Do it Yourself Marketing
Branding on a Budget for Small Businesses
Telling your corporate story doesn’t have to be expensive. But it does take thought.
We can all agree that marketing, advertising, public relations and even social media are accepted ways of increasing market awareness of our product or service, and even as ways to improve revenue. So why, then, do so many small businesses in our industry cut the marketing budget first when the market gets a bit choppy?
Part of the reason is that marketing is as much an art as a science. We marketing types claim to provide flawless ROI measurements, but we can’t. If a prospect reads your ad, remembers it, and makes a purchase or referral 2 years later, chances are it won’t fall into the ROI calculations done long before then. The ad campaign will just be a memory. But that doesn’t make the ad less effective.
Another reason marketing is often the first to go in tough times is that it can be expensive. Advertising only works when it’s well-designed, well positioned and consistently placed in a number of publications or Web sites. That costs real money. Direct marketing can involve list purchases, printing costs, and postage. And that flashy new Web site….? Forget about it. Not in this market.
But before we toss the baby out with the bathwater, grab that box of doughnuts and head for the nearest real estate brokerage, let’s stop to consider something. If one felt he or she could produce an effective and consistent marketing communications program without breaking the bank, wouldn’t it be worth it? I’d wager that many in the industry feel it would be.
There are a number of cost-effective tools (many even free) out there right now that a small business can use to tell its story. It is my hope that my little corner of the VLTA Title Examiner can prove to you that, when it comes to marketing communications, the flashy stuff can be nice, but it’s not always necessary. Instead of investing thousands of dollars, it’s more important to invest time and careful thought. In fact, a marketing program (for example) based upon a simple, but good, Web site, careful use of media relations and social media, an inexpensive, Web-based e-mail program (Mail Chimp or Constant Contact can cost as little as $15 a month) and perhaps one or two pieces of simple, but effective collateral (a pamphlet or even a slick) can put you light years ahead of your competition.
We’ll explore those tools in future articles. For now, I’d like to emphasize what you really need to get started with your homemade marketing strategy. And you don’t need to be a marketing guru to do it. You just need to know your business (that’s your product and your market) and be honest with yourself.
Step One: How are you or your brand really different from the competition?
We all like to believe that our customer service is absolutely the best out there. The problem, especially in the title industry, is that this is the selling point for a huge number of firms. Many prospects don’t know whom to believe, and won’t take the time to find out. Ask your staff. Ask your friends. Ask your customers. What makes your service or product really, truly unique to your market? This task is easily one of the toughest challenges of any marketing strategy. If you’re wrong, the rest will be a struggle.
Step Two: Are you, your brand and your product what you really say you are? Does your entire team agree?
We would all like to be “revolutionary,” “first-to-market” or simply the best. Someone really is, but your prospects are more likely than not to view hyperbolic marketing with a jaded eye. After all, there are quite a few others out there making the same claim. Marketing and public relations should put your corporate story in the best light. But this should be done with authenticity. If you are claiming a 12-hour turnaround time, you will be inauthentic the very first time that doesn’t happen, and it won’t matter whose fault it was. Never forget that the owner or president is only one element of a brand, and that your brand is put to the test every day with customers and prospects in contact with the person answering the phone, the sales person and even your office administrator. Every member of your team must be in lockstep with your message. They’ll have to live it every day too.
Step Three: Can your market hear or see what you’re saying? Do they understand it?
Finally, even if you do have a great product, a unique value proposition and an authentic brand, a bad piece of marketing or public relations, or even a good piece placed in the wrong publication or in-box, does nothing to help you. This is where a firm needs to know its market. What do your prospects like to read? How often? What messages or stories get their attention? If you can’t answer those questions, your marketing strategy is no more than a dart-throw, and a waste of time and money. A great ad placed in the back of a publication read by none of your prospects at the wrong time of year is no better than the proverbial tree falling in the forest, with nobody around to hear it.
Marketing communications is really not much different than anything else a small business executive manages. When you approach your operations or compliance strategy, you don’t do it blindly or reactively, do you? Just as one does with every other element of the operation, the small title company or settlement services firm needs to begin its marketing strategy with an honest look at itself and its market. From there, the message will follow, and it won’t need to be issued on the wings of a $50,000 direct mailing.