Marketing is at the core of any business. Often misunderstood, it is not advertising - though advertising is a part of marketing. Marketing encompasses who you are selling to, what your product is and how to create the transaction between business and customer. It entails all the steps and strategies necessary to capture your audience's attention and to make the sale.
Everything marketing starts at the center of it all, the target market. From that point there are four "P's" that lead the way into the marketplace. Business owners must understand their Product, Pricing, Place and Promotion and how these relate to their target market if they are to be successful.
This is where it begins. Your target market is the customer base you are trying to reach. The more we know about who they are the better we can reach them and design our products to best fit their needs. Here are a few things we might want to know about our target market:
- Basic demographics: Age, gender, ethnicity, income level, education level, marital status
- Psychographics: What do they value? What is their personality like? Their lifestyle? Do they have other hobbies or interests?
- Competition: What competitors are they drawn to? Who are my competitors targeting and why?
Not all of the above will always be applicable, but tracking this type of information is a good starting point. It is also helpful to consider your top current customers. What do they have in common? Begin to jot down specific information you know about each of them. What overlaps? Your best customers might be a good indicator of who you are best serving, and hence your target market.
The first P of marketing is "Product", which can be an actual physical product or a service. What need is the product filling for the customer? How is our product different and better than our competitors? Marketers also need to consider basics attributes, such as the color or size of the product.
On top of this, we need to consider the product's features vs benefits. Features are those items that are objective and stay with the product. For example, a feature of my laptop is that it has 16GB of Ram. Benefits are perceived or emotional attributes. For example, my Apple Macbook Pro makes me feel prestigious and more creative. Know what your customers desire. Are they concerned more with the features or perceived benefits?
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There are a few components in the Place portion of the marketing mix. First, how do we plan to reach our customers? Are we selling directly through a retail space? Or are we going to wholesale our product to retailers? Second, we need to know where our customers will access our products. Are we selling online, brick and mortar or both? If we have as service based product, do we go onsite to meet the client or do they come to us (think consultant vs attorney).
The key with determining your Place strategy is knowing where your target market wants to or is willing to go to purchase your product or service. Being a coffee roaster and selling beans online might be a good place to meet your customers. Creating custom surfboards and trying to sell them online might not be a good fit. Again, it goes back to where the target market shops and what is most convenient for them.
The Price component seems to get the most attention with small business owners. How does your price compare with your competitors? We will need to consider how price sensitive our customers are - are they looking for the best deals or are they willing to pay extra for increased perceived value? We also need to consider discounts and coupons; is that something we will use? Some retailers, such as JC Penny, have gotten into trouble by constantly providing coupons and discounts. They have done it so frequently that their customers now expect it and refuse to shop at regular price. How will discounts impact your brand? Will it cheapen it?
This is where most people start with marketing, under the assumption that marketing is advertising. To be effective at promotion we need to know where to promote. If we're considering a magazine advertisement, in which magazine will our target customers see our ad? If I make really nice golf clubs I am probably not going to advertise in a surfer magazine, as I doubt many surfers are also golfers. I am likely going to look at golf or business magazines, seeing how the biggest business deals are made on the golf course. I also need to consider when to promote and if there are any seasonal issues. In the Pacific Northwest the late fall and winter are not popular golfing times, so promoting during the rainy season is likely less effective than spring.
Also, take a look at how your competitors are promoting their products and services. When and where are they promoting? Who is likely seeing those ads? This may influence the route you take for your own business.
Putting it Together
The most important part of the marketing mix is putting it all together in a cohesive manner. Each of your four P's must be in alignment with one another, and all go through and must consider your target market. For example, you might make the best snowboards in the world (Product) and can offer them at a very competitive price (Price), but you're selling them in Arizona (Place) where few people snowboard. If one of the four P's is out of line, the whole marketing strategy begins to collapse. Also, if the four P's are in perfect alignment but you are chasing the wrong target market you will see very disappointing results.
This is merely a quick rundown of marketing strategy, but it should be enough to get you thinking. How are you currently marketing your product? Were you in the mindset that marketing was just advertising? Take time and some effort to list out each of the four P's and where you stand in each. Are they in agreement? Is your target market at the center of it all?
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(price as of Aug 6, 2015)