Small business owners usually know what accounting, production, quality control, customer service, and most other functions of their businesses entail, but many, even the most experienced, ask “Just what is marketing really all about?” Your editor recently talked with Michael Olson, the General Manager of KSCO, and he gave a great definition. As Michael sees it, the best one-word definition of marketing is “fighting.” That surprised me, but the longer we talked, the more sense it made. Michael defined three basic elements of successful fighting:

  • Use the right weapon;
  • Hit the right target; and
  • Use the right amount of force.

Using the right weapon is critical. Your basic weapon is the message you put out, but (as military texts note), weapons are either strategic or tactical. Let’s look first at the strategic message. This is the message that positions you, your products, and your services. This will normally focus on one of three objectives. For new businesses, the goal will be establishing one’s position in the market. For established businesses, it will be keeping clientele aware and involved (although it may also be used to upgrade the business’ image with a more expensive product line or new services). The third focus (the one we all hope to avoid) is to overcome a bad image. When an employee sours customers’ experiences, you can fire the employee, but you must do something proactive to win the disgruntled customers back.

The tactical message, on the other hand, motivates customers toward a specific opportunity (usually a sale, but also an evening of entertainment, or a new product offered on a trial basis).

Obviously, the choice of weapon will relate to the choice of target. While it is important to understand the difference between strategic and tactical marketing targets, other considerations must be made. Few businesses target every person or every area. If you sold Sponge Bob items, you would target small children, young parents, and doting grandparents, but you would not target people in their twenties with no children. Understand what portion of the populace will buy your product and aim your merchandising at them. Consider also where to reach them. Grandparents read newspapers; millennials read tweets.

And use the right amount of force. Excessive force (which here is measured in dollars) can be a waste of your (not unlimited) resources. If you owned a business whose specialty was $25 oil changes. You might not want to do a mass mailing every week. The average driver gets about four oil changes a year. Weekly would advertise to him 13 times per oil change. A better “force” might be to post a $29.95 price and mail a $5 off certificate quarterly. Consider your options carefully. Select the force (frequency and vehicle) that will let your weapon hit your selected target.

This may seem simplistic, but if you think in these terms, you will probably find the marketing approach that best fits your business objectives and resources. You could also ask your SCORE mentor for advice.

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