Understanding your market

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Last week’s article focussed on Business Plans; what should be in them and why you should write one. One of the key pieces of information required is of course sales figures, both actual numbers for historic sales and those forecast for the future. It is also very important to include the assumptions and how you market your goods in order to achieve those sales. It is those subjects that I am going to focus on this time.

But first, something of a confession. For those of you that have read this entire series of ‘A Mentor’s Perspective’ you might remember that in the second article I wrote about how to work with a mentor and how to choose one in the first place. I have also said that I personally am both a general and a Fintech mentor and that my background is more in finance than in sales and marketing. The area of sales and marketing is both wide and complex, and like any other aspect of your business it depends on the specific characteristics of your product or service, together with your market, as to how you would go about marketing and maximising sales. To help you identify what is best for your own business it is best of course to discuss matters with a mentor or other expert with relevant expertise.

There are, however, some things to research and some very easy questions that should be asked first about your particular product and market:

  • Does your product have special features that buyers would be prepared to pay extra for?
  • Is your product aimed at the premium or budget end of the market?
  • How unique is your product? Does it disrupt the marketplace?
  • Who is your competition? Small / big? Local / domestic / international?
  • Where do you sell to and what are your ambitions? Local / domestic / export?
  • How scalable is your business and how quickly can you do it?
  • Who are your typical customers?
  • Does your product have eco / green / environmental or other aspects that will have appeal to certain buyers? If so, be sure to promote them.

The initial research is vital. Once you have a good idea of the answers to the questions above, you can then start to turn your attention to how your product is best marketed. You should of course start with the ones that any business should have, such as a good brand, logo, and design, and this should all be incorporated into a very professional looking website. The domain name must be either the company name or maybe something with a very obvious link, and the site should be clear and easily navigable, and load quickly on both computers and smartphones. In writing the wording it is important that the site’s ranking on Google searches is considered so you need to understand how SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) works. Along with a website, make sure that you use social media to the best advantage also.

Depending on your product and the target client, different types of marketing will have the biggest effect and, just as importantly, the biggest return on the cost. These range from the basic and more general steps to the more sophisticated and targeted techniques, but remember how important it is to fully analyse any marketing spend in order to understand what actually works best for you. Whatever size your business is most companies should be looking to spend at least 5% of turnover on their various marketing campaigns.

Here are just some marketing methods an early stage business might use as well as a website:

  • Quality business cards
  • Attending / speaking at networking events
  • Having a stand at a trade show
  • Host events and invite existing and potential clients
  • Using a freemium (basic part free but with paid for extra content) model on your website
  • Capture as many email and contact details as possible from website visitors so you can do regular newsletters to build loyalty and retain customer engagement
  • Quality and eye catching packaging and signage at point of sale
  • In house promotions at retail outlets or flash sales online
  • Get interviewed by local press or do advertorials (a promotional editorial for a publication)
  • Advertise in targeted publications
  • Targeted email or postal campaign or phone calls with identified individuals
  • Partner with another company with complimentary products
  • Customer endorsements

Having set out the building blocks it is important to put all this into context. Have a defined strategy and know exactly what results you are looking for from each type of marketing activity, that is, maybe brand awareness from one campaign and a specific number of new clients from another. That way it is easy to measure what works and what does not. Give each campaign time to work but don’t keep pushing a very obviously dead campaign, so set a time limit to assess progress. Make sure that any staff or partners are aware of any marketing that you are doing as this may provide added leverage. Lastly, be bold and brave. If the campaign fails it will be forgotten about very quickly but it is the braver campaigns that have the most impact and are remembered the longest.

Next time I will look at another aspect of being a Mentor and try to offer some guidance on another area that startups and early stage businesses often wish to discuss.