Many great marketing books cover helpful advice. However, some ideas are more valuable than others. So, I’d like to share 10 of the best marketing tips and strategies from the 281 business books I read over the last 22 years as an entrepreneur.
Some of the essential topics include:
- How to build momentum with a new product
- The right way to communicate your message
- How to identify the best marketing opportunities
- How to gain a big advantage over rival brands
- Creative ways to get people to try your product
- Simple ways to boost word-of-mouth referrals
Let’s get right into it.
1. Build Momentum With The Smallest Viable Market
One of the most common marketing mistakes is trying to attract a broad audience too early on. This approach is often based on the belief that great marketing aims to reach as many people as possible. However, it fails to account for the challenges of getting people to try or buy something new.
There is an incredible amount of noise in the world today. People are inundated with advertisements and offers on a daily basis. There are all kinds of new and exciting products or services for them to consider. As a result, seeing or hearing about your product a few times is not enough to get them to take action.
The key to cutting through the noise is to build momentum with the “smallest viable market,” as described in This Is Marketing by Seth Godin. Start by identifying a group that (a) will greatly benefit from your product, (b) naturally communicate with each other in some way, and (c) can be reached through a reliable marketing channel.
By focusing your efforts on a core market, you increase the odds that people will try your product or service. As they do, they can help you build further momentum by sharing positive reviews and engaging in word-of-mouth referrals. All of which can help support and fund your efforts to start attracting a broader audience.
2. Confirm That Customers Understand Your Message
Many businesses fail to communicate a simple and attractive offer. Instead, their brand messaging uses industry jargon or flowery language that just confuses people. As a result, any effort to drive attention to their product or service falls flat because no amount of awareness can make up for a weak or confusing sales message.
With this in mind, it’s critical to confirm that potential customers understand what you sell and how it can benefit them. One great way to do this is to test your marketing material in casual 1-on-1 customer interviews. For example, show them your website and then ask open-ended questions to help them verbalize their first impressions.
You can ask questions like, “what do you think this is?”, “what do you think this does?”, or “what stands out most about this to you?”. Avoid jumping in to sell or explain anything. If they ask you questions, shift the focus back to them and make it clear you’re interested in what they think about it.
Keep in mind, you won’t always be there to explain things or fill in gaps. So if customers are confused when they view your marketing material, take note of issues and resolve them for future customers. For tips and examples of how to improve your messaging, I recommend that you read Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller.
3. Identify The Best Marketing Channel Right Away
There are many marketing channels worth considering today, including Facebook ads, Google ads, influencer campaigns, public relations, and many more. However, the effectiveness of any approach can vary wildly from business to business. As a result, it’s not unusual to discover one channel is far more effective than all the others.
With this in mind, you must identify the best marketing channel for your product or service. That’s because starting with the right channel can help you generate the cash flow needed to take things to the next level while choosing the wrong channel can lead to mediocre results or even product failure.
The best method I’ve discovered is The Bullseye Framework from Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. First, find a comprehensive list of marketing channels, including those that may seem unusual in your market. Second, take a few moments to brainstorm ideas for every option on your list. Third, identify a handful of options that seem most promising for your business.
With this list in hand, it’s time to perform inexpensive tests for each promising channel. Don’t worry about perfect execution or long-term optimizations. Instead, just test each channel to get a rough sense of how they perform relative to each other. Then, choose the single best-performing channel and focus all of your efforts there.
By focusing all of your efforts on one channel, you will maximize its return on investment. Eventually, when it reaches diminishing returns, you’ll want to repeat the process outlined here to discover another channel that you can add to the mix.
4. Associate Your Product With Environmental Triggers
There are two kinds of word-of-mouth referrals: immediate and ongoing. Immediate word-of-mouth takes place when customers recommend your product or service soon after first experiencing it. Ongoing word-of-mouth occurs over the weeks and months that follow that initial period.
One effective way to increase ongoing referrals is to link your product with triggers, as explained in Contagious by Jonah Berger. Ideally, you want to select environmental or situational triggers that relate to the use of your product. For example, Kit Kat ads often show the product being consumed alongside coffee to associate that as a trigger. As a result, customers are more likely to think of Kit Kat when drinking coffee.
You can take this idea further by linking the product name or brand to a highly relevant trigger. For example, a podcast’s title can include words like “commute,” “coffee,” or even “walk” to create an association. Naturally, this will make it more likely that your content will be top of mind at a time when people listen to podcasts.
Note that it’s crucial to balance the relevance or frequency of the trigger with the strength of the link. For example, if many popular podcasts are associated with “coffee,” then the connection of any one podcast will be weakened.
5. Be The First Brand Into The Minds Of Your Audience
Most product categories have a leading brand that takes the lion’s share of revenue and profits. Intuitively, we tend to believe that the leader offers the best solution. But, the truth is that the leading brand is almost always the brand that first took hold in the minds of its target market, as explained in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
For example, consider the brands that you associate with the following categories: soft drinks, coffee shops, electric cars, streaming TV, and fast food. Which brands come to mind for each one? If you’re anything like the overwhelming majority of mainstream customers, you might answer Coke, Starbucks, Tesla, Netflix, and McDonald’s.
The reason for this is how we create associations between products and product categories. Once we make a connection between a category like “Ketchup” and a brand like “Heinz,” we rarely change our mind. As a result, the brand that gets into the mind of its audience first can dominate the category for years to come.
Note: It’s not enough just to be the first to produce a new kind of product or service. To be clear, you must be first in the minds of your target audience. If nobody knows that your brand was first to market, then the achievement is of little value.
At this point, you may be wondering what you’re supposed to do if you’re not the first brand in your product category. To address that, let’s continue to the next tip.
6. What To Do If Your Brand Is Not The Market Leader
While it’s best to be the leader in an established category, there are three ways in which non-leading brands can secure a better position. First, you can define a new category. Second, you can position your brand as an alternative to the leading brand. And third, you can take an existing category to a new audience or market.
By establishing a new category, you can position your brand as the first one to be associated with it. For example, rather than competing head-on with Facebook as a traditional social network or with YouTube as a video publishing platform, TikTok created a new approach using short-form social video. In doing so, they established themselves as the leading brand in a new category and set themselves apart.
By positioning as the alternative, you can find success alongside the leader. That’s because, in any given market, there are two kinds of customers, those that want to buy from the leader and those who do not. As a result, there’s almost always room for a second brand to be successful. However, rather than trying to be better than the leader, the alternative must be different. Examples include McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Windows PCs vs. Macintosh, and iPhone vs. Galaxy phones.
By taking an existing category to a new audience, you can effectively become the first brand into their minds. For example, Android manufacturers had success by focusing on international markets that were untouched by Apple. In doing so, they became the leading option in those markets. New audiences can often be defined by age range, location, gender, price point, and other demographic or psychographic details.
7. Make It Easy For People To Experience Your Product
Customers avoid uncertainty whenever possible. Generally speaking, they prefer to stick with tried-and-true, familiar solutions when given the option. As a result, it’s often challenging for marketers to get them to try new products and services.
A great way to overcome uncertainty is to help people try your offer without any effort. For example, Acura worked with high-end W Hotels to offer guests a free chauffeured ride to a destination of their choice, as recounted in The Catalyst by Jonah Berger. For guests, it was simply a way to get from point A to point B, but for Acura, it was an opportunity to introduce the Acura MDX to its target market.
Another great option is to leverage a freemium model for your product or service. For example, cloud-based services like Dropbox, Asana, and Gmail offer a free tier. The goal is to help more people experience the core value of their solution. So, they don’t hold back critical features that would cripple the service. Instead, they offer increased storage or collaborative enhancements for those willing to pay a subscription.
What both of these strategies have in common is they reduce the resistance that might otherwise prevent people from trying new products and services. When done right, this approach gives people a chance to experience your solution with minimal effort.
8. Reduce, Eliminate, or Reverse The Risk For Customers
Staying on the topic of uncertainty, it’s also crucial to address this kind of resistance at the point of purchase. Even after someone has tested the product, they may still have unresolved doubts or concerns. Left unaddressed, they may choose to pass on making a purchase even if the product is right for them.
The key to resolving such concerns is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What are the greater risks or concerns they might be considering? What are the short and long-term risks associated with purchasing, setting up, using, and maintaining the product? Which of these issues play the largest role in a buying decision?
Look for opportunities to reduce, eliminate, or reverse customer risk. In rare cases, a 100% money-back guarantee is enough. However, more often than not, there are more substantial risks that remain. For example, someone buying a gift for their spouse may have concerns around embarrassment or rejection if they make the wrong choice. A money-back guarantee does little to resolve their fears.
A popular brand of computer backup-power units realized that customers feared the damage that might result from power spikes or unit failure. Not only would the unit be impacted, but their expensive computer equipment might be as well. So, the company reversed this risk by including a $25,000 insurance policy for connected equipment.
The critical insight here is that customers are always looking to reduce or eliminate uncertainty and risk. Therefore, you can make it easier for customers to make a purchasing decision by addressing or reversing common risks.
9. Remove Friction From Critical Customer Interactions
Building on the previous tip, it’s critical to look for opportunities to reduce or eliminate friction for customers. Friction is anything that unnecessarily wastes time, energy, or money, according to Friction by Roger Dooley. Examples include lengthy online order forms, long customer checkout lines, or confusing product options.
Amazon’s relentless focus on making life easier for customers is a perfect example of the importance of this approach. They offer instant access to product reviews, fast and free delivery, and a one-click checkout option. These enhancements cause people to order more frequently because, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos explains,
“When you reduce friction, make something easy, people do more of it.”Jeff Bezos
This strategy isn’t limited to Internet-based businesses. McDonald’s is an excellent example of a traditional brick-and-mortar business pursuing a similar approach since its inception. Everything from quicker food preparation, drive-through ordering, self-serve kiosks, and even the option to order via their smartphone app. Each of these innovations causes people to choose fast food more often.
The critical insight here is simple. If something is easy, people will do more of it. If something is difficult or less convenient, people will do less of it. That is one reason why governments limit the way cigarettes can be sold, purchased, and used. By increasing friction, they reduce the rate at which people smoke.
10. Optimize For Usage And Engagement, Not Just Sales
Marketing activities are often focused on increasing awareness to attract and convert new customers. However, it’s a mistake to assume that marketing ends after the sale is complete. In fact, beyond driving early sales, one of the most impactful marketing activities is ensuring that customers use and love the product.
A happy customer is more likely to provide positive reviews, word-of-mouth referrals, and repeat business in the future. Conversely, an unhappy customer is likely to request a refund, convey their dissatisfaction to other potential customers, and may never trust your brand again in the future. With this in mind, it’s critical to do everything in your power to help customers onboard, activate, or make full use of your product.
In some cases, this may mean helping with the initial setup or installation. In others, it may involve providing live or on-demand video training to get them up and running. The key is to recognize that a promise was made or implied in the product marketing and that the sale is just the first step in delivering on that promise.
For tips on boosting customer activation, I recommend Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. For advice on creating highly engaging products, I recommend Start At The End by Matt Wallaert. Finally, if your product provides value through repeat usage or engagement, I recommend Hooked by Nir Eyal.
Beyond The 10 Best Marketing Tips And Strategies
If you’re interested in learning more about marketing, I invite you to check out my reading list that covers nine of the best marketing books. Each title covers a unique perspective on the world of marketing. Beyond that, you may also be interested in the best startup books, the best business strategy books, or the best productivity books.
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