With this post I’ll start the first in a series of posts about Marketing Online. I have found online marketing an extremely fascinating subject on many levels. Firstly because it can be such an effective and inexpensive tool to get more clients, and the results can be seen almost instantly. The sad part is that there’s an ocean of misinformation about the subject out there. It’s very easy to get lost and overwhelmed with all the hype and noise. Throughout my career as a web designer I learned valuable lessons about this topic, and here I’ll share my insights about the online marketing space and where it’s heading. If you grasp and apply the simple lessons contained here you can gain a huge advantage in the web. This is geared towards creative professionals like graphic and web designers, but the same principles apply to almost any business. You can be the most talented professional in your field, but if you don’t know how to market yourself and your services you’ll struggle. On the other hand if you know how to market with consistent effort you can become a rock star and have clients knocking at your door in no time. So let’s start with the basics shall we?
What is marketing?
Marketing is simply knowing how to communicate effectively with your customers. The best marketers are masters at connecting with their target audience by using different means. TV advertising, print advertising, direct marketing, event marketing, guerrilla marketing, content marketing, and online marketing are all different doorways that lead to your prospects. For the purposes of this post we’ll focus on Internet Marketing alone, and leave the other stuff to MadMen. But before we dive into online marketing lets talk a bit about the medium where this communication will happen. Specifically, the internet.
What is the Matrix?
If you want to successfully market online the first thing you must understand is the fundamental nature of the Internet. The main currency of the web is information. This is why people pay for their internet service. They want to consume information in massive amounts. Content is just a fancy word for structured information that can be delivered in different ways like text, video, audio, etc. The most successful online marketers fully understand this underlying principle. This is the basic logic: Give people the content they want, and they’ll instantly like you. If they like you, they’ll trust you. If they trust you, they’ll buy from you. Now this doesn’t sound very complicated, but doing this right is harder than it may appear. Creating content is a process and it does involve hard work but if done right it’s impact is quite impressive. So to improve your online marketing success you need to produce good content and share it with the world. This approach coupled with basic marketing principles that apply to marketing in general as well can dramatically alter your marketing reality. But we’ll get into content marketing in a future post. Let’s go back to basic online marketing.
What about Online Marketing?
Nowadays it’s mandatory to have a website if you want to connect with your audience, but this is only one way to market online. Another method is online advertising and it can be accomplished through pay-per-click or Search Engine Marketing and media buys or banner advertising. Search Engine Optimization is another way to tap into a market by structuring HTML code on a website in a way that facilitates search engine indexing. Today social media is all the rage and everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. But the truth is Facebook, Twitter, SEO, SEM, and your website are simply tools. These are just a handful of the many online channels you can use to reach your audience. And all these marketing channels can be rendered useless very quickly if you don’t know the fundamentals of marketing. Fundamentals like knowing who your market is or defining your Unique Selling Proposition(USP). But what if you don’t know who your market is or what your USP is? We’ll today’s your lucky day because that’s what this post will hopefully clear up for you. And it is the first step in marketing effectively.
Throw out your Business Plan
One thing you must realize is that it’s not about your products, services, business or your business plan. Besides, business plans are just guesses. A business is all about finding a solution to a real problem people are having and are willing to pay money for. So in the end it’s all about your customer. If you can’t articulate what problem you’re solving for other people it’s time to do your homework. And the best way to do this is to observe, listen, and research. Let me give you an example. We’ll take graphic design. This profession fills a real need, and people are willing to pay money for this service. So here you have a solution. As a graphic designer you can help people with their branding, their business cards, brochures, stationery, etc. So you found a hole to fill. Great! But you’re only halfway there. And this is where most fall short. If you want to be ultra successful you must dig deeper.
Why are you unique?
To answer this question I will ask another question that is a bit less subjective. Who are the people you’re trying to serve? If you don’t know who your market is it will be very difficult for you to find customers. And following the graphic designer example above, if your answer is anyone who needs graphic design, good luck with that. Join the ranks of millions of graphic designers who do just that, but don’t achieve satisfying results with their business. You will get customers using this approach, but it might not be pretty. Just consider the size of the internet, the amount of information out there, the amount of competition, and add to that all the noise. What makes you think customers will find you simply because you’re out there with the rest of the world shouting me, me, me, pick me, but doing nothing differently? To get really powerful with your marketing you need to be unique. And you can do this by asking yourself what specific group of people could use your services. Why? Because it actually allows you to a) know precisely who your customers are, b) communicate better with your customers, c) become an authority within your niche, d) charge more for specialized services, and e) set you apart from the rest of the professionals out there.
When you select a niche you position yourself by making your services unique to a group of people. And these people will run to you for help because you’re directly addressing their needs. A jack of all trades is a master of none, and will always find himself broke. Specializing allows you to dominate a market. So what’s your USP? If you don’t have a specialty pick one. Do some research and figure out what type of client work you’ve done in the past, what type of work you really enjoy, and come up with a few answers. Being a graphic designer is not a unique talent. But if you tell me you’re a graphic designer that specializes in branding for museums and art galleries, that’s a different story.
One of the best examples of differentiation as a marketing strategy is Apple. From the very beginning Steve Jobs had a clear vision that his computers would be different. He also selected a target market, creatives, and made the computer technologically unique, to stand out from the rest of PC’s by offering superior graphics and design centric software. I think Steve Jobs knew what he was doing.
So now you also know that the first step to marketing successfully is specialization. This allows you to stand out from the crowd by offering a unique service. It also lets you identify your customers with much more accuracy. This knowledge alone will set you apart from the vast majority of your peers. So now it’s time to do your homework and find out why you’re unique in a sea of competitors. In the following post I’ll cover the next step in the formula: How to find prospects and clients.