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GrowSmartBiz Conference Recap: Driving Small Business Performance with Marketing & Innovation.

by Ken Yeung on September 29, 2009

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The first panel of the 2009 GrowSmartBiz Conference addressed how small businesses could increase their productivity and performance through sound marketing and innovation. The panelists included folks like:

- John Arnold (Contant Contact)
- Marissa Levin (Information Experts)
- Ramon Ray (SmallBizTechnology)
- Bob London (London, Ink)

What are some important steps needed for a brand? Some small businesses think they don’t need a brand.

According to Marissa Levin, there is a three-prong approach to branding: you can brand product & services, brand your organization and brand your leadership (including your  CEO & all other management). Branding is NOT about getting your product/service out there. You definitely don’t want to be the best kept secret in the industry. Levin goes on to talk about brand equity and says that everyday businesses are growing brand equity. Anytime anyone has a positive or negative experience, that is affecting your brand equity and constitutes a brand experience. It’s better to build a brand and market it within the industry/community while making sure you deliver on your brand promise.

Levin also states that it’s good for small businesses to reach out to their financial backers as well. It’s important to emphasize your brand to the banks and establish relationships when you’re on a good situation and doing well because when the time comes and you need money, banks will be cautious in providing financial capital to you. You need to emphasize that they are supporting a strong, solid brand in the marketplace and this can be done during the good times. Don’t wait for the bad times to talk to partners.

Bob London agrees with everything Levin states and has a theory called “inside-out” branding: your brand is your reputation and what people say about you when you’re not in the room. With “inside-out” branding, it’s all about how you execute on all the touchpoints with the community. Branding is how you execute as a small business.

Ramon Ray thinks that there are some key things to address with your brand: you should make sure you have a great product, understand the needs of your customers, have a relationship, take “no” gracefully or with a “but”, and listen – use your ears, not just your mouth.

John Arnold thinks that from an online perspective, you need to keep your brand simple. It needs to translate across a variety of digital mediums – your website, email, social media, mobile, etc. How does your brand translate across a one-to-many relationship? Don’t let your customers force you to compete with other companies by forcing it into a brand identity that it is not. Keep it simple so it translates easily.

How do you find your customers?

Arnold says that identifying customers and lead generation are totally different things. You can buy leads, but you don’t want leads…you want QUALIFIED leads. Small businesses needs sales today, not in the long-term. Acquiring customers is what it’s all about. Need to find a method that will result in you giving value but getting money from it. You need to make sure your marketing dollars spent online are less than what you’re making. You eed to have a communication strategy that is effectively and over the course of the business cycle. Work on your acquisition marketing/discovery marketing. Once you’ve acquired customers, spend less money during the buying life cycle.

Ray says that SEO and search engine marketing is very important because you build websites, but need someone to find you. Email marketing is also very important for finding new customers – may not be wanting to buy now, but will sign up for a newsletter for business later. Wants businesses to put their phone number on their website. Needs to have empowered websites that is a tool/asset that will help bring in new customers.

Levin says people are in the habit of hiding behind our Facebook profile. There is nothing more valuable than a face-to-face communication. Need to connect on a personal level and have conversation that won’t happen in a comment box in relation to a status update. Person-to-person relationship can’t happen digitally. Authenticity in real life is way better than experiencing it online – there is no replication.

London says we shouldn’t go nuts with social media. If you’re looking to base your entire business over social media, then that’s a different story. It’s not necessary. Panel is composed of four small businesses and no one is fully engaged in social media.

How do you convert?

Ray says that you need to be flexible & listen. You need to then follow-up on any leads – really important to say “how can I meet your needs?”. Be a true resource – don’t be fake.

Arnold thinks that email is not very good for acquisition – would be considered “spam”. If you send out 10,000 emails to people who don’t want them, customers hate them, but if you send out 10,000 postcards, they’re thrown away. Hate is not one of the buyer values. Understand that not everyone is ready to buy all the time – you can spend money to automate your communication (expensive for small businesses) or rely on on-going communication, which needs to be valuable – inherent (facts, tips, product information) and valuable offers that are applicable now.

London says that in marketing, we have a habit of collecting business cards at events – what happens to all these contacts? On average, to gather a contact and get people to know your company, it costs you between $200-500 and you just wind up sticking them in a drawer. Believes that if you’re spending all this money to get people to your website, to hear you speak or get on a sales call, you should spend your time and money on nuturing that relationship and get them further down the sales cycle. It costs nothing to nurture a customer by staying in touch all the time.

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