By Anna Kennedy

When people hear the word ‘marketing’, they sometimes equate it with some kind of fluffy activity to do with creating a logo, choosing nice colors and sending out press releases – oh, and building a website, so that they have one ‘out there’. Marketing never was ‘fluff’, but that perception arose because making a connection between marketing activities and the important business of increasing revenue is difficult. In many companies, marketing became sidelined, or when things were tight, eliminated altogether.

Fortunately for marketing, and indeed for your business, it’s stepping up to be accountable for results. As a discipline, marketing has taken on the generation of leads with a willingness that has seen a huge change in how people perceive marketing.

So don’t shut the door on what marketing can contribute. Indeed, give marketing a chance to help you build the engine of your business – an engine that drives leads and acquires new customers.

Now, generating leads isn’t a simple matter. The ‘build it and they will come’ mentality is dead and gone. Although you may think that your company is the best thing since sliced bread, the market doesn’t see you that way. To a prospective customer, you’re only of use if you can solve the specific business problem that’s top of its mind today. Worse still, tomorrow, that prospect may have a different priority – and so time is of the essence.

Marketing is the key to getting your arms around today’s attention-deficit, self-obsessed marketplace. Marketing can provide you with the strategy for taking your story to the marketplace and converting it into leads. Here’s what marketing can do for you:

  • Market watch: Keeping an eye on trends, competition and what customers are doing and what they’re paying attention to can help you modify your offer, craft your messaging and choose the right channels to reach your prospects.

  • Create your brand: Creating your brand is more than just coming up with a logo ‒ it’s about defining who you are as a business and what you want customers to feel when working with you. Although branding may not seem important when you’re small, marketing can give brand development just the right degree of attention. In the early days, you want to be consistent about what you say, even about how your marketing materials look. Later, your brand becomes associated with a specific value that you bring to your customers – that’s priceless and is when the phone starts to ring.

  • Strategize: Any marketers worth their salt create a solid marketing plan, produce a budget and then work that plan. Results get generated by sticking to a steady course. Beware of ‘good ideas’ that don’t fit within the plan. At least evaluate them carefully before shelling out any cash.

  • Figure out the buyer’s journey: Buyers with a problem do specific things in their search for a solution. When you discover what actions they’re taking, you can start to sway the outcome in your favor.

  • Choose channels and create content: Based on the buyer’s journey, you can place influential content in the right places – whether on your website, in blogs, on social channels or in traditional media.

  • Design programs that drive leads: You can use all the above intelligence to create the most compelling marketing programs – maybe it’s an event, such as a trade show or seminar, or maybe it’s a series of emails. Whatever you do, make it very engaging to break through the overwhelming communication that most people face every day.

The good news is that technology has kept pace with the new marketing situation. It helps track the buyers along their journeys and assess when they’re really turning into solid leads.

Here are four technological components you need to have in place for this new marketing era:

  • Your website: It’s the hub of marketing. A website isn’t just about blowing your trumpet, it’s about engaging your prospects and causing them to take action. You need a website solution that you can expand with ease, including publishing new content and creating new landing pages (for your campaigns). A tool such as WordPress works well for smaller companies.

  • Your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM): You need a place to store the interactions between your people and your prospects. Whether you’re dealing with an early stage ‘lead’ or trying to close an ‘opportunity’, you want to track everything in one place. Here’s the kicker: if someone fills in a ‘call me’ form on your website, you want it to go directly into the CRM, so that someone gets an alert to call the lead that day.

  • Your Marketing Automation tool (MA): Beyond simple email marketing, you need tools that manage complete campaigns and track all the responses to those campaigns. They also ‘score’ behavior by your prospects to see when they’re ready to be called. When your MA tool is integrated with your website and CRM, you’re in business. Now you have an engine.

  • Your analytics: Marketing is trial, error and continuous improvement. To drive the highest results, you need to measure and evaluate how you’re doing. Your systems need to have analytics tools included or added on, so that you can track what’s happening. What pages are people looking at on your website? Which emails are they opening? Which content seems to get the most attention? Watch your analytics and adjust your campaigns and content strategy to suit. Measure everything you can measure.

Above all, be patient. Start your marketing efforts early, invest small to start with and grow investment with your revenue.