5 Steps to Effective Self-Promotion for Solopreneurs and Small Businesses
When you’re a small business, the world of self-promotion can seem overwhelming and confusing. But the secret to taking your marketing from boring to brilliant is surprisingly simple — and can be found within the phrase itself: Self. Promotion.
Self: Know who YOU are and find a way to communicate it.
Step 1: Know Yourself
In marketing, the concept of brand is used as a way to define who you (or your company, product or service) are so you can share it with the world. Your brand is not a name, logo, tagline or visual style. It’s essentially your reputation. It is the impression others have of you, and it lives in the memory of how they feel when they think about you and your way of doing business. Your customers create your brand. Your identity — logo and marketing — should be representative of it.
Brand = Experiences + Emotions
Because your brand lives in the impressions of others, it’s useful to look for a moment at how those memories are formed. Science tells us that memories are experiences glued in place with emotions. The more deeply we feel emotion surrounding an experience, the longer the memory lasts and the easier it is to recall.
For this reason, customer experiences are critical to brand formation and management. Every transaction — from their first visit to your website, to their final invoice — should reinforce your brand.
What is Your Brand?
It’s important to define your brand. A good exercise for defining brand is to write a Core Brand Message. It’s not necessarily a statement you’ll use in your marketing, but does set the foundation for the customer-facing messaging you’ll create next.
The challenge in creating a Core Brand Message is in its simplicity. A single sentence should define what you do and how you do it, with a declaration of competencies, standards and the unique way you do business. It should give a clear picture of what you do, with enough distinction to set you apart from the competition.
Which Comes First? Reputation or Intention?
What if you’re a start-up or launching into a new market and don’t have an established reputation to build a brand around? Instead, make a stand for what you intend your brand to become. Write a Core Brand Message as a brand promise — setting a standard you will work to demonstrate as you do business.
Next, you can expand your Core Brand Message into a Positioning Statement, which will become a foundation for a consistent marketing message. A Positioning Statement identifies how you are impacting a specific market segment in a relevant and distinctive way. It also provides an element of proof.
You can offer an element of proof through a guarantee, a promise, awards you’ve earned, your time in business or testimonials. The statement should be a more audience-specific extension of the Core Brand Message. You can have multiple Positioning Statements — customized for every market segment or product you sell.
Now that you know who you are, you can start running some ads. Right? Not quite yet. The next three steps are all part of promotion, but you have one more piece of homework first.
Promotion: Know who you’re talking to, talk to them, and listen to what they say in return.
Step 2: Understand Your Customer
Whether you call them clients, customers, patients or members, your business is nothing without them. Not only do they provide your revenue, but if you listen to their feedback, they can be a source of innovation and growth as well.
But (unless you sell toilet paper) everyone is not your customer. What you offer should be a perfect fit for someone specific, and this is when you need define that. What are the traits and markers you can use to recognize an ideal customer? Where do you find them? What other businesses do they work with? What are their expectations? How can you target your promotions directly to them?
Develop detailed notes about your market segments and keep a database of individual prospects and customers. How can you better move prospects through the sales cycle? How can you encourage past customers to return? Can you increase demand by offering additional features or services they desire? Can you increase prices as you become more valuable?
Step 3: Talk to Your Customer
You know what to say now, and who to direct the message toward, but what is the best way to reach them? You could start running those ads, but is that really the best way to reach your audience?
Over the last 20 years, the growth of the internet has added dozens of ways to reach prospects. Traditional broadcast and print advertising are still viable, but you also have social media, email and digital advertising opportunities at your disposal. Add to that mix indirect advertising such as PR, influencer marketing and community relations, and your message can quickly get fractured and convoluted.
Study your market segments to uncover the best ways to reach them. What are they reading or doing? Where do they shop? How do they spend their leisure time? The more specific the segment, the easier (and more affordable) it will be to find them and speak to them directly. Drill down as much as possible and, if your budget allows, don’t be afraid to promote to multiple audiences simultaneously. Just offer a consistent brand experience and customize the message and the medium to the audience.
Step 4: Listen
It’s easier than ever for your customers to give you feedback. Be ready for it. Watch for and respond to reviews on Facebook, Google and Yelp. Monitor comments and interaction on your social media pages. Allow visitors to share your web content and comment on blogs. Make it easy for customers to email the appropriate people in your company and give them the ability to reach customer service via chat, text or call. And don’t overlook the power of face-to-face contact — from the sale process and after. This is how you’ll know if your messages are connecting.
Keep track of what customers are saying. Use the data as inspiration for improvement and listen for what they’re saying their pain points are. Are their ways you can mold your marketing message to better fit those needs?
Step 5: Repeat Previous Steps
This step is critical and often overlooked. Don’t be tempted to hammer on step 3, advertising over and over. You need to go through the full process to make sure what you’re doing for promotion is effective.
You won’t have to redefine your brand every month, but you will want to check your Positioning Statement with every new or improved product or service you bring to market. Constantly improve your knowledge of your customer and keep your database current. Experiment with communication methods and promotion styles that seem to resonate with your audience and listen to how they respond.
Self-promotion at its core is simple, but it takes effort to execute it well. Always remember, self-promotion is not really about you. It’s about the customer. It takes commitment and discipline to manage the customer experience and make sure your brand is always well represented. But if you do, you’ll reap the rewards of successful self-promotion for years to come.
For more information on the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Top Five series, visit the Business Resources page. While there, be sure to register for the next Top Five series.
Sally Cooper Smith
With 25 years of experience owning a marketing and brand-strategy firm, Sally specializes in coaching entrepreneurs with product-market fit and messaging. She helps identify and personify her client's stories - their value propositions, passions and vision - so they can leverage them into deep and lasting relationships with customers and prospects.