Small Business Marketing: Clarity on Customer is Key

While I work with many mid to large size software firms in my day job, my other hat is being CEO of a small company. A small company with many, many competitors.
Because consulting has no standard definition, anyone can ‘hang a shingle’ and call themselves a consultant, and then there are the over-sized competitors like McKinsey or Bain that are daunting. In the middle, and more like us, are firms like The Chasm Group. The sole proprietors who are between jobs serve a real need by ‘renting their brains’ for projects, but they aren’t consulting in my definition because they don’t have a repeatable, bullet-proof methodology behind their thinking.
So as a small services firm, in a market loaded with competitors large and small, I’ve been wondering something rather fundamental. What should our marketing strategy be? And what should we spending to make sure we have a high enough level of awareness to make sure those types of clients that need us, can find us?
I’ve been questioning this for some time, and only recently put it in my bulls eye. I can see we have two challenges.
One is a standard ‘marketing’ question of letting folks know what we offer and why it’s better than other service offers. I think that is plenty hard. And it’s really my clients that tell me, it’s the fact we create a noticable difference in the quality and direction of their decisions.
But the other is more difficult to explain. It’s that not all kinds of clients are OUR kind of clients. And so I don’t want to spend time finding ’em, talking to ’em, doing proposals for them, selling ’em, and then having one side or the other finally own up to the fact that we’re not right for each other. Worse yet, I don’t want to take their money and not significantly help them to achieve a great big win.
I feel somewhat like the cobbler’s children. Meaning, as a marketer, I do this day in and day out with great clarity for others. But I’ve been somewhat neglectful of my company, Rubicon.
Now, I might start with the basics. I’m going to put myself through this thinking. In the meantime, here’s the list of what is key in market definition.
1. Define the unique spot. If you find yourself in a dogfight with bigger or overwhelming numbers of competitors, find a market segment or niche where you can be king of the hill. It may be a small hill, but you have to be king of it. For my company, that’s high-tech, and consumer marketing. We fundamentally know technology models and consumer products.
2. Differentiate. As an underdog, your sales efforts should never involve a fair fight. If you choose to go after the same customers with fewer resources, you can’t win unless you do something different than the big dogs. The key is to differentiate on dimensions that are important to your customers. Key questions:

Where can we be different?

Where can we be distinctive?

How do we communicate our differentiation in a way that’s credible and believable?

How do we demonstrate our distinctiveness every day in a way that’s “touchable”?

3. Deliver a a clear, compelling and consistent brand position in the marketplace. Being an authentic person and company really rings true, especially in these days of the “naked conversation” as Scoble says. So not only do you need to define and differentiate, it has to be communicated credibly so people know it’s true.
I’m going to be thinking about this and hopefully coming up with some clear plan of action soon.

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