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Help! I forgot to plan for holiday marketing! What now?

It’s common marketing knowledge that you should start your holiday season marketing planning as early as August. And if you need to bring in inventory to support it, you should have really started planning right after last year’s holiday season. And common knowledge here is correct – you absolutely should plan early.

But, as with many marketing best practices, starting really early isn’t always realistic for smaller businesses, especially those struggling with their marketing function. (Hey! Need help with that?) It’s pretty common to instead feel like the holiday season is an out of control freight train screaming down on you.

So, what can you do if you’ve gotten this far (early December) without doing, well, anything? Do you have any hope? 

Well, sure.

How to salvage your holiday marketing

1) It may not be too late!

Sure, some crazy-organized people start their Christmas shopping as early as September, but there’s a lot of us that wait until the very last minute. As long as you don’t rely on the already-burdened shipping companies to get products to customers, there’s no reason you can’t throw a last-minute-shopper’s sale right up to the, well, last minute. 

Unlike in the past, when you needed to get your media buys together months in advance, the great thing about digital marketing is you can slap up an ad tomorrow. Or send out an email series to your customer list today. And there’s no time like the present!

2) Celebrate the New Year

Unless your business gets a big chunk of its revenue from holiday gift sales, why not skip the holiday season altogether? Stay with me, here! The thing is, everyone is getting inundated with messaging right now. Inboxes are piling up, catalogs are flooding physical mailboxes, we’re all being followed around the internet with great gift ideas (!) and seasonal deals… basically there is a LOT of competition for attention. 

What about sending out a Happy New Year card to your clients instead of a holiday card? Or putting on a New Year’s Resolution sale? Your message will stand out a lot more in the quiet time after the holiday season  is over than it would in the midst of the fray.

3) Double down on the next holidays

OK, so you didn’t get things together in time for Hanukkah and Christmas gifters. That doesn’t mean you have to slink away with your tail between your legs. Start planning now for your marketing for the next set of holidays. 

Valentine’s day? Sure! Mardi Gras? I don’t know, why not? Mother’s day? Absolutely. Start thinking now about what offers you want to put together, what your messaging will be, and how you will advertise your huge Belly Laugh Day sale. You’ll be well ahead of the pack!

4) Try to relax about it

Our last piece of advice is a bit more metaphysical: try not to worry too much about whether you’re doing your marketing “right”. Sure, the holidays are a great time to generate sales for a lot of businesses, but it’s not the only way to do so. Depending on your industry, it might not even make any sense to pay attention to the holidays at all. Remember that people are super distracted right now, and really don’t need another voice shouting at them. Give yourself a break – you’ve done well to get through the year – and drink a little eggnog to celebrate your lack of holiday marketing. 

And hey, there’s always next year, right?

Happy holidays (and small business marketing),

Katie & Theron

How to squeeze the very most marketing out of your marketing budget

 

For those of us not blessed with a Coca-Cola sized marketing budget (oh, the glory!), one of the most pressing questions we ask ourselves is how we can get more marketing for less money

If 100% of your marketing budget was easily quantifiable by ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), this would be a non-issue, of course. It’s emotionally pretty easy to increase the budget on a program that has a positive ROAS – meaning it’s bringing in more revenue than you’re paying in advertising costs. You have no idea how many conversations I’ve had with clients that start out with, “of course, if we get a good return on our marketing, I’ll increase the marketing budget”. Well, duh.

The problem is that there’s a lot of “marketing” that isn’t easy to tie cleanly back to ROAS. What about updating your website? Keeping your social media platforms current? Making sure your collateral (flyers, brochures, catalogs, etc) are up to date? None of that can be tracked back directly to sales, but still needs to be done. And we’re not even bringing up things like brand awareness, which is an important part of the marketing cycle but notoriously difficult to link directly to marketing return. 

In reality, a portion of marketing programs should be included under the cost of doing business, like your power bill or your lease.

But that begs the question: if I take away the pipe-dream of magically making all marketing pay for itself (sorry!), how do you keep costs under control so you can pay for the marketing you need? Here are our thoughts:

How to get the most out of your marketing budget

1) Your marketing channels: make sure you get the mix right

One of the biggest ways to hemorrhage your marketing budget is to spend money on marketing channels that aren’t working for you. While it’s unlikely you can directly track the return on your investment across everything you’re doing for marketing, it pays (literally) to take a step back and really look at value. 

What advertising is getting you the most traffic? How well does that traffic behave? Setting up a Google Analytics account is a useful, free way to track how well your traffic channels are performing. You can even set up conversion goals to show how well different traffic streams are converting into sales or other goals. Remember, not all your channels will convert directly into sales, but they should be driving traffic to your site that stays there a while and looks around. 

Then, act on the data. If you’re running an ad in the local paper every month, for instance, and you don’t see a bump in traffic afterwards, you might want to consider ditching that ad. Unless you’re getting a bunch of customers in some other way (like the phone is ringing off the hook), that ad probably isn’t working.

Then look around at other waste. That brochure that needs to be updated? How many do you actually give away every year (that aren’t ending up immediately in the trash)? Could it work as well (or better) as a digital flier? Perhaps even a page on your website? Go through your marketing and look at everything with a very critical eye. 

Even better, bring in pro help to do a marketing audit. They can help you build a marketing plan that prioritizes those channels that really get you sales. 

2) Target the right audience

Another way to spend more money than necessary is to spend it advertising to the wrong people. Or to spend it on a really broad audience – like an ad in the paper – that might reach the right people, but also a lot of wrong people as well. 

The more targeted your audience is, the more efficient your marketing spend will be. This is why search marketing almost always provides a positive ROAS for B2C businesses; if you’re doing it right, 100% of the traffic clicking on your ad is interested in your product or service. This is also why email marketing – to a clean, organically grown list* – is also excellent. 

Take a look at your marketing channels and think hard about whether the audience is really targeted well. Print ads (paper and magazine), some digital ads, billboards, etc, are often culprits for overspend.** And if you’re advertising on social media, use lookalike audiences (audiences that “look” like your current customers) to make sure you’re targeting effectively. 

3) Utilize the talents of your team

This is a hack we use a lot for companies we work with. Do you have a good amateur photographer on your team? Is one of your CSRs a great vlogger? Does someone like writing? Is your IT guy secretly really big on posting on social media?  It’s totally OK to farm out some of your content production and social media management to the team, even if it has a bit of a “homemade” look in the end. In fact, the more your content looks like user generated content (a fancy way of saying “homemade”), the better. 

One thing to be very aware of, however, is making sure you don’t take advantage of your employees – or seem to be.  Make sure any marketing helpers volunteer for their new duties, and don’t expect them to work on their own time. We find that, often, employees like a little break from their main duties – and enjoy being part of the marketing program… as long as they don’t feel like they have to stay late or come in on weekends to get it done. 

4) Put together a functional funnel

This may sound like a general marketing best practice rather than a cost-saving strategy, but hear me out: if you drive a lot of traffic through (paid) advertising, and it just bounces off your site without any means of capturing that traffic, they, yes, you’re absolutely wasting money. 

Instead, make sure you have strategies in place to capture that traffic. This can (and should) include retargeting campaigns and pop-ups to get people to subscribe to your email list (yes, they work). What are retargeting campaigns, you ask? They are campaigns that show ads or send things to people that have visited your site. There are many platforms that help with this, but channels can include ads, emails, and direct mail.  

5) Hire help strategically

Yeah, I said it. Sometimes the best way to save money is to spend a little. Bringing in an expert for a quick audit and some marketing planning can save you money in the long run because – if they are good – they will make sure the money you are spending is, well, money well spent. 

Final thoughts on getting the most marketing for your money

Since marketing won’t ever completely pay for itself (and why should it, you don’t expect a return on your investment from your power bill, do you?),the next best thing is to build as efficient a marketing program as possible.

And if you still need some ideas on how to pay for your (efficient) marketing program, check out our thoughts on how to find the money to afford marketing. And best of luck!

* Buying a list from a list broker doesn’t count, as, while they may be targeted, they often are overused and have bad (and old) information. They usually preform quite poorly.
** We’re not saying you should never run a print ad or rent a billboard. For certain businesses and industries, this can make a lot of sense. Just be aware of what you’re doing when you do so!

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and marketing services for small businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing — from search marketing and social media marketing to website strategy and direct mail marketing — possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline.

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Marketing best practices: the importance of testing

We recently put together a social media marketing campaign for a client. When I reviewed the ads with her, she (very nicely) let me know that while she loved half of them, she didn’t think much of the other half. 

I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t expected her to like them. But I also wasn’t about to throw them in the trash. And here’s why: we’d deliberately put together ads that didn’t look like all their other marketing efforts to test if they might work better to get the attention of potential new customers. Those “different” ads were our way of making sure we weren’t making biased assumptions about what her customers would like.

Because, frankly, the best way to fail at marketing is to assume you always know what people are looking for. 

This is especially important with smallish businesses, most particularly those that have grown organically from the ground up. Many smaller businesses have never done any market testing on their visual brand or their messaging – because they didn’t/don’t have the money (good market testing can be expensive), or because they never thought of it. In the end, their brand is a representation of their taste, and their messaging is often simply what appeals to them. 

But – and this is a huge BUT – unless your target customers are exactly like you, what appeals to you might fall completely flat with your target market. As a business owner, it’s imperative to get away from your own preferences and put yourself in the shoes of your customers. 

Even if you’re one of the lucky few that are selling to people a lot like you, you may want to check in every once in a while to make sure your tastes haven’t diverged over time. For example, if you started a kid’s shoe store when you were a young parent in the 90s, at the time, your interests and tastes probably matched your clientele’s pretty well. But now, 30 years later, your clients are of a completely different generation… and unlikely to have much in common with you. 

How to test your marketing

There are two main ways to test your marketing efforts. One, run market research and study groups to ask people about it directly. Big brands do this all the time. Before you see that Super Bowl ad, you better believe it’s been run through study group after study group of target customers to see if it resonated with them (as surprising as that might be, considering some of the ads that passed muster, apparently – but hey, we’re not the target market for all of them). 

The problem with market testing is that it’s usually out of reach for companies that aren’t in the Big Marketing Spend arena. Sure, there’s some do-it-yourself market research platforms (we like Pollfish) that are good for testing concepts and slogans, etc, but be prepared that hiring a market research firm to do really thorough research will often run you into the tens (or more) of thousands. 

That’s not really a practical number for smaller brands, and definitely not practical for testing ad copy every time around.

The second way is to use the power of digital marketing to test ideas and copy for you. Digital marketing is set up so you can track practically everything. This means you can run two different ads side by side and see which performs better. You can test different imagery, different copy, different delivery methods, and different offers. All while actually marketing your product. Who wouldn’t love that kind of efficiency?

And if you’re not 100% sure of who your customer is, you can even use digital marketing to test customer groups. You can run ads to different ages, interests, geographic locations, household income levels, and more, and find out which groups leads to the most sales. 

By testing, you can hone in closer to your ideal message for your ideal customer. 

Of course, in order to really test effectively, you need to lose your preconceived notions of what “will” work and what “won’t work”, and just put the ads out there to be judged in the court of digital advertising. It can take some practice to do so, and yes, you’ll build some ads that you may not really like. But? You might surprise yourself – and end up with more effective marketing.

Oh? That client? It turned out that our alternate ads far outperformed the ads that felt more comfortable to them. 

And that’s something we would never have known if we hadn’t done some marketing testing.

 

How to tell if your marketing team is up to snuff – and what to do if it’s not

As a business owner, it can be tough – especially if you don’t have a marketing background yourself – to get a really good idea of how well your marketing function is, well, functioning. Or how to figure out where it’s going wrong.

We see this question come up a fair amount, because we specialize in helping growing companies take the next big leap. And you usually start to experience challenges with your marketing function when you’re trying to grow quickly. 

How marketing teams get in over their heads

While there’s many paths to get to this point, it’s a common problem when a company grows organically: often as a company starts to need more marketing support, they’ll move an internal resource over to handle marketing. Sometimes that person has a marketing background, but more often it’s a case of someone who has an interest in marketing, or a marketing-adjacent background, like graphic design. This person runs their social media, and maybe sends occasional emails, and keeps the website updated. And it’s totally fine for that early stage of development. Especially if the company doesn’t have the budget to bring in a full-time, experienced, marketing manager or marketing director. 

The problems can start to arise when you grow beyond the social media page-email-website phase, and you’re expecting your self-grown marketing person/people to suddenly start to drive real revenue. I’ve seen teams that have stepped up to the plate and done a great job, but in the majority of cases these inexperienced teams can get over their heads. And fast.

This can happen even if you initially outsourced the majority of your marketing; the amount of experience you could afford at the time often isn’t enough to seamlessly transition your company to a larger, more professional phase.

How to tell if your marketing team is functioning well

So how do you know which bucket your marketing team falls into – the on-the-ball or the under-water? Here are some signs:

  • You aren’t seeing results. After all, the whole point of marketing is to drive revenue. If it’s not, then something may be wrong. Notice, however, that I use the word, “may”. Be careful not to assume automatically that poor results means bad marketing. Remember that marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum: we’ve gone into at least one company that had zero revenue from marketing, but it turned out that the lack of results had a lot more to do with bad pricing than with bad marketing. Even the best marketers can’t sell something that’s priced completely out of the market. 
  • Things take a long time to get done. One of the most obvious signs that your marketing people are in over their heads is if things aren’t getting done in a reasonable amount of time. If they’re not sure what you’re doing, they have to figure stuff out as they go. They don’t know from experience what works and what doesn’t, so they have to trial and error things. And they have to look up how-tos on a regular basis. All this drops the productivity of the department into the basement.
  • They’re hiring a lot of freelancers. Bringing in some freelancers is great – and a quick and easy way to inexpensively augment a small marketing team. But if your team keeps coming to you with yet another person they want to bring on board, you may want to ask yourself if this is because they don’t have the confidence to implement these campaigns themselves.
  • There’s as many opinions as there are people. If your marketing meetings tend to be a bit of a free-for-all, it’s a big warning sign that your team needs help: namely, that you don’t have a clear marketing strategy in place. Experienced marketers will always be working from a marketing plan. If your team isn’t, it’s playing whack-a-mole and putting out fires rather than focusing on the important stuff.

Team needs help? Here’s where to start

Let’s say you recognize your team in a few of these points. What do you do about it? Here’s our 4-step process:

  1. Get a marketing expert to do a team skill diagnosis: a good marketing consultant will be able to get an idea of how underwater your team is (or isn’t). They can also often spot things that you may have missed, both because of their experience, but also as an outside perspective.
  2. Have a marketing strategy created: one of the biggest roadblocks to good marketing is a reactive approach as opposed to a planned approach. A good marketing advisor will be able to build you a marketing plan that supports your business goals (and, if necessary, fits your teams’ skill sets). Much of the marketing paralysis that can happen in smaller companies goes away once team members know what they are doing in reference to the master plan.
  3. Ask for help growing your marketing function: A surprising, but extremely useful, role for a marketing advisor is helping you hire the right people to support your marketing strategy. Vetting people for a skillset you personally don’t have is pretty tough. A marketing professional will know what to look for.
  4. Bring in ongoing advisory: Once you have your team in place, trained, and following a marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to make sure they have ongoing leadership to keep them on the right track. This can be handled one of two ways: either spring for a full-time marketing director/VP of marketing, or outsource to a fractional/part time marketing director if your budget is tight.

One last thought: we honestly believe that internally-developed marketing teams have a lot of value. What they lack in experience is often made up for in loyalty to the company and in-depth product knowledge. We rarely suggest that you should scrap ‘em all and start over. With a good marketing strategy and the right guidance, they can develop into a truly well-oiled marketing machine.

Happy marketing!

Katie & Theron

Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.

 

What are value propositions and why should you care?

Like many snazzy marketing terms, “value proposition” is a fancy way of saying something that is actually really very simple. In a nutshell, a value proposition is the reason why someone would buy your product or service. 

Of course, like a lot of simple things, you sometimes need to put a good deal of thought into your value proposition(s). More on that in a bit, but first, let’s talk about why you need ‘em.

Why do you need a value proposition?

So, first, let’s be clear: we don’t care whether you call this thing we’re talking about a “value proposition”, or a “Unique Selling Proposition” or  “sell point” or a “statement of value”. What it’s called, and the exact form it takes, is completely immaterial. What matters to your business is that you have, know, and can talk about a reason why people will buy from you. 

I can’t tell you the number of small business owners that have looked blank when I’ve asked them why someone would buy from them rather than their competitors. It’s not something they’ve ever really thought about. But here’s the thing: if you don’t know why people would buy your product, there is no way you’re going to be able to convince people to buy it.

And marketing, at it’s very heart, is about convincing people to buy your product. It’s not enough to just put your name out in front of people, and hope they naturally “get” the value you offer. 

Once you’ve developed your value proposition, you can communicate the “why” of your product in your marketing: on your website, in ads, on your social media, etc. 

So, to recap: you need a value proposition so that, ultimately, people will know why they should buy a specific product (or buy from your company in general – yes, you can have a broad one for your company as well as specific ones for specific products). 

How do I develop a value proposition?

There is a lot of advice out there about how to develop value propositions, including “we-hired-a-consultant-that-needs-to-earn-their-keep” methods that are totally complicated. In classic Urban Sherpa fashion, however, we’re going to stick with a more common-sense approach here.

  1.  Identify and understand the target audience for your product or service: who will buy this product? What are their needs, fears, hopes, desires?
  2. Look at your competition: what does your competition sell? What do they do well, and what do they do poorly?
  3. Identify the features of your product or service: how does your product address the needs, fears, hopes, or desires of your audience? How is your product better than what the competition does? Why would someone pick you over them? Think about features of your product or service like price, service level, quality, your brand promise, actual physical features, appearance, selection, etc. 

You’re talking about this area of intersection:

A venn diagram showing how to think about value propositions

Now, put that all together into a (short) statement that addresses how your product or service meets the needs of your customers. 

Before we move onto some examples, let’s talk quickly about when you should develop your value proposition(s). Ideally, you should be thinking about how your product or service best services the needs of your customer – and how you stand out from the competition – as soon as possible. Heck, it should be the first thing you think about when you start a new company or develop a new product.

Some Examples (sort of)

There are a lot of lists of “modern and creative” value propositions out there – with example after super cool, unique, and clever example. Those are fun and all, but the reality is that they don’t need to be a glitzy marketing phrase to be effective. In fact, the whole point of a value proposition is to help you identify and clearly state why customers should buy from you. Some of the examples you see out there are unfortunately so cool, they don’t actually mean as much as they should. 

Our advice? Focus on putting together a solid, concise, useful, and accurate value proposition, and don’t bother worrying about how creative or cool it is. Use this work-a-day model to remind yourself about what you should be communicating – and then you can play with (and test) fancy headlines for the how you communicate it. 

A good value proposition is like the foundation of a house: it’s not sexy, you normally don’t even notice it… but if it’s weak or not there the whole house will fall down. 

Do you still want some examples? Try ours: Custom marketing consulting and services for the needs (and budgets) of small businesses and startups. It’s got the “who” our customer is, the “what” we offer them, and how we stand out: affordability and a specialization in small biz. Heck, “we have cold coconuts” (in the photos above) is a perfectly good value proposition as well.

Or we like the ones collected by the good folks at Oberlo: 10 Best Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One) (oberlo.com)

Of course, if you’re still stuck, we’d be glad to help you develop your value proposition(s). Reach out to us at hello@urbansherpa.marketing and we can set up a time to talk.

Happy small business marketing!

Katie & Theron