English poet Robert Burns once said, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Nowhere is that saying truer than in marketing.
Marketing professionals know that drafting a good strategy for reaching your customers and boosting business can often be an exercise in futility.
There are dozens of established marketing strategies, all of which serve the purpose of connecting businesses to customers. But when businesses' best-laid marketing plans fail, dry strategies can only take them so far. It's important to separate what will work in practice from what works in theory for marketing strategies.
With that in mind, here are four common marketing problems and a theoretical and practical solution to help marketers solve them.
1. I need to reduce my marketing spend but still reach customers.
Theoretical solution: Word-of-mouth advertising
If a business invests too much money into online or physical advertising and doesn't reap the rewards, it may consider word-of-mouth advertising as a solution. With word-of-mouth advertising, marketers can increase reach to customers by trying to get highlighted on social media or on review sites.
Practical solution: Form a connection to customers through blogs and social media.
Traditional word-of-mouth advertising can work if a business identifies a glaring need. But a business's problems may be more connected to a lack of face-to-face interaction with consumers. A different strategy of creating authoritative, personal content and interacting with customers outside of advertising can help form a bond.
2. My website gets few views on search engines.
Theoretical solution: Search engine marketing
At a time when businesses are all competing to get more eyeballs online, a website's placement on search engines can be the difference between success and obscurity. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. SEO is a search engine marketing tool that allows search engines to find and "rank" websites based on keyword searches. A great SEO strategy can take a site from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the charts. By merely focusing on SEO, a business can see immediate results in how its website ranks and who understands its content.
Practical solution: Use SEO as part of a complete content overhaul.
SEO can be a valuable tool for any website that is looking for viewers, but it won't attract and retain users on its own. To bring visitors to a website, it's essential to have a content strategy that includes blogging, social media interaction and more. When you have a good content infrastructure, SEO tools can take already-great content to the next level. Using tools like quality backlinking and keyword tags can elevate content, but bringing consumers back to a business's products or services requires a personal connection that you can form through varied and substantial material.
3. I have a small staff but need more outreach.
Theoretical solution: Commitment to outbound marketing
Outbound marketing, which includes reaching out to consumers directly or through targeted campaigns, is the oldest form of marketing there is. If a business has a small marketing team that doesn't interact enough with consumers, outbound marketing strategies could help get the word out. Some of the most common forms of outbound marketing are direct mailers and emails, and it can even scale up to TV commercials and paid advertising.
Practical solution: Mix your strategies to fit your staff and needs.
While outbound marketing can be a great solution, it requires more staff and the ability to turn out more content. Businesses also run the risk of alienating consumers with "hard-sell" tactics. If staff is in short supply, businesses may want to consider a mixed approach of inbound and outbound marketing. Inbound marketing includes forming a relationship with customers through content creation, newsletters, social media and letting the customers come to them. Paired with more traditional outbound marketing, businesses can best utilize a small staff and reach even more consumers.
4. I have never paid for advertising, and now my sales have plateaued.
Theoretical solution: Investment in paid advertising
If a business has thrived without a dollar of paid advertising, they are truly blessed. But for companies that have relied on word of mouth and now see sales stagnating or even decreasing, you could be tempted to flood the zone with targeted advertising.
Online advertising tools like Google Ads can help you target your audience through placed ads on search engines. That strategy can help you reach more customers than you would with no advertising at all. Other forms of advertising can include social media ads, physical ads, and even TV or radio commercials. With some financial investment, you could help kick off a new wave of strong sales.
Practical solution: Determine where ads are needed and reinvest in connections.
While advertising can help you reach and attract consumers, it's important to note that throwing advertising dollars at a problem may not address the underlying concerns. For instance, maybe your business has not invested enough time in forming relationships with your current and former customers. Your marketing strategy should take elements of what has already worked for you and consider new options to help your business.
If your company has survived on only word of mouth, advertising could hurt your appeal to consumers. It's best to maintain what has worked and keep looking for new strategies to grow your sales.
Theory vs. reality
In general, treating a single marketing strategy like the end-all solution will leave you flailing to adjust to a changing market.
In almost every scenario, your business should treat marketing strategies like puzzle pieces that suit your needs. Theoretical solutions often fold under the harsh heat of reality, so it's important to keep your options open and go where your consumers take you.
When looking for solutions, a firm grasp of theory can help open you up to new possibilities – but don't lose touch with what your business is about and what makes you successful.