6 tips for effective marketing

,  23 January 2013

Often people starting a creative business feel they ought to write a business plan. Pete Mosley, advisor to creative people and businesses, has six pieces of advice to develop a market research strategy more easily.

A business plan doesn't have to be a long, formal document.
A business plan doesn't have to be a long, formal document.

Marketing a creative business

The marketplace, whatever your niche, tends to operate in cycles. There are seasonal cycles, financial cycles, and cycles driven by trends and fashions.

Most small businesses tend to react to these by making, doing or supplying things in response to them. To an extent, that’s a healthy thing.

In any small creative business, lots of decisions have to be made on the fly, relying on your intuition and your knowledge of your niche. But is this healthy in the long run? Probably not.

Everybody needs a mix of strategy and tactics for immediate survival. At the same time, there’s always too much to do, with no time to think, or too little work, with all the attendant insecurity and money worries. Quiet times are a good opportunity to think ahead.

How useful is a business plan?

What should your business development priorities be? Should you write a business plan?

Only around 50 per cent of creative businesses have a full-blown traditional business plan – and most of them have written one as a response to a funding pitch or grant application.

Only 50 per cent of creative businesses have a full-blown business plan. Consider doing things in bite-sized ways.

Will writing a business plan fix your immediate challenges? It probably won't. Writing a plan for the sake of it will just slow you down, and distract you from the things you need to do in order to succeed.

Your time should really be spent on thinking about how to build your business, make money, and successfully manage it. Consider how to deal with these issues in bite-sized ways, rather than by writing big documents that immediately need updating.

If you are thinking about writing a full business plan, ask yourself why. If you can’t answer the question clearly with a very good reason, then prioritise something else.

6 tips for effective marketing

Market research should be a high priority – finding out not just what your customers want, but what they will actually buy. Then put your findings to the test.

The true measure of the combination of a great product and thorough market research is that customers start to buy during the process of the research itself.

The chocolate manufacturers Green & Blacks call this 'discovery marketing'. I once listened to their global marketing director describe this process. Here are the key points to bear in mind:

1. Be clear about who you want to buy your products

Target carefully. Aim for laser-precision marketing, not a scattergun approach. 

Think carefully about these things:

  • Who are your customers now?
  • What else are they buying?
  • Can you identify the low-hanging fruit? Who else is a bit like your target customer group, and could you reach them too?

Take time to find out what it is about your values that people really like. What do your customers enjoy about what you do and how you do it?

Finding out what differentiates you from others is a powerful bit of knowledge. Ask your existing customers about this, learn from it, and utilise it in your marketing.

2. Create opportunities for people to sample your products

Allow some ways for people to discover, taste and try your products or services. Then gather feedback.

If possible, get endorsements and positive comments – especially from individuals who are a match for your demographic.

Above, all test the pricing. If people from your demographic don’t buy during this process, or at least indicate strongly that they will do so, you should think carefully about what it is you might need to adjust to get to the ‘yes’ that you want to hear.

3. Incorporate the feedback into your marketing

Don't spend large amounts on marketing until you are sure all of the above elements are working.

As soon as you know something is working, and you are starting to make sales, you can safely scale up your effort in that area.

4. Don't sell at the same price to everyone

Have a range of things customers can buy into. For Green & Blacks’ example, this includes big chocolate bars, smaller bars, and Easter eggs.

Aim for laser-precision marketing, not a scattergun approach.

They also aim to make their products cheaper and stronger in innovative ways, so that less packaging is needed.

They have found it more profitable to make their products stronger by using more chocolate. This has enabled them to cut the amount of packaging down – an interestingly counterintuitive approach.

5. Marketing is about charging more 

While marketing is not about charging more for the sake of it, it is about charging more because your product is unique, distinctive, and resonates with people’s higher sense of value.

With good market research, you should know this, having already asked your customers about these things.

6. Break down your tasks

You can’t ignore the need to plan. Market research can be exciting and dynamic, and testing your market is one of the most profitable things you can do. But it needs to fit into the context of a more solid foundation.

Thinking ahead, looking at your business objectively, exploring new ideas and jotting them down, making plans, setting goals – all this is crucial.

It isn't necessarily about writing a full-blown business plan, but it is about getting a thorough understanding of what you want to do, and where you plan to take your business. From there, create a plan of shorter, bite-sized action points.

This approach should be more achievable, interesting, and energising for your business. If you can do it while things are quiet, you will be better prepared for the next slow time that comes along.

You might even find a way to smooth out those seasonal peaks and troughs.

Pete Mosley is advisor and mentor to a wide range of creative individuals and the author of a new online creative business development tool, The Creative Business Explorer, which is specifically designed for creative freelancers, sole traders and small businesses to help them apply business thinking to their creative practice.

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