By Martin Zwilling
Even with instant two-way communication via the Internet and mobile phones, your greatest new solution or service won’t found or properly recognized without marketing. The challenge is to rise above the clutter, and stand out in the rush of over 500,000 other new businesses that get started in the U.S. every month. I find that digital marketing is the most visible and effective place to start.
Even within the digital marketing arena, there are a thousand alternatives, vying for your limited budget. Should you be buying key words from search engines, building fabulous web content, blasting out e-mail campaigns, or putting all your efforts into viral videos or social media? In fact, the first challenge is to build a strategy, put together a budget, and define measurement metrics.
As an advisor to many entrepreneurs and small businesses, I often get asked where to start, and how to proceed. In that context I offer the following practical steps and priorities:
Focus on a unique selling point (USP) for your offering. Digital marketing is all about establishing a voice and sending a message that customers can relate too, and makes you stand out. My advice is to keep it simple but memorable, and pick something you can highlight with pictures and videos. Put your customer at the top, rather than technology.
Research the top digital channels for your business today. There is no one best channel for all businesses. For young consumers today, it may be Instagram or Snapchat, while B2B offerings should take a hard look at LinkedIn and other business forums. Prioritize the list by customer reach, effort required by you, as well as cost.
Select no more than three that match your needs initially. You can’t do everything that you would like, even if you had the money. Resist the urge to try the latest “hot new channel,” just because all your friends are talking about it. Set specific objectives, budgets, and metrics for each one. Pick a theme and a team for each and get started.
Start creating content to get visibility and build a following. Here is where you may need outside expert help to be effective. Traditional marketing hype won’t get you the attention you need. Today’s audience is looking for something more creative, more visual, engaging, and interactive. Here is where you have to think outside the box.
Concentrate on building your brand image and message. Now is the time to integrate and solidify your brand across all the channels and platforms you have selected. You need to hone your design and tone, taking a strategic approach to establish brand recognition in your marketplace, all while keeping your target audience on top of mind.
Expand marketing in channels that work and add others. Based on metrics, revenue growth, and customer feedback, it’s now time to prune digital channels that don’t work for you, experiment with new ones, and expand your efforts where you see success. Content that works should be relentlessly repurposed, from web site to social media, events, etc.
Add elements of traditional marketing to maximize visibility. While non-digital marketing typically costs more money, it may be required to reach all elements of your audience. There are still customers who won’t give your brand total credibility until it appears on television ads, in newspapers, direct marketing, and at trade shows.
In every case, I have found that marketing is more important than ever for the growth and visibility of a new brand, and digital marketing is the most effective and the least expensive way to start. Yet it shouldn’t be done without careful planning and effort. Entrepreneurs who strike out randomly on every digital channel they know, using family and interns, are wasting their efforts.
Even less effective are those who still believe that “if we build it, they will come.” It’s time to be proactive in finding customers, engaging them in two-way conversations, and listening carefully to their message, as well as projecting yours. It’s not the size of your budget that makes you memorable – it’s the size of your connection with real customers who can multiply your efforts.
The writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and Angel investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, and others.