Online marketing for Startups: back to basics – p+p+p+p

As a Kellogg alum (worlds greatest marketing school, after all, uh huh) I would be remiss not to write occasionally about marketing in the context of our world: online entrepreneurs. At crowdSPRING, we are constantly evaluating our own mix of marketing strategy, tactics, and resources and the “debates” can get extreme. Like many small companies with limited marketing budgets, we are forced to work with the resources at hand, so creativity, partnering approaches, social media, and viral efforts tend to be our stock in trade. But we have to remind ourselves that, no matter the approach, like all businesses with effective marketing plans, we have to stick to the basics.

Buyers, whether of goods or services, consider their own “service output demands” and weigh what is most important to them, often looking at the quantity of what they are buying, the convenience of where they buy it, the delivery time or waiting time necessary to buy it, and the variety of choice available to them.These factors will drive purchasing decisions and good companies work hard to anticipate their customer’s needs in each of these variables. Which brings me back to my old friend (and yours, too, I hope) the four P’s” Product. Place. Price. Promotion. First conceived of in the early 1960’s by Notre Dame Professor Jerome McCarthy, they are as relevant to small business (and large) today as they were almost 50 years ago. For us, we tend to invoke the P’s whenever our marketing debates start to stray. Of course, every business has it’s own unique context and what is relevant to crowdSPRING may not be relevant to your business, but in your own situation a review of these is ever timely.

Product: What exactly is it that you are selling and to whom? Does your product provide value? Solve a problem? Improve your customer’s own lives or businesses? We constantly look at our own service through the eyes of our customers and work to evaluate whether it is giving them valuable and worthwhile benefits. This drives our own product development strategy, and we constantly ask for feedback and suggestions to help us understand how we can do better. But critical to consider are whether your product offers enough variation (is there something for (almost) everyone?); differentiation (can people tell it apart from other offerings?); innovation (are you constantly improving, iterating, bettering your product?); and elimination (do you regularly consider what doesn’t work or what isn’t profitable, and kill what needs to be killed?).

Place: Where is it that you are selling your products or services? A shopping mall? Downtown business district? Your client’s plant or office? Or right here on the good ol’ Internets? It is critical that you place your product where your customers want it and look for it and you should regularly question whether your distribution channel the right one. Convenience is often the main driver when considering a purchase, and this includes both physical convenience, but also the ease of the purchasing process itself. For instance, at crowdSPRING one of our main goals is to make it as easy as possible to post and manage a project, from the moment a user registers on the site, until they receive their final files. For Creatives we have a similar approach: keep barriers to participation as low as possible and make it simple and seamless to get in there and be active.

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Price: Well, let’s see. What’s most important here, how much your competitors charge for their product or service, or how much is your customer willing to pay? Here is where we look hard at positioning your company; are you a low-cost solution? a luxury brand? a cutting-edge technology that no on else offers? The answers to these questions will drive your pricing strategy. The most important thing for small business is to remember not to leave money on the table: if your audience is willing to pay more for your offering, why would you charge less?  The trick is to read those tea leaves in such a way as to assure that a) no money is left on that table, and b) your cutomers leave you with the sense that value was exchanged and that they “got their money’s worth.”

Promotion: How will it be that you tell the world about what you are selling? Where and when can you get your message in front of your target? Have you considered when is the best time to offer that message? There are essentially four elements that we analyze when considering this: individual communication (direct sales, email marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, etc); mass communication (advertising, search marketing, etc); brand management (awareness, positioning, values, etc); corporate identity (branding, partnering, etc). How your company manages these will define your promotion strategy overall; at crowdSPRING we use a careful mix of all of these to reach the broadest possible audience of potential users of the site. Establishing a brand in the big, noisy world of the internet is a challenging proposition and we believe that the most important thing we can do is approach our customers with transparency, honesty, and integrity and hope that they will associate those values with all of our promotional efforts.

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