Strategic Marketing Techniques, by Omagbitse Barrow

Strategic Marketing Techniques, by Omagbitse Barrow

As a sales leader or business owner you must recognize that there is no one-size fits all approach to marketing. Rather you should explore and tap into various approaches to marketing that may suit the specific needs of your products and/or customers. To do this, you first need to have a practical understanding of as many marketing approaches as possible, and then decide which one aligns best with your products and your prospects. Savvy sales leaders and business owners do not try to implement every marketing idea or tactic that they come across, rather they should learn about what the tactic seeks to achieve, and how it suits their specific products/customers. Staying at the cutting edge of marketing and sales requires you to understand these approaches, and here are a number of them that are most popular that you can learn and apply:

  • Advertizing: Traditional advertising involves the use of conventional media – newspapers, television and radio. It also involves the use of banners, posters, fliers and handbills to provide basic information about your products and services to the general public. Advertizing on conventional media can be quite costly and it is sometimes difficult to quantify success and impact because of its “mass media approach”. Small businesses often use a lot of fliers, handbills and posters. When using these you get the chance of being a bit more targeted by focusing your distribution to specific people or areas that you believe constitute your target customers. For example, you can decide to give out fliers after Church on Sundays to mothers if you are selling household or children related products. Experience suggests that just like traditional advertising, even the use of fliers and handbills may not be very effective especially if you cannot find the right audience to whom to distribute. Your fliers may end up being used to wrap akara (bean cakes) or groundnuts that are sold by the road-side rather than getting into the hands of those who are more likely to purchase your product.
  • Trade Marketing: Some businesses have their products being sold at supermarkets or large departmental stores. Trade marketing involves creating excitement at the point of sale to attract customers to your products. There are a number of well-established brands that use trade marketing quite effectively. When you go to large departmental stores you may see young people dressed up in branded T shirts and face caps urging you to purchase or sometimes just sample some product – toothpaste, food or drink. Essentially what they are doing is called Trade Marketing. You too can apply trade marketing to your products in many ways. If you have your products on the shelves at a supermarket, you can get permission to have one or two of your well-branded employees walk around the supermarket, hand out fliers or free samples of your product. You could also get the staff at the pay-out cashiers wearing your face caps, giving out promotional items to all customers (whether they are buying your products or not) or even giving out branded shopping bags to all at the check-out counters. By doing any or all of these you can create a higher level of excitement about your products and attract people who may hitherto not have noticed your products.
  • Internet & Social Media: The internet and social media have become a powerful medium for marketing business products and services. There are a number of alternatives to business owners, including but not limited to having a website to talk about your company and products; an on-line store where some of those products can be actually purchased; placing your products/services on third party on-line stores to take advantage of their heavier internet traffic; promoting your products/services via conversations on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube or through a blog a blog that you write. Online providers such as Google, yahoo and Twitter also provide advertising platforms that are also available to business owners. The cost of advertising on social media seems to be catching up on the cost of traditional media especially as more people spend time on the internet. However, the opportunities that the internet and social media offers are limitless – your adverts and posts are available to prospective clients anywhere in the world, and with lots of advancements in online targeted advertising, you may be getting better value on the internet. What is most interesting about the internet from a publicity perspective is that every traditional media house now has an internet presence: Cable TV stations, Newspapers, Terrestrial TV stations and even Radio Stations are now all available on the internet. When you sell products whose target demographic includes Young professionals, University Students and upwardly mobile and trendy senior managers and executives, the internet and social media is a powerful place to be. Today, many prospective customers will say that when they are looking for things to buy, their first instinct is go on the internet – the question is: will they find your business when they get there?
  • Trade Shows: Trade shows are a very powerful way to get your products seen by prospective customers. So, if you are selling a physical product, or something you can display, a trade show is a great place to be. Typically, organizers of the show/exhibition would do a lot of marketing to attract potential customers who may be interested in the kind of products you are offering. Sometimes, groups of business professionals in related industries or in industries with similar clients organize trade shows together. For example, a school can work with stationery stores, book publishers, uniform makers, school resource providers to have a School Fair. Usually the fairs and trade shows are supported with other activities – lectures, workshops for Technology Fairs and maybe Games and Toys for School Fairs. Putting together a fair is a lot of hard work, but business owners working together and pooling their contacts and resources together can organize very successful events and get the results they desire. You can also participate in trade shows/fairs organized by others. Before taking a decision to do so, take time to ask about their track record from previous events and their marketing strategy. There are occasions where you pay to exhibit at a trade show/fair and get a very poor turnout. Beyond the actual sales that you can make at such fairs they are a powerful way of getting contacts – as people walk by offer something free in exchange for their business cards, this way you can use those contacts for some focused selling post-event.
  • Thought Leadership: When we discuss consultative selling, we will focus on thought leadership – positioning yourself as an expert in a particular field or industry and using this positioning as a basis to attract and grow your client base. To position yourself as a thought leader, you can get involved in writing articles about your industry in leading industry journals, magazines or newspapers, speaking on radio and television programmes, having a blog where your thoughts on the subject can be expressed and discussed and speaking at conferences and seminars where people related to your industry and issues relating to your industry are discussed. You can also create a newsletter and send it out to your customers and prospects on a periodic basis. Thought leadership can work for almost any business. For example, if you owned a restaurant, you can build a thought leadership series around healthy eating and living; if you own a spa, your thought leadership could focus on lifestyle management and stress; financial consultants can build thought leadership in financial management while schools can build thought leadership in raising children.
  • Direct Marketing: This involves unsolicited marketing directly to your customers. It can be done via personal solicitation, i.e. moving from one place to another with your product or via direct mailing – sending information about your product or service to specific customers. With personal solicitation, you find some businesses identifying specific areas where they have potential clients and literarily “knocking on doors” to canvass their business. Business people selling clothes and books tend to this quite often, using the trunk of their cars as a store and moving from one office building to another selling their products. Direct marketing was made popular by American rap artist, Master P who built an enviable reputation selling music records from behind his car, assuming the role of music producer, composer, performer and marketer, and avoiding the multiple layers of wholesalers and retailers that typically get music to the ultimate consumers. Some businesses also solicit business from prospects through direct mailing – sending out letters, promotional materials and fliers regarding their products and services directly to the homes and offices of customers and potential customers. For example, a laundry service opened up recently, and to attract customers wrote letters and had them delivered to the each of the homes in housing estates around. The letters did get the attention of a few of the residents (at least it got me) and we started to patronize the laundry. Direct marketing can be very powerful, may not be very expensive, and puts you in the face of customers and prospects in a way that ensures that you get real feedback regarding your product. There is a little joke about using evangelical preachers like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons as Direct Marketing Agents based on their experience with “overcoming rejection” when they are on their preaching duties moving from house to house. Interestingly, large commercial banks all over the world and particularly in Africa are using the Direct Sales Model to grow their retail banking business – engaging Direct Sales Agents to canvass for business in shopping and business districts, bringing the business of banking directly to the customers.
  • Referral Marketing: Referrals are no doubt one of the most powerful tools for selling and acquiring new customers for any business. A referral is an introduction from a satisfied customer to a prospect to purchase your products or services. The key issue with referrals is that for a successful referral to be made, your existing customer must be SATISFIED with your service. Referrals are therefore predicated on a successful relationship with existing customers. Typically, when existing customers are satisfied, they may give unsolicited referrals – referrals that you didn’t ask for, but they just give: either because someone asks them for a service provider or because they are so excited about your service that they “go tell it on the mountain”. The other type of referral is solicited, and this is usually done when business owners promise an incentive to their existing customers for successfully introducing new customers to them. Businesses who sell physical products as well as services can build referral programs, offering discounts to existing customers who successfully introduce their family, friends and relatives. Referral marketing has been taken to the next level of “Network Marketing”, deployed by some companies around the world where commissions are paid for “introducing” your family, friends and colleagues to a product and a network of referrals are built around you from which you continuously earn commissions as your network grows. Very popular in this regard are Mary Kay, Forever Living Products, GNLD, Organo Gold amongst others. One very distinct thing about such companies is that Referral Marketing is their only type of marketing. They typically do not do any other form of sales promotion or advertising – leaving that to the members of their networks, thereby empowering their existing customers, rather than paying huge sums for other types of advertising. Another striking characteristic of successful network marketing companies is that they usually have very “high quality” products and have a long trail of VERY SATISFIED customers. Referral marketing can only work when customers are satisfied, so if you want to tap into the immense opportunities available through referral marketing then, you must ensure that your product or service is truly world class and that your customers and prospects appreciate this.
  • Relationship Marketing: This approach to marketing requires you to put in place structures that help you build a relationship with your customers and sell your products continuously based on this relationship. At the heart of relationship marketing is customer information – typically referred to as a Customer Relationship Management System (CRMS) that stores information about your customers including their personal details (contacts, birthdays, family information and important anniversaries), as well as buying patterns and preferences for your customers. Using this information, you can build a stronger connection with your customers and influence them into future purchases. You may have observed that different businesses in Europe and the Americas solicit all sorts of information about their customers; retailers offer discount cards, airlines offer loyalty cards, books shops and hotels do the same. They are all trying to build data to be able to influence customers to buy more in future. Their systems allow them to send customized birthday and anniversary greetings via sms or email, and sometimes even a physical card or gift. By tracking your previous purchases, they are able to make recommendations on similar products or services which may interest you (Amazon and the other online stores do this quite well), and they are able to offer you new products and sometimes significant discounts on things that they know may pique your interest. Relationship marketing requires smart systems and data gathering that can be easily achieved today with a variety of mobile apps and software. It is absolutely tragic that anyone selling a fast moving consumer product directly to consumers and still does not have some way of gathering data from the customers and putting that data to work in relationship marketing.
  • Free: Without doubt, FREE is becoming the most popular approach to sales and marketing across all types of products and services. It relies heavily on the adage: “the taste of the pudding is in the eating” and it simply works by giving out something free to potential customers a a precursor to eventually getting them to pay for something else in future. So restaurants offer free meals and samples, trainers offer free training, yoga and dance instructors offer free sessions, and so do masseuses and gym instructors. So long as something can be paid for, it can be offered free. This tactic is used especially as an entry strategy for new businesses or for existing businesses with new products or in new geographies. It is very powerful because it allows your customers to appreciate your solution first-hand, give you valuable feedback and helps you garner a track record where you hitherto had none. From having no customers you can grow a healthy book of customers using FREE. The end-game of FREE however is that the customers who you have given it to have a genuine interest for what you are offering, enjoy the sample that they have received and have the ability to make purchases in future. Therefore, it is very important that your choice of potential recipients of FREE reflects some of these underlying characteristics as it will increase the chance of success with the tactic. Also, when you use FREE, you should incorporate some of the key elements of relationship marketing, so that you can follow-up on the potential customers and create some value for your business. Finally, there are a few variants to the FREE tactic that are very common today – “Buy one Get one Free” and other special offers are also in the FREE family. Essentially, they offer you a very deep discount for purchasing the product. Offering samples like book chapters and summaries for FREE to customers may get them hooked on the material and desirous of purchasing the entire item.

These approaches to marketing and sales are by no means exhaustive. Your role as a business owner is to understand these various approaches, try to see what works for your industry, product and customers and then work hard to implement them. You can also be “disruptive” – you can tweak these approaches even if traditionally they do not seem to align with your industry or product and ensure that you can bring it to life for your customers and your business. By reading, observing and learning from other businesses and being audacious enough to COPY you can also creatively introduce different variants of these approaches into your business. Sales and marketing require a lot of creativity, so do think outside the box as you apply these approaches to your business.

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