Ever wanted to start a brand from scratch? I did, and it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. It’s been four years since my partner and I launched our online brand Animal Outfitters, and boy, what a journey it’s been. Moving from the corporate world, to launching and running a small business is no easy task, and there is a lot to learn. But it’s been exhilarating, and nerve wracking, which I’m sure anyone who’s gone through the start-up phase would agree.
And whilst I’ve had a career in marketing for global brands, nothing has tested my marketing experience more than growing a brand from scratch. I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learnt in the past four years, and how these experiences could help you if you’re on the start-up path. So read on for my five biggest small business marketing learnings you can take into your business.
1 – DIFFERENTIATION IS EVERYTHING
Animal Outfitters is an online designer pet accessories brand – so it’s a business at the heart of an intensively competitive growth industry. Starting a brand from scratch, we knew that competing head to head with the big players would not work. They would out-compete us on marketing spend and price every time. So we had to be different, and every commercial decision we make has to help us differentiate. Firstly we defined our customer niche, and then we set out to offer them unique, high quality products that met their needs better than anyone else. We also focused on delivering exceptional customer service. These early decisions have meant that we’ve been able to build a loyal base of happy customers who tell their friends.
The take-away: Give your target audience a compelling reason to choose you over the competition.
2 – BE ORGANISED. IT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING AND CHASING.
Being super organised with the execution of our marketing plan is critical. Building relationships (particularly online) requires you to build trust with your audience. And you can only really do that by delivering marketing activity consistently that speaks to their needs and wins their trust. A hodge-podge approach just doesn’t work. Having your marketing activities mapped out also means you can react quickly to changes in the environment, and anticipate opportunities before they arrive. I executed a weather-related Facebook marketing campaign two weeks ago which has increased our monthly sales turnover by 65%. Boom! This is the benefit of being organised and nimble.
The take-away: Invest time to develop an adaptable marketing plan. Then make it happen.
3 – TRACK YOUR RESULTS, OR WASTE MONEY
When starting a brand from scratch, you have to do everything, right? It really is the sublime to the ridiculous! But one thing I always prioritise is analysing the results of our marketing activity. Not only have I learnt a huge amount about what works and what doesn’t in our industry, I’ve also been able to develop a really deep understanding of our target audience in the process. I’ve had a lot of experience analysing all sorts of campaigns in my career, but I really appreciate the power of knowing what marketing works when I have a very small marketing budget to play with. I can really make a dollar stretch a lot further than I thought.
The take-away: Block out some time each month to analyse the results of your marketing activities. Learn from your results and adapt to continually improve.
4 – DELIVER A GREAT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE EVERY TIME
Complaints or negative feedback can be hard to deal with. Especially when it’s your own business and your own products. It can feel personal. But I’ve learnt to listen to all the feedback we get. Customers are trying to tell us something – good or bad. We’ve been very fortunate that the overwhelming majority of our customers enjoy shopping with us, but when a customer has a negative experience, we do everything we can to be fair, professional and put it right. Early in my career one of my managers said to me “when someone complains, it’s how you deal with it that makes the difference”. And this has rung true at Animal Outfitters. If someone is unhappy, we want them to walk away with a great customer service experience so they tell their friends about how we put it right, not what went wrong. And the icing on the cake is when they come back and shop again. That is the hallmark of a great customer experience.
The take-away: The customer is not always right, but they should be treated with fairness and respect.
5 – IGNORE VANITY METRICS
I don’t really care how many Facebook fans or Instagram followers Animal Outfitters has. I don’t lose sleep over how many thumbs ups we get on a cute dog picture. And the number of website visitors we get is important, but no where near as important as how they engage with our website, and whether they convert. These are vanity metrics, and are to be treated with caution when you start a brand from scratch. They don’t tell you how successful your marketing is. They don’t necessarily drive turnover. And I learnt pretty quickly that if I got sucked into the social media vortex I’d waste a lot of time on things that wouldn’t drive our business forward. We focus on engagement, conversions, customer loyalty, customer feedback and return on investment. Those are the hard metrics we want to be judged against.
The take-away: Define the metrics that are important to your business and watch those. The rest is noise.
Boy, it was pretty hard keeping it to five learnings. I could have written 20!