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Now more than ever, businesses of all sizes need to have an effective marketing strategy in place.
Thanks to the internet, the world is a smaller place for customers and a bigger place for businesses. For businesses of all kinds, competition has never been higher. This means that it’s more important than ever to understand exactly how to create effective marketing that appeals directly to customers.
This guide explores three core fundamentals of marketing in 2017, showing in practical terms how niche B2B businesses can make use of them.
Understand your customer and their views
One of the key ways to begin the process of marketing a niche business is to get inside the head of your customers. It’s important to know how your customers think, what their problems are and how they view potential solutions.
Understanding who your customers are and what problems they have is the pillar of all marketing, particularly when it comes to marketing a niche business. It’s important to pinpoint exactly where your product or service and slots into the lives and businesses of those you’re selling to.
Once you understand your customer and their problems, you can direct your marketing to communicate a message of value that addresses their pain points directly and in doing so demonstrate exactly why they should make use of your product or service over an alternative.
The best way to do this is to spend the time researching and documenting customer personas.
No matter how niche your business, there will always be a number of different customers types interested in purchasing from you. Business owners, who have the capacity to make decisions across the entire company, will have one set of priorities, whereas staff members will have a completely different set. Despite the fact that each customer type is looking for the same end product or service, the criteria they apply to their purchase will be very different.
Creating personas and understanding what each customer is looking for, how they approach the purchasing decision and what factors make up them as a person is important to market effectively.
Example: An accounting software provider is looking to market its service to small businesses. It has identified two potential customer types: business owners, and members of staff who work within the accounts department of small businesses.
The company knows that small business owners are often very aware of the consequences of their actions, as they are legally liable for everything that occurs within the business. Because of this, they can market their service to business owners as a way to make them fully compliant when completing accounts, ensuring that things are done correctly.
The person who works in the accounts department of the small business knows full well that correct accounting is vital and is confident in their ability to keep the business compliant. They are a staff member and may be looking to make their job easier to complete. Because of this, the company can market their accounting software as a way to make life easier for accounting professionals, demonstrating features and tools within the software which help to automate tasks and save time.
The exact same software can be marketed in two completely different ways to address the needs of each customer type.
Another way to truly understand your customers is to always be listening.
From reading posts on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, through to conducting direct feedback projects with customers, understanding what’s being said about your business and those in competition with you will help you learn more about how your customers think and feel.
Understanding the current climate of your marketplace and how people are feeling is important to ensure that your marketing message always stays relevant. It’s also a powerful way to market reactively against the current problems faced by your customers.
Example: The accounting software provider usually markets its product on the basis of its features and how it helps keep small businesses’ books up-to-date. Recently, a new piece of accounting legislation came into action which is confusing small businesses as they aim to stay compliant.
After discovering this concern and identifying it as a problem faced by customers, the company can create a new set of marketing materials which address the problem directly, telling concerned potential customers that they have a solution to the problem.
Know where your customer spends their time
Once you’ve identified exactly how your customers think, you need to deliver them with a marketing message which addresses their problems. But to do this, you must first identify where they spend their time and attention.
It could be on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, reading industry publications, spending time at industry events or listening to podcasts; there will be a number of places which capture the most attention within any niche. These are the places where your business must be marketing to effectively deliver your message.
One of the best ways to understand where to find the attention of new customers is to conduct research on your current customers. Often, many of your customers will have common publications, platforms and events which they subscribe to, which is a good starting point.
Another way to reach potential customers in the places they spend the most time is to use targeted advertising on platforms such a Facebook and LinkedIn. Although these aren’t always the places where B2B customers spend the most amount of their ‘working time’, they are places where a huge amount of attention is spent.
Both Facebook and LinkedIn have tools which allow for you to target people by their job position, giving you the ability to make the most of the information you gather from personas to customise the marketing message you put in front of them. Going one step further, Facebook Ads allow for you to target ‘employees’ of certain companies, meaning that you can drive your message directly to the screen of those working in companies you’d like to sell to.
Example: The accounting software company is looking to grow the number of medium-sized business clients it has. To do this, it has identified a list of 250 companies it would like to target. Using Facebook Ads, the company has created a campaign to target those who hold specific job positions within these businesses. By doing so, the accounting software company can drive very specific messaging to the right people at the right time, giving them the information they need to solve their problems.
Another way to get your marketing message in front of the people who matter is to call upon the services of influencers within your space. Regardless of the industry, there will be a number of bloggers, social media users and other personalities who have built a niche following within your industry. Because of the clout they have and attention they’ve earned, influencers provide a unique opportunity for businesses in any niche to deliver their message.
This idea of making use of niche audiences built up by others can extend into other methods of marketing. A marketing trend that is on the increase is companies making use of guest blogging on influential sites and blogs. Sometimes at a cost, but often free-of-charge, guest blogging is a great way to get your message and brand in front of a captivated and trusting audience and be seen as a company who provides content that is informative and valuable.
Example: A recently introduced piece of legislation surrounding how businesses are expected to complete their accounts is causing stress within the small business community. A lack of clarity is leading to confusion and business owners are searching for answers. The accounting software provider can reach out to key small business and industry blogs and offer to produce a free piece of content which explains the legislation in easy-to-understand language. At the bottom of this article is a short biography about the accounts software company.
The aim of this piece of content isn’t to create direct leads for the company, but rather to establish it as a brand who is knowledgeable in the area of accounts, offering free, valuable content with no catch. This branding exercise is likely to introduce the company to many small business owners for the first time, many of whom will have received value from the content.
Further down the line, this brand-equity can translate into sales.
One final way to make use of knowing where your customers spend their time is to stay in constant communication with your current customer base. As they have already identified a need for your product or service and successfully moved through your sales funnel, your existing customers make up the most qualified contact list you have.
This is useful to consider for a number of reasons. Constant communication with your existing customers will help you better understand their present needs and problems. This not only allows you to adapt your offering accordingly, but also helps you fine-tune your current marketing message. The chances are, if the environment in which your customers operate has changed, so too has that of those you’re trying to reach with your marketing.
Additionally, it’s reasonable to assume that your customers have friends, colleagues, family members and other business associates who can make use of your product or service.
By putting the focus on the customer, you have the best chance possible of convincing them to reward your excellent service with referrals, as explored below in more detail.
Reimagining customer experience
The core to customer retention is a great offering backed up by exceptional customer service. While that might seem like a given, ensuring that your customers have a seamless experience from the moment they discover onwards is vital for businesses who want to succeed in smaller niches.
Due to the nature of niche markets, there are often small numbers of potential customers and even fewer service providers. Because of that, news of experiences both good and bad travel just as quickly, with word-of-mouth marketing playing a key role.
This means that the benefits of ensuring that every customer is as happy as they can be huge.
There are three effective ways to ensure that this is the case.
Before anything else, the first thing to make sure you have in place is a plan to manage every single customer touch point within your business. Designing and controlling every interaction customers have with your business is the best way to ensure processes are followed, promises are delivered and expectations are managed. It’s also an effective way to ensure customers feel valued.
A touchpoint is a name given to any interaction or transaction between your business and a customer, from the moment they discover your business onwards.
Examples of ways to improve touch points include:
- Have highly trained, engaging and proactive staff members.
- Ensure your website is easy to navigate and works intuitively.
- Offer one-to-one human customer support when something goes wrong.
- Move quickly. Don’t leave your customer waiting for something on your end.
- Communicate everything so that your customer knows exactly what’s happening with their shipment, payment, support request, etc.
Having a clear process in place for each of these customer touch points puts your business in the best position possible to offer consistently high levels of customer service, helping to retain existing customers and welcome new ones.
Another way to help your business reimagine its view on customer experience is to create a culture of over-delivery. Depending on the type of business, over-delivery can come in many forms, but the end result is always the same; highly satisfied customers with a positive perception of your business who are keen to evangelise and help you spread the word.
Opportunities for overdelivery present themselves to every business, every day.
Practical examples of how to over-deliver include gifting customers additional products or services which are related to their purchase, making contact with them out of the blue to thank them for their business, or going the extra mile to resolve an issue which would otherwise be difficult to solve.
One final way to help improve the overall customer experience of your business is to push for constant two-directional feedback between you and your customers.
Understanding the views of your customers as a whole is a great way to shape the future of your business and the products and services you offer. As people who have already identified a need for your product or service, your customers offer a uniquely qualified perspective on your business and what improvements need to be made.
Taking feedback from customers allows you to proactively solve issues and better understand pressure points within your business. This increases your chances of having happy customers, who in turn are more likely to offer positive word-of-mouth marketing for your business to their friends and family and, increasingly, on online review platforms.
As well as this, creating an always-on flow of feedback from existing customers will give you invaluable insights into how best to position your business when marketing in the here and now.
Example: The accounting software company recently soft-launched a new feature which allows customers to upload receipts via their phone. Despite not making a fuss about the feature, feedback and research has revealed that it’s a massively popular feature and something that has become integral to how some customers use the service.
Understanding this view of their customers allows the company to change the way they market, putting more priority on the new feature as something which clearly adds value to new customers.
Regardless of the type of business you’re marketing, a customer-first approach is vital.
Marketplaces both big and small are ruled by the decisions of customers, and so doing everything you can to affect those decisions is a guaranteed way to better position your business for success.
Understanding who your customers are and what makes them consider a purchase from you is key when planning how best to market your business. From creating personas and conducting customer research through to following your customers to the places where they spend the most attention, the best niche businesses win by over-delivering for customers when it matters.
This focus on customers is fundamental to any successful marketing strategy and is something that will become increasingly important in 2017, as more and more businesses move online and become closer to their customers.
The businesses that win will be those who take the time to understand their customers, proactively meet their needs and understand exactly how to deliver effective, timely marketing messages.
The fundamentals discussed in this guide have a low-cost barrier to entry and often require little more than effort to act upon. Those who put in the effort will be rewarded by their customers present and future.