A DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING

Small business marketing is a crucial part of the marketing discipline.

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in emerging nations contribute approximately 40% of the GDP with the majority falling in the informal sector. 

They represent 90% of the businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. No doubt, MSMEs play a crucial role in tackling poverty and ensuring meaningful, profitable engagement and the empowerment of citizens.

Businesses have many hurdles to overcome, MSMEs are typically more vulnerable than bigger players in the market. Between the years 2012 and 2016 for example, it’s estimated that approximately 2.2 million MSMEs were closed.

Whilst there are a number of reasons for struggles in the MSME sector, marketing plays a significant role and many would profit from a better understanding of the discipline.

The Role of Small Business Marketing

Most people understand marketing as selling and advertising of products and services.

More recently, with the growth of the digital space, marketing has been understood as the promotion of products and services primarily on social media. These are parts of marketing; they do not represent the whole.

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), “Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Businesses exist to foresee or predict customer desires and then match or exceed them. As they do this the desired return is profit.

To do this, one must have a deep understanding of the marketplace, tap into trends, and create solutions promptly and that can be easily accessed by the target market.

When MSMEs have a good grasp of the discipline of marketing, they increase their odds of surviving and thriving.

The onset of mobile and digital technology has improved business and additionally, has provided tools to make marketing more targeted, relevant, and effective.

As a result, competition is rife, more than has been seen before. Marketing efforts that are well constructed and executed will certainly give a business a competitive edge.

The 7Ps of Small Business Marketing

It’s clear that marketing is more than advertising and selling. Considering CIM’s definition of marketing, what does it take to identify, anticipate, and satisfy customer requirements profitably?

To answer this question, let’s consider the concept of the marketing mix. The marketing mix refers to the set of tools, actions, and tactics that an organization employs to bring its product or service to the market.

Traditionally, these were the 4Ps referring to product, price, place, and promotion. Basically, how to produce, how to charge for products, how to ensure accessibility of products to target customers, and how to inform customers about products.

As the discipline of marketing became more sophisticated, 3 additional Ps were included, people, process, and physical evidence.

These refer to those who represent your organization that will come in contact with existing and potential customers, the involvement of discovering your organization to purchase and beyond, and the experience of being present in your physical and/or virtual spaces as well as any other material associated with the organization such as brochures.

Market Research and Planning

Before engaging any of the 7Ps, it’s a smart idea to undertake research and plan.

Though this is a starting point, it is a perpetual activity as the environment in which businesses operate is ever-evolving and it’s imperative to remain relevant. This is done by continuously tweaking marketing efforts to meet trends.

To do this, organizations audit the macro environment, that is, the set of forces that are not controlled by the organization but influence the organization. These are demographic, political, cultural, social, economic, technological, and legal forces.

Then they consider the microenvironment, forces that directly affect the organization, and their position in it. It includes employees, suppliers, customers, retailers, and distributors, the general public, competitors, shareholders, and the media.

Once these have been identified, then, the organization carefully considers the resources it can optimally utilize to play its part and make a profit.

With the above undertaken, a marketing plan is developed. It defines the company’s mission, target market, unique selling proposition, objectives, strategy, tactics, performance measures, and financial budget.

Most MSMEs do not have a written marketing plan. Research shows that most business owners in this category believe that a good product will cause them to win customers.

In the 1900s business owners may have got away with this. We are now in the 21st century, putting too much weight on the P of a product is not a winning idea.

Additionally, drafting a marketing plan will compel the business owner to consider factors not just in marketing but in other areas of business that likely would have been overlooked.

There’s plenty of information that’s offered for free online on developing a marketing plan including templates that one can take advantage of.

Even if your business has been in existence for several years, if you’ve never developed a marketing plan then you still can, and if you already have one in place, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on it as market planning is an iterative, ongoing process.

The 7Ps Explained Further

A marketing plan allows a business to tailor its 7Ps to address customer needs, competition, and the marketing environment.

The first P is the product. To be successful, organizations develop products that their customers want with the right level of quality to meet and preferably exceed expectations.

They then set a competitive price (not necessarily the cheapest). The more value you can give to the product; the more willing customers will be to pay.

When it comes to place, this refers to having the product available in good condition, when it is expected, every time it’s expected. This isn’t easy especially for products that quickly expire such as newspapers and milk. Getting the route-to-market strategy right is very important.

Promotion is the way a company communicates what it does and what it can offer customers. This includes PR, advertising, branding, digital outreach, special offers, exhibitions, amongst others.

Every staff member who comes into contact with a customer will make an impression. It’s important to ensure that your levels of customer service meet expectations and that every person in the organization goes through the necessary training to ensure they deliver.

The people aspect of your business is critical because no matter how much is spent on other forms of promotion, an encounter with a member of staff who doesn’t meet customer expectations will do your business a major disservice.

Customers want easy, smooth transactions when they interact with organizations. Interestingly, some customers will settle for a product that’s lower in quality than another simply because the process from discovery to purchase and beyond is easier. The simpler the process, the more appealing it is to engage with a particular business.

The organization’s physical and virtual spaces speak a lot to customers. When considering physical evidence, think about anything or anyone that can represent the look and feel of your organization.

This includes the likes of your website, promotional materials, staff uniform, social media pages, office space, amongst others. These have the potential to communicate the brand of your company.

It’s a good idea for example to keep a clean and well-designed physical space. A virtual space should be appealing to the eye and not be too wordy or filled with too many graphics.

Most banks do a great job when it comes to physical evidence. When inside a Standard Chartered banking hall, for example, it’s clear that it’s Standard Chartered bank; no detail has been overlooked.

As an MSME if you consider the 7Ps of marketing as described above, then you’ll be covering your marketing efforts well.

In Conclusion

Directing any business is not a small feat. I salute especially those who are in the MSME sector because the risks involved are high. It takes a lot of grit and resilience to succeed.

Fortunately, I’m aware that most who direct these MSMEs are unremitting learners and with that, I recommend strongly understanding marketing and its principles.

Marketing in the last 20 years has evolved so fast it leaves one’s head spinning. Mastering digital marketing can prove difficult.

If your organization has the budget, I recommend either a digital marketing consultant or agency to help draft and execute a suitable plan. Study digital marketing to the extent that’s possible.

If you already have in-house experts, then the better for you. Hiring digital marketing experts may also be a good idea once you consider all the pros and cons.

The other advantage is that ideally digital marketing experts also have a good understanding of marketing generally. Other marketing functions that can be delegated include design and branding.

Marketing is fun but more importantly, marketing is a function that if done right, brings revenue to the organization.

Further reading on small business marketing

Books

  1. The 1-Page Marketing Plan: Get New Customers, Make More Money, And Stand out From The Crowd
  2. Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too
  3. Dotcom Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Growing Your Company Online with Sales Funnels
  4. Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection from Cold Calling

By: Marion Wakahe– Marketing specialist

Email: mwakahe@gmail.com

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