News & Blog

16 Nov 2011
David v Goliath poster

How David can beat Goliath with smart rather than expensive marketing

We're often asked by small or new companies how they can compete with larger competitors while on a tight marketing budget. They usually have a basic website, and they've typically tried a few ads, some telemarketing and business networking groups, with limited success.

The most common reason for this is that they haven't really worked out who they're targeting, and what their brand positioning is - ie what they stand for. In many cases, they're also casting their net too wide - both in terms of audience and in terms of marketing activities - and they're not able to do anything very effectively, let along measure its success.

At this point, we typically start asking questions that - we do understand - can be really difficult to answer, such as:

  • Who are you trying to reach? By age/gender/background/interest/geography etc as relevant to your offering.
    • Why?
  • How does the profile compare with your existing customers and prospects?
  • What have your existing customers/prospects got in common?
  • Why would your targets be attracted to your product or service? Really. Have you asked them?
  • What are the weaknesses of your competitors - real or perceived?
  • What can you say while riding up 10 floors in a lift with a prospect that will make them want to speak to you again?
  • What can you offer them that others don't?
  • What can you do to engage/'start a conversation' with these prospects instead of sell to them?

When we start asking such questions, people often start squirming, like they're being exposed. One very successful MD once remarked to me that he felt like I'd asked him to take his clothes off!

It’s hardly surprising we get such strong reactions: it really is difficult to answer these things precisely. We know: we find it difficult ourselves!

You see, it's not how much you spend that makes your marketing effort effective. Don't get me wrong, a big budget does help! But it's how much thinking you've done in the first place - and that's free!

So here are our top tips for making your marketing effort more strategically effective:

1. Identify your ideal customer

Profiling your target audience in detail is very important if you don't want to waste those precious marketing pounds. Don't be afraid to start with a narrow base: you can always expand your horizons once you've gained traction. Make sure you understand what motivates those targets - that's often more important than other demographic details.

2. Focus on your unique selling point (USP)

What are you doing differently to your competitors? Is there an area where your (larger) competitor is perceived as weak, where you're strong (eg if you're smaller, can you be more responsive, more personal?)

NB: don't be tempted just to drop your charges because you're smaller: promote the high value you offer instead. If you don't value yourself, how can you expect your prospects to?

3. Explain yourself

'If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.'*

Develop key messages

This is marketing-speak for 'write down up to three, concise statements that explain your offering and support your USP.' Keep them short and memorable - and therefore repeatable.

Consider a tagline

If your company name doesn't immediately explain what you offer, use a tagline with your brand name/logo at all times that clearly states what you do.

Be obvious

By this we mean use simple English: don't try to be too clever. Do incorporate words that prospects would use to search for you on the web. (Google Ads is a great source to reference when working this out.)

Find your voice

Above all, be yourself: you won't be able to sustain pretending to be something you're not: if you try, eventually your image will seem confused, if not downright untrustworthy. This is particularly important when using social media: where the emphasis should be on social rather than media.

4. Unify

Make sure all your communications reinforce the USP and use the same messages (yes, using the same words) - that means everything from your invoices to your website. And do make sure all your employees know the company line: your receptionist is as important as your sales director in this respect. Nothing undermines a company image faster than conflicting messages.

5. Review your image

You've worked out the words, now review your 'look'. Assess it from your prospects’ perspective.

Do the colours and images you use reinforce your key messages, and the image you want to convey? Have a look again: do they? Don’t just use ‘black and red’ because you like the combination. If you’re targeting women with a cleaning product, your appeal will be limited: just ask the team on The Apprentice that tried this.

Are the components of your image (colours, logo, font, other design elements) used consistently for all your communications (from your invoices to your website, as well as anything said about you by your partner companies, groups to which you belong, etc)?

6. Make your website work for you

While it's no longer necessary to have a suit and office or shop for credibility, these days the must-have is a website. This needn't cost the earth. In fact, simple is often best. But it must be working for you, doing more than looking pretty. It should (at least):

  • be easy to find via search engines such as Google (what are you doing to optimise your search engine results? Have you got an SEO strategy?) (NB: this is a big topic in its own right that we can’t do justice to quickly here: please don’t hesitate to call if you would like a more in-depth explanation)
  • reinforce your USP, key (search) messages and 'look'
  • encourage people to visit your site more than once (eg with news, handy tips, discounts as appropriate for your business)
  • encourage them to do something - take action, part with their contact details and start a conversation with you. (Is your site integrated with your social media sites, for example?)
  • help them find what they might be looking for within a couple of clicks. (Use internal links.)

7. Be where your customers are

That may be at business networking events, on Twitter, reading a certain publication, or just on the street. Find out a common place you can find most of them, then start there. If you don’t know where they are, you need to spend more time working out who you’re targeting.

8. Persevere

There's no such thing as a quick marketing fix. That's why ads often fail to meet expectations.

9. Coordinate all your communications, sales and marketing activities

Make sure that everything that everyone in your company does drives your prospect to another touch point in an agreed order, eg if you're on Twitter, do you want to send them to your Facebook page to see something entertaining or of interest/value? Should your receptionist remind people about an offer on your website? Use sales emails to drive people to a ‘value-add’ video or event. Should all your touch points drive prospects to just one point: your store, website or event?

But don't make people go around in circles. After one to two actions at most, reward them for making the effort. The point is: isolated marketing efforts rarely pay off. Again: that's why ads often fail.

10. Invest time

If you haven't got a big budget, then you need to invest that other precious commodity: time. With a bit of creativity and a lot of perseverance you can achieve a lot for not very much money. PR is much cheaper than paid advertorials. Social networking is free. Again: there’s no such thing as a quick fix in marketing. (Run from anyone who claims there is.) Don't just join Twitter and expect quality followers to jump out of the hedgerows. The slow burn cooks the golden goose best in the end.

After all, it was only with patience, craftiness and perseverance that David slew Goliath – but slay him he did.

*often misattributed to Albert Einstein, more likely said by American physicist Richard Phillips Feynman.

Tags: Advertorials, Creative, Lathwell & Associates, Marketing, PR, SEO, Social media, Strategy, Twitter