Marketing is one of those aspects of business that is often over-complicated in the minds of some and under-appreciated by the majority of the remainder; and whilst it arguably may not be as important as having a good product or providing an excellent service, there is no doubt that it does compliment and enhance them.
One of the reasons that marketing is often shied away from is that it is a very broad term, and when you think of it you think of big, flashy PR stunts, costly rebrandings, or the kind of extravagant creative wizardry that spring forth from the imagination of the characters of Mad Men. All of these are aspects of marketing, but as we said, it is a very broad term, and the majority of it does not have to cost much, if it has to cost you anything at all.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines Marketing as 'the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably', which may sound a little wordy, but in essence all it says is that marketing is customer-centric and should be at the heart of business. This may seem like common sense (after all what is a business without its customers?) but you may be surprised, or not, over just how easy it is to lose sight of the customer and focus more on the product, the service, profit, etc.
Of course these things are still extremely important. There is no point acclimating your customers to a certain level of satisfaction if you are haemorrhaging money and will have to close down within 6 months; likewise, it's pointless providing great customer service if the products you sell are faulty or of a low standard. The best way to think of it is that everything from price, to your physical location, to your product or service itself should be tailored to best suit the customers you intend on targeting.
With this in mind it becomes clear that there are a myriad of ways to effectively market your business without spending a penny; you just have to focus on the little things that will make a big difference, whilst remembering that word of mouth can potentially make or destroy your business.
Every member of staff is a face of the company, and it is probable that they will serve as a point of contact during at least one stage of any customer's transaction. You often see on negative business reviews that “the staff were rude”, and though it is highly unlikely that the customer interacted with more than one or two members of staff, their actions have marred an individual's entire view of the company, and that prejudice can easily be shared with many others via the internet.
Good staff induction and training is key to avoiding this, and though it may take some time to perfect, it will undoubtedly pay off. Some companies even go so far as to develop a sort of culture; an inherent code of behaviour and action which is built from the top down. Instilling a good culture within a business is one potential way in which it is possible to assure that the ways in which staff interact with customers is received favourably.
After Sales Support
One mistake that a lot of service providers make is that they assume that the transaction is complete once a customer has paid for the product or service; a mind set which can easily leave customers feeling improperly looked after, resulting in a loss of trust. This is a danger associated with becoming profit orientated, and whilst it may seem to work in the short-term, studies have shown than it can cost up to 10 times more to attract new customers than it does to retain existing ones.
Supporting customers is not a challenging feat, but it can seem counter-intuitive at times. Offering cash refunds for damaged goods may not seem as desirable as giving store credit, but this may rub people the wrong way, leading to the store credit being the last transaction they ever make with that business. If however customers feel that they are appreciated and respected, even a negative experience regarding a product can be turned into an overall positive experience, making them more likely to take another chance on the business in the future.
Other methods of supplying after sale support are available to those providing services such as internet access, water, electricity, etc., which can easily be used to build consumer confidence. Most customers calling with a complaint, for example, will be frustrated; a feeling which can be exacerbated if the person on the other side of the phone comes across as unsympathetic or unhelpful. Usually a customer can be calmed by little more than a good phone manner and the willingness of the customer service representative to be helpful, irrelevant of whether or not they actually end up being so.
You often hear people talking about the value of an item in terms of how much it cost, plus a percentage of desired profit; but this is an ill advised way of pricing. For better or worse the only thing that dictates the value of an item is how much people are willing to pay for it; which is the reason some people can charge £100 for an item that cost £5 to make, whilst in other cases a product will not shift if it was being sold at break-even price.
Pricing is an incredibly difficult thing to gauge, but it can be made easier by adding value to the service. A customer may be willing to pay slightly more if they feel the added benefits or convenience of shopping at a certain place are worth paying a little more for. However a good promotional possibility would be to lower prices across certain areas, in a bid to attract new customers and turn them into repeat ones. It is very much a balancing act, but the benefits of clever pricing should never be underestimated.
It is important for an organisation to have clear guidelines on how it deals with certain situations and reacts to potential eventualities; but too many processes can result in roadblocks which will quickly frustrate and alienate customers. A lot of the time a process can make complete sense but customers are individuals and as such they may feel that their particular situation is unique, and therefore deserving special consideration.
For the most part people do not care about what is company policy, they just want the system to work. Naturally, processes have to work toward the overall benefit of everyone involved in a transaction, and should not help or hinder any party more than the other; but it makes sense that if it were going to benefit anyone more than the other, that they ought to benefit the customer.
Marketing your business does not have to cost you, so long as you remember that one of the best avenues of advertising is the every day customer who will walk through your door. Treating them well will not cost you a penny, whilst the rewards you reap from the word of mouth you receive will be invaluable.