Marketing In a Hyper-Competitive World

Effective marketing is not easy. There are so many choices it can make you dizzy. Everybody is telling you to get on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or … whatever. That all sounds great until you realize you have a limited budget, limited time, and limited resources. So what should you do?

You Have Options

First of all, realize you really do have options. Internet marketing includes search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising (PPC), videos, opt-in email campaigns, directory listings, social media, blogging, and more. Traditional marketing includes print advertising, PR, direct mail, tradeshows and events, radio, television, printed newsletters, and more. For consultants and professional service businesses there are more options, including speaking engagements, panel discussions, networking groups, writing articles, etc.

What’s The Plan?

Despite what you see on TV or the Internet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. There isn’t even one marketing plan that works for one particular business vertical. For every “tried and true” marketing strategy that works for one business, the same plan applied to a “similar” business might fail miserably. People are bombarded with marketing messages at every turn. And once one business finds a way to cut through the clutter, everybody else copies them until that message or channel becomes ineffective.

For example, look at “green marketing”. Just a few years ago you could count the number of “green” businesses in any industry on one hand. Now everybody has jumped on the bandwagon. Green logos are ubiquitous; everybody loves the environment; every business is sustainable …well, not really. Most businesses say they are green, but they really don’t do anything to back it up. The end result is that real “green” companies are suffering because they are drowning in a sea of phony claims and promises.

Keep Moving

No business — large or small — can just keep doing the same thing year after year, and expect it to keep working. You have to be nimble! Agility is your best defense, and your best offense. On the Internet, whether you are talking about email, PPC, SEO or something else, you should experiment with different keywords, messages, offers, prices, etc. For example, Google Adwords and Google Analytics allow you to set up A/B tests so that you can compare results accurately. You can run different ads within the same campaign, and watch how users interact with each one. Often just changing one or two words can lead to enormous differences in click through rates. The same principle applies to traditional media. But there is one caveat: to stay ahead of the curve you need to keep testing. Don’t just do it once every two or three years.

 Watch Your Competitors

Tools such as SEORankMonitor, Compete, or Spyfu can help you see what your competitors are doing on the Internet. Find out what keywords your competitors are using, how their site ranks compared to yours, what pages are getting the most traffic, etc. If you try any of these tools, you might be surprised by how fast things change. I have seen keywords jump from the fifth page to the first page just because I changed a few lines of text.

Monitoring your competition off the Internet is also important, but it is generally also more difficult. Scan newspapers and trade magazines, attend events, and talk to customers and clients. It is amazing what you can pick up just by paying attention.

Dare To Be Different

If your competitors are spending a fortune on one channel, and you see an opportunity somewhere else, seize it. We recently worked with a client in the wedding photography business who did exactly that. They were tired of being outspent by the competition at wedding shows, and saw an opportunity on the Internet. They cut back on wedding shows and shifted resources to SEO, PPC and email marketing. Their sales increased dramatically within months of changing strategy and they are now expanding into other markets.

 Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

If you try everything you’ll quickly exceed your budget, exhaust your marketing resources, and go crazy since you have no time for anything else. On the other hand, many previously successful firms get complacent and cut back on everything except the one thing they know works: word of mouth, or direct mail, or …. The best marketing strategy is to use a “portfolio” approach. Not too much in any one area, but not too dispersed either. Such an approach may not be the lowest cost solution in the short term, but it pays dividends over the long term because at least one channel is always working.

In short, effective marketing, like most things in life, is really a process. No one thing works forever, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Market leaders know and practice this every day.

About Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is President of Ground Floor Partners. Over the past twenty years he has advised hundreds of small businesses on strategy, marketing, real estate and finance. He is passionate about small business, social and environmental justice, and is a proud member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Food and Water Watch, Green America, Food Consultants Group, and the American Planning Association.

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