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The Peter Mayer advertising agency in New Orleans specializes in work for brands that have a strong cultural resonance, often Louisiana-based companies that are closely associated with the local community but that are national in scope. Brands like Luzianne, Zatarian’s, Sazerac and Community Coffee have to connect to the culture at large in order to gain national sales. The company’s executives tell their story to small business owners at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week each year, and their perspective is an interesting one.
Take school lunches. Mayer shows that there are three things happening in the culture that affect school lunches: glamour food inspired by Instagram and Pinterest, health consciousness on the part of both parents and children, and concerns about food allergies. In combination, they make parents stressed about making lunch, a fourth factor. Thus, if you are selling a product for kid’s school lunches, you have four avenues to consider when appealing to the market.
Department-store magnate Marshall Field supposedly said the secret to merchandising was to “give the lady what she wants.” That’s easy enough, if you could tell what it was that the customer actually wanted. The good news? That information is all around us, if you know where to look. By pulling together the cultural threads that influence your customer, you can improve your marketing plan.
Two of the main techniques used by companies with large marketing budgets are personas and mood boards. They spend time and money on focus groups and market tests to come up with plans of action. However, you can do a low-cost version of the same work to improve your marketing right now.
Personas are descriptions of target customers, made in such a way that you can readily identify who is and is not a customer. This includes information such as the buyer’s demographics, the problem that has to be solved and how the purchase decision is made. These don’t have to be complicated. In fact, if you make them too specific, you can overlook potential customers who almost – but not quite – fit the description. Instead, think about the factors that fit your customer based on what you sell. If you are selling temporary accounting services, you may only need to know that your target customer is an accounting manager at a manufacturing company who wants to make good decisions in order to get promoted. Her hobbies, family background and favorite beverages probably aren’t relevant.
If you sell a service that delivers healthy pre-made school lunches to her house, then those factors do matter. To improve your marketing, look at what affects your product and let the rest go.
Next, think about making a mood board. Remember how in grade school, there was always one language arts teacher who had you make collages, and you figured that skill would never come in handy? Guess what? A mood board is a controlled collage that shows the images, colors, and even fonts that resonate with your target customer and can be used to showcase your brand. Ad agency employees spend hours preparing these for their clients because they are the basis of their future work. For a startup company, a simple attempt at a mood board can help improve your marketing.
For startups that can’t afford to do extensive work with focus groups and beta testing, “Social media is the way to go,” says Tim Zuellig of No Ink Inc., a digital design firm. He often helps clients use Instagram and Pinterest to get inspiration for their products.
The accounting manager of your persona is likely to scroll Twitter first thing in the morning to get a read on the day’s events. So, think about who an accounting manager would follow and what those people are talking about other than accounting issues. The mother making school lunches probably checks out Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Social media gives you a way to read the cultural factors that affect customers and, thus, their decisions.
As you get a read on the customer, you can also create the voice of your company and use that on social media. “Find a way to make the social brand personality open enough to have conversations with customers,” says Lisa Leone, a freelance creative director and content strategist in the Chicago area.
“Facebook ad manager is so easy and inexpensive to use, and with it you can run smaller tests on both Facebook and Instagram to see what resonates culturally with your audience,” she said, letting you do the small-company equivalent of a large focus group.
Your customers may not tell you directly what they want, but they are telling you. And that’s good news.