucks makes smart use of gifs and videos in its Twitter feed.
  • Nearly every tweet has a custom image.
  • Outright marketing is slim and hard to notice.
  • Starbucks tweets back to its customers with emojis and full messages.
  • Oh, and its response time is
  • Starbucks publishes custom infographics just for Twitter.
  • Starbucks keeps a pulse on popular trends and tweets about them.
  • Starbucks dominates the hashtag world and owns several unique ones.

Clearly, Starbucks has a killer Twitter strategy. And so can you. It’s not hard to dominate Twitter. It might be hard to gain 11.1 million followers, but you don’t need millions of followers. You just need active and outstanding engagement with your followers.

It’s a marketing strategy that works.

Conclusion

Maybe you’re not Apple. Maybe you’re not Coca-Cola. Maybe that’s okay.

Marketing power doesn’t flow from big budgets, 130-year-old brands or even Steve Jobs.

As Roger Martin explained in the Harvard Business Review:

Good marketing and good strategy are both about making choices that build and maintain a particular set of capabilities that enable the company to outperform its competitors.

In other words, successful marketing depends on successful strategizing. By observing the marketing strategies of the world’s most successful businesses, we can learn to implement their marketing moves on a smaller scale.

You can produce the same red-hot marketing sizzle by embracing the strategies of the big boys.

What Fortune 500 marketing strategies do you think would be most effective in your small business?

How to Start a Business Online

kiThere is a proven sequence of steps you can follow to guarantee your success when you’re starting a small business online. I’ve seen thousands of people start and grow successful

businesses by doing the following:

  1. Find a need and fill it.
  2. Write copy that sells.
  3. Design and build an easy-to-use website.
  4. Use search engines to drive traffic to your site.
  5. Establish an expert reputation for yourself.
  6. Follow up with your customers and subscribers with e-mail.
  7. Increase your income through back-end sales and upselling.

Anyone, from newbie to seasoned online entrepreneur, can benefit from this process in learning how to start a business online.

Step 1: Find a need and fill it

Most people who are just starting out make the mistake of looking for a product first, and a market second.

To boost your chances of success, start with a market. The trick is to find a group of people who are searching for a solution to a problem, but not finding many results. The internet makes this kind of market research easy:

  • Visit online forums to see what questions people ask and what problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Do keyword research to find keywords that a lot of people are searching, but for which not many sites are competing.
  • Check out your potential competitors by visiting their sites and taking note of what they’re doing to fill the demand. Then you can use what you’ve learned and create a product for a market that already exists–and do it better than the competition.

Step 2: Write copy that sells

There’s a proven sales copy formula that takes visitors through the selling process from the moment they arrive to the moment they make a purchase:

  1. Arouse interest with a compelling headline.
  2. Describe the problem your product solves.
  3. Establish your credibility as a solver of this problem.
  4. Add testimonials from people who have used your product.
  5. Talk about the product and how it benefits the user.
  6. Make an offer.
  7. Make a strong guarantee.
  8. Create urgency.
  9. Ask for the sale.

Throughout your copy, you need to focus on how your product or service is uniquely able solve people’s problems or make their lives better. Think like a customer and ask “What’s in it for me?”

Step 3: Design and build your website

Once you’ve got your market and product, and you’ve nailed down your selling process, now you’re ready for your small-business web design. Remember to keep it simple. You have fewer than five seconds to grab someone’s attention–otherwise they’re gone, never to be seen again. Some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose one or two plain fonts on a white background.
  • Make your navigation clear and simple, and the same on every page.
  • Only use graphics, audio or video if they enhance your message.
  • Include an opt-in offer so you can collect e-mail addresses.
  • Make it easy to buy–no more than two clicks between potential customer and checkout.
  • Your website is your online storefront, so make it customer-friendly.

Step 4: Use search engines to drive targeted buyers to your site

Pay-per-click advertising is the easiest way to get traffic to a brand-new site. It has two advantages over waiting for the traffic to come to you organically. First, PPC ads show up on the search pages immediately, and second, PPC ads allow you to test different keywords, as well as headlines, prices and selling approaches. Not only do you get immediate traffic, but you can also use PPC ads to discover your best, highest-converting keywords. Then you can distribute the keywords throughout your site in your copy and code, which will help your rankings in the organic search results.

Step 5: Establish an expert reputation for yourself

People use the internet to find information. Provide that information for free to other sites, and you’ll see more traffic and better search engine rankings. The secret is to always include a link to your site with each tidbit of information.

  • Give away free, expert content. Create articles, videos or any other content that people will find useful. Distribute that content through online article directories or social media sites.
  • Include “send to a friend” links on valuable content on your website.
  • Become an active expert in industry forums and social networking sites where your target market hangs out.

You’ll reach new readers. But even better, every site that posts your content will link back to yours. Search engines love links from relevant sites and will reward you in the rankings.

Step 6: Use the power of e-mail marketing to turn visitors into buyers.

When you build an opt-in list, you’re creating one of the most valuable assets of your online business. Your customers and subscribers have given you permission to send them e-mail. That means:

  • You’re giving them something they’ve asked for.
  • You’re developing lifetime relationships with them.
  • The response is 100 percent measurable.
  • E-mail marketing is cheaper and more effective than print, TV or radio because it’s highly targeted.

Anyone who visits your site and opts in to your list is a very hot lead. And there’s no better tool than e-mail for following up with those leads.

Step 7: Increase your income through back-end sales and upselling

One of the most important internet marketing strategies is to develop every customer’s lifetime value. At least 36 percent of people who have purchased from you once will buy from you again if you follow up with them. Closing that first sale is by far the most difficult part–not to mention the most expensive. So use back-end selling and upselling to get them to buy again:

  • Offer products that complement their original purchase.
  • Send out electronic loyalty coupons they can redeem on their next visit.
  • Offer related products on your “Thank You” page after they purchase.

Reward your customers for their loyalty and they’ll become even more loyal.

The internet changes so fast that one year online equals about five years in the real world. But the principles of how to start and grow a successful online business haven’t changed at all. If you’re just starting a small business online, stick to this sequence. If you’ve been online awhile, do a quick review and see if there’s a step you’re neglecting, or never got around to doing in the first place. You can’t go wrong with the basics.

Sticked