Today’s times call for more creative ways of marketing your business, whether you’re direct selling for a conglomerate or running your own small business. People nowadays mention Facebook and Twitter as if it were already part of the dictionary. To wit, ever notice that writing the word “Facebook” in your Facebook wall-post results in a red-underlined, misspelled word? Yes, totally “Duh?”
But, as a small business owner, how do you market your product or service today? What medium should you use to generate the most of “value for money?” What’s better – online or offline marketing? Let me write my discourse in small business marketing through a series of questions that have been asked by many small business owners and their peers. Before I start, let me also offer my disclaimer:“Please note I am not a famous author of marketing books nor am I a coveted marketing guru consulting for industrial giants. Like you, I am a small business owner who has street-smart knowledge of marketing a business with a few books read on the subject matter.” Just making sure you know where I’m coming from.
Where Do I Begin?
Let it be known that I began my story with the theme song from a classic, all-time favorite move. LOL! Continue the lyrics to the song for the next four words and you’ll get the hint of what I’m about to explain as one of the most vital component to marketing your small business.
Besides the fancy business plan and long-thought strategies, first things are always first: you’ve got to draw and describe the person that buys your product or service. Creating a generic description of your market that you guess will purchase it is not the best way, even if you’ve read 1,500-page text books about guerilla marketing and the like. You have to describe a very specific person, not a community of people. The moment you’ve consumed everything from your brain (and that of others) to describe this person, immerse this person into your business vision, mission, values and goals, and see if it fits. If not, you’ve got to rehash things with your sales, marketing, service, support and overall customer strategies to fit this person into everything that you do for your product, service and company.
I remember consulting for Planet Philippines, an entertainment and lifestyle, tabloid-sized newspaper that’s circulated to migrant and overseas Filipinos in 10 countries once-to-twice per month, for free (it derives revenue purely from advertising.) Planet Philippines is not a single corporate entity that prints and exports newspapers; rather, it is a franchised business where the owner of the brand provides content to its global franchisees, the latter of which locally prints and distributes the finished product within its community or city. Continuing on, I ventured to describe for Planet Philippines who exactly the reader of the newsmagazine is and came up with “Maria.”
Being female, Maria is 32 years old, married with two young children, ages 10 and 12, respectively, and living in the United States, specifically the city of Fontana in California. Both Maria and her husband are regular employees of their specific profession – Maria is a retail clerk at Walmart and her husband works as an X-ray technician at Kaiser Permanente. The daily work schedules of Maria and her husband is always different from each other so that one can bring the kids to school and the other one picks them up – Maria’s husband takes the early morning shift, ending at 3:00 PM, while she take the late shift, starting at 11:00 AM and ending at 7:00 PM. Maria and her family migrated to the U.S. when her kids were still very young, and they have been living in the U.S. for the past seven years.
Through the years, they’ve assimilated the culture of their new community but remained to have the heart of a Filipina and that of a Filipino family. They continued to speak in Pilipino (or Tagalog) in their rented house with their kids understanding what they’re saying but having difficulty uttering complete sentences. They met other Filipinos through their church and kids’ school, and expanded their network of other Filipino-American families as the years went by. Maria, typical of the Filipino mother, has always been busy multitasking for her family, from doing groceries to attending to the medical needs of her family and even making their weekend and vacation plans. The husband takes care of their cars, repairs of the house, and other “manly tasks” as Maria often quips.
Maria knows when Planet Philippines is available at the nearest mall and picking up a copy is part of her twice-a-month routine. She actually gets two copies and gives the other to her neighbor and best friend, also a Filipina-American but who never gets chance to grab a copy because of her off-hours work schedule as a nurse. Maria loves to read a printed copy rather than go to the internet, surf and read. For Maria, the internet is usually just for e-mail messaging with her relatives and friends in the Philippines, and for Facebook updates. She also subscribes to TFC only because of Wowowee (and that’s another story now that Willie is doing it in another channel). Maria and her husband can only afford to visit the Philippines every four years or so; with the other summer breaks her kids have, they try to tour some of the cities in the U.S. where they have relatives and can get free lodging from them.
Maria’s social conversations with other Filipino-American spouses are always about celebrity news and major events in the Philippines. Community news comes second, American entertainment news next in line, while sports and politics, regardless of country, always fall last. However, her husband loves to keep tabs of Philippine sports news and events, especially his school and college sports accolades, and Planet Philippines makes sure there an item or two about sports and politics in its content.
I can go on forever in describing Maria as the ideal customer of Planet Philippines but I won’t. The point is, this detailed description of Maria makes sure the newsmagazine’s content is focused on Maria and her family’s information needs; also, all the succeeding marketing efforts are always geared towards that description. Anyone reading the newsmagazine other than Maria is gravy. If there is a story that doesn’t really conform to Maria’s personality or her family but is interestingly popular, Planet Philippines makes its earnest decision to print it or not. If the newsmagazine has a new applicant for a franchised publisher, it evaluates the applicant’s city and its population, and interviews him on the merit of his intent why he would like to distribute Planet Philippines in his community. Everything that Planet Philippines does, it does so on the merit of Maria’s needs. In five years or so, it will have to decide whether to recreate Maria as the same 32-year old migrant Filipina-American or continue on with Maria’s life; or create a new newsmagazine for another Maria while continuing on with old Maria as she ages.
It is inevitable that you create the ideal buyer of your product or service and hone your efforts to effectively market and sell your product or service to this specific buyer. It is not the other way around. In my case, I market and sell a hosted call center solution in the Philippines from Kunnect.com. I don’t attend conferences and events where the big players of my industry go to because they are not my ideal Maria. I know very well that Kunnect in the Philippines is more relevant and meaningful to the small business call center – my Maria – the less-than-100-seats of voice-based outsourced call center companies. Paying large sums of money just to attract the big players will never be Kunnect’s cup of tea; just gravy. But I still touch base with the big call center companies through direct yet informal means only because they are still the pillars of my chosen industry; however, dreaming of many big, closed sales coming from this “large business” market is, well, a dream. Kunnect can’t deliver complex after-sale services that large enterprises require of an expensive purchase (i.e. 24×7 onsite support). It can, however, deliver simple, 24×7 “remote” after-sale services, much like many of the SaaS-oriented (software-as-a-service) and cloud computing providers out there. Though I am the official in-country sales and marketing rep of Kunnect, I can’t be all over the country physically presenting Kunnect to every prospect while managing a cadre of support engineers that can be whisked to a client’s site in less than an hour. Again, that’s too expensive to do. That’s why I developed my own simple website to be able to present Kunnect directly to my Maria in the Philippines (and Asia), the small business call center, without onsite intervention. The phone and the web are my best friends. I provide the “product + service” combination to my Maria at dirt-cheap, affordable rates but with a stable, simple-to-use product that doesn’t need too much client hand-holding during its set up and implementation, and has a good help desk system that’s remote, not onsite.
I also think of my alma mater, Avon. Direct selling for Avon means thousands of people starting out as independent, non-salaried dealers during the time they do not have much cash, and ending up to become successful millionaires. Avon sells its products through its network of dealers and distributors, not by way of retail malls and superstores. Though they attempted retail in the early nineties, it wasn’t a successful endeavor and they knew it wouldn’t be. The retail attempt was (and still is) a way to glamorize their products, not really make tons of money selling it there. Its marketing and advertising strategies may look affluent but that is its intention, being an “aspiration” than being direct to the market. That kind of marketing helps their dealer-network push their products to the latter’s customers beyond their social class and helps create more buyers. From Tweety de Leon to Lea Salonga and Angel Locsin, the celebrity-laden endorsers are all aspirational users of the Avon products that reflects what the customers of their direct selling network is. But inside the Avon company in the Philippines is a huge sales support structure very much knowledgeable of its direct selling network – what it wants and what it needs.
Do I Develop a Brand or a Product?
“Isn’t a product a brand?” Well, the soothsayers and naysayers will all have their book-length descriptions of product and brand, and both groups are still correct in their own thesis. However, for the non-advertising geeks of the world like us, product (or service) is the thing we manufacture and perfect while brand is the label we put in the product. Nike built a product first before it became a brand; Coca-cola did the same. Almost every large, successful entity today with a global brand started out perfecting a great product. Even Microsoft, at one point in their product-oriented life, built then marketed a stable MS-DOS operating system (the granddaddy of today’s Windows 7) long before it started its pooh-pooh “market then build” business way or so fashionably called “vaporware” – software that were not yet finished but were already being marketed as if it already existed.
Everyone wants to be popular but immediate popularity for a small business means lots of cash to gamble. Instead, as a small business owner, you should develop and perfect your product while marketing it directly to your Maria. Geographically, isn’t it more cost-effective to find Maria within your community or city before you attempt to go outside of it? I remember a few small business entities I joined that over-reached the limits of their marketing efforts to far flung places of outside the scope of service convenience – totally wasted money. For the few that were open-minded, we got back to basics and told ourselves, “Hey! We should first be the best supplier at our own community before we even trek outside it.” If you hold office in Manila, you should first saturate and own the City of Manila, so to speak, before you start spending valuable money marketing outside it.
One of the best examples of a large company in the Philippines that does this is BayanTel. You can easily subscribe to BayanTel’s internet plans within Quezon City and get better internet connection than getting it from their competitors. In fact, they can install your E1 line (a full 2Mbps bandwidth usually subscribed by multiple user companies) within 3 days, way faster than their nearest competitor’s timeline of 30 days. Go outside Quezon City and internet connection with BayanTel’s competitors (probably) becomes better, say Globe within the Makati CBD. The point is even if BayanTel doesn’t taunt the idea, they know they provide the best product with the fastest service within Quezon City.
Here’s a bit of trivia before I end this section. Did you know that Phil Knight, founder of Nike, and his merry band of offbeat co-founders used to buy and sell the Tiger brand of rubber shoes in the United States, exclusively manufactured by Onitsuka of Japan? They only sold rubber shoes solely for track and field sport and its (then) new lifestyle equivalent, jogging. Eventually, they came up with the Nike brand and Swoosh logo but still relied on Japanese technology to produce their new branded rubber shoes, still only for track and field, and jogging. Maria, to them and then, was a track and field, and jogging enthusiast! The rest, as they say, is history.
Do I Market Online or Offline?
I’m going to assume you’ve got your product and service strategies perfected to a tee with the perfect description of your Maria, and you have all the internal processes needed to continue to enhance your “product + service” combination all through the life of your corporate entity. If you are dependent on someone else to manufacture and service the product you are selling, let’s assume they are doing the same thing with their product that you’re reselling. If not, better look for another product, lest you fail because despite your creative marketing prowess, your product still, well, “sucks.”
Many online soothsayers of the small business industry say that being on the web puts you at level with the large enterprises – everyone has the same footing in terms of marketing messages and graphics. But despite that, it still boils down to how conveniently accessible is your product to Maria. Can Maria call, order and have it delivered within the hour? Can Maria find it in her favorite mall? Can Maria surf the internet, find your website, and buy online? Online marketing may be the cheapest way to market your product but beware of cheap activities – they also tend to deliver cheap results. Think about the online matchmaking sites. If it’s free, you get lots of obtrusive flack; if you have to pay, you get nearer to the right partner you’re looking for. The more you pay, the better the kind of person you’re matched to. I know of a friend who found the love of her life at Match.com and, after a year of courtship, have recently married each other, not for money, but for real love. The thing is, they both paid for the service.
Let’s talk about the world. If Maria is a person who lives outside the Philippines (or your country for that matter), marketing your product in the World Wide Web will be more cost-effective than having to go through tri-media means (published media, television and radio) in foreign soil. But also consider the limitations of internet marketing and social media networking and marketing. Single-digit-percentage results from the numerous online “hits” you have is something common when you advertise with Facebook or Google. (An exception is being geographically located in a First World country like the United States.) Online advertising is not a one-time deal; there is a learning process you have to develop, especially the first time you use it, and you have to tweak your ad copy until you develop more prospects out of the hits. For example, when your Facebook ad is clicked, will you get better results when your prospect goes to your website, blog or Facebook Fan Page? Again, personify Maria and see how she reacts to either three. But then, social media marketing is not a one-time thing – it’s an ongoing, daily activity planned out in the beginning and adjusted through the period of execution. There is no start-and-stop activity to social media marketing, not unlike telephone marketing campaigns that run for a month or so then you evaluate and proceed with next-steps activities. Social media marketing also has its business partner – social media networking, a daily, continuous activity done not only by a few of your marketing reps but your entire organization, even your lowly accounting clerk.
If your product is for local consumption, say the Philippines, rethink your online marketing strategy. Though internet penetration in the household has gone up over the years, still, many people access the internet in their workplace or the internet cafés. The affordability of buying and leasing an internet system for the home – computer plus ISP connection – still rests in the middle-to-upper class of the country’s social spectrum. Even if there are about 18 million Filipino users in Facebook, overall activity is still not that high compared to First World subscribers. Traditional media, mobile text-messaging and the telephone are still the popular means of prospecting in the Philippines. Even if you consider the social class of Maria, you will eventually need to conduct a combination of offline and online marketing for your product – you will still need to bridge the gap between the traditional and social media.
For online marketing, there is web marketing and there is social media marketing. Web marketing simply takes your corporate or product-oriented website to the mainstream of the World Wide Web while you devour search engines and news sites for footprint presence, paid or otherwise. This is where SEO activities (search engine optimization) comes into the picture, an pursuit that’s not a one-time endeavor but altogether an ongoing web activity of competitive comparisons and website tweaking. If your product is more global than local, then the effort to conduct yourself in the web becomes bigger. For local presence, the smaller the type of market, the smaller your effort for web marketing becomes. A sari-sari store (a home-based, very small, over-the-counter retail store by the street in the Philippines) is simply an offline market than online. A door-to-door delivery of your product is more open to online marketing.
Social media marketing, on the other hand, becomes more content and conversation driven than web marketing, though sometimes web and social media marketing overlap especially in a pure online business venture. You connect, network and socialize with your chosen web networking sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, in the guise of marketing your product. In my humble experience doing the above, I’ve concluded that many of my prospects were not my friends in these social media websites I actively participate. It is the network of friends and acquaintances of my friends, sometimes leaping two hops or more that become my Maria. This meant I should market my product to my friends in Facebook or the like in a very subtle way than being face-to-face direct.
But which social media website do each of us choose to use to effectively market our product to our Maria? Let’s take my chosen industry as an example – the almost half-a-million call center workforce in the country. Their online presence began with the height of Friendster as a popular social media for the young and yuppies-at-heart (I had to use that term to include myself – LOL!) If you think Facebook is their primary means of social media activity today, think again. Mom and Dad actually invaded Facebook earlier than they did, or the parents were more active than the kids. Also, many Friendster-savvy call center agents still cling on to their first social media love simply because it’s too darn difficult and time-consuming (or totally blind as a bat) to transfer their photos and profile, and begin anew with links, testimonials and a host of other features that Facebook may have. For Maria being a call center agent in the Philippines, if I had to choose just one social media website to market my product that’s most appealing to call center agents in the country, I’d prefer Friendster over Facebook. It’s not about the popularity of the social media website – it’s where Maria actually spends more time.
If Maria likes to read interesting content in the web or at social media sites, then “interesting” also has to be “meaningful” and “relevant” to her lifestyle, be it work or personal. You can’t push your product to the face of Maria – she’ll eventually snub you on day-one. Rather, write or blog the generic equivalent of your product while placing it at the sidelines of your blog. I call this MGB – Marketing in the Guise of a Blog (okay, so I invented the acronym – we all do it all the time.) The same goes for Facebook; rather than label your Fan Page “The Best All-in-one Glorious Toothbrush,” name it as “My Toothbrush, My Teeth” or anything that describes it as a special interest group who adorns their teeth and the toothbrush that most appeals to them than a bunch of people who will (future tense) love to use your new yet publicly unknown “Glorious Toothbrush” product. The more generic the phrase or title, the bigger the possibility of people joining your Facebook Fan Page without even directly marketing the existence of your page to them. But remember the time your Maria has with the internet – it’s not as if she’ll be online all day long. Go back to how you described the personality of your Maria down to her daily schedule of activities in life. That schedule becomes your embedded routine when you interact you’re your Maria.
In the End, a Conversation Still Wins Over Messaging
My personal website – this blog – is plastered with the word “conversations” between the title, sub-title and most of my posts. That’s because I am a strong believer that no matter how the internet was invented and is used today, the winning formula for online success will always be the site that provides a more convenient means of developing real conversations with its community of visitors, loyal readers or members.
If you Tweet something, be prepared to respond back to every direct message (called “DM”), especially a simple “thanks” for re-Tweeting (labeled “RT”) your Tweet. If someone comments on your Facebook post, comment back all the time. In Facebook, you’ll notice that the more comments you have, the bigger the chance of that post appearing in the “Top News” stream of your member’s wall, the default wall when one opens his or her Facebook for the first time. The same goes for Friendster testimonials, LinkedIn comments, Plaxo replies and a host of many other social media websites. The conversation you create with a single person becomes more meaningful and relevant to him because he knows that the next time he comments, he expects a reply from you. People are still people even with their online self. When they say something to someone like you, it means well for them to receive a reply.
But why stop at just writing messages, comments and replies? If you can create a face-to-face conversation, won’t you grab that opportunity? Last year, I experimented upon messaging and responding to those who commented on my posts at LinkedIn by asking fifteen minutes of their time to meet me at the Starbucks nearest to their workplace. Half responded positively, and then half of these I actually met for coffee (see my story why I chose Starbucks as the best venue for meeting). I usually offered a my service to them, to find out if I could re-market their product for free on my blog or become an independent reseller paid only by commission when I close a sale (or as an affiliate marketer.) During the face-to-face conversation, I of course introduced what I was doing as a freelance entrepreneur, including a show-and-tell of my product.
Many of these fifteen minute conversations turned out to be half- or one-hour discussions. I included a “who am I” story-telling section so that my new acquaintance gets to know me better, expanding from the web profile they read. I made sure I presented only one core competence, say networking marketing, and one product, like Kunnect, the hosted call center solution I’ve been marketing in the country, that I valued more than the others. Choosing one or two competences and products made it easier for them to remember me; presenting a mother load of capabilities will make them forget me – “what the heck does he do again?” Quaint chances of messaging each other in the social media websites after that meeting made them good referrers and reference people to their own network – they always knew what I was all about. Even my high school batch mates relate my name to the term “call center”; when in need of advise regarding the industry, “talk to Raffy Pekson.” Awesome!
Your online conversations, multiple instances of comments and replies on several topics, have to be transformed to a face-to-face meeting. Only then will your social media acquaintance be transformed into a real transaction. Marketing’s overall goal is to generate sales. Marketing without the intent of a sale is an expensive hobby and not reality. Somewhere along the way, there is always an opportunity to monetize what you market.
If my social media acquaintance is not in the country, I call them up. I balance the cost to call overseas versus the benefits I derive from it, be it a short-term advantage or a long-term gain. For example, I’ve had an online acquaintance that started back in 2002 when the term “social media” didn’t even exist and kept my using my BMW (another acronym? Click here to find out what BMW means) to make sure I was abreast at what we were both doing in life. I kept in touch with him at least twice each year. In 2006, I e-mailed him to introduce what I was doing – setting up an 80-seat call center in the Philippines. Lo and behold, that e-mail message turned into a telephone conversation which led me to get Reed Business Information (or RBI), the largest trade publication company in the United States, as my most prestigious client for the call center. As it turned out, the VP for Operations of RBI was his good friend. Whodathunk? Yes, who would think that a casual acquaintance through the web and very rare telephone conversations turned out to be a huge transaction four years later.
Turn your social media conversations into real, face-to-face or verbal conversations. Gut feelings and intuitions always come in to play when two people are talking to each other, and those factors tremendously add to the emergence of a viable transaction – the introduction of your Maria to you by your acquaintance. Whether it does or not, that person will be glad to have talked to you directly and, in earnest, he or she will keep you in mind when an opportunity for your product falls on his lap or even just passes him by. The personal and professional “you” always do mix all the time, even way back before the advent of social media networking and marketing. Even your primary education classmates may now be primed up to be your customers, or their friends, thereof, only if you kept in touch with them and they know what you do.