Do you remember the old Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams? Early in the movie, his character, Ray Kinsella, is walking through his Iowa cornfield when he hears a voice that says, “If you build it, he will come.”
Well, that might work in movies but in the real world, just because you build a business doesn’t mean that everyone (or anyone) will show up. They need to know you exist. They need to know a little bit about you. And that’s why building awareness is the most important thing you can do to grow your business.
Beyond that, awareness provides numerous benefits:
- It’s the foundational piece for all other marketing and sales strategies and tactics.
- Done right, it’s not just about shouting out your name, it’s also about effectively positioning your firm.
- It helps you to reach out to people you don’t know – and who don’t know you.
- It’s proactive. It doesn’t rely on prospective clients to do anything other than simply see what you’re doing.
- Maybe most importantly, awareness is the first step to lead-generation.
The bottom line is this: If someone does not know you exist, how can they ever do business with you?
Before we review several ways to build awareness, here are five golden rules for awareness-building to guide your planning and execution:
- Be persistent. Studies have shown it takes anywhere from eight-to-15 touches for your marketing message to sink in. So stick with it! Click here for an example.
- Be consistent. Consider the look, feel and tone of your messaging. Make sure the viewer knows that all those messages came from the same company.
- Show not just who you are but what you are. Make sure your awareness-bulding messages also include why someone would want to do business with you, what sets you apart or your unique value proposition to the market.
- Take an integrated approach. Your marketing tactics should work in concert with each other. Put your social media icons in your e-mail. Put your Web site URL on your ads. Make sure your LinkedIn profile address is on your business cards. The list goes on.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up. With any of the leads generated by your awareness-building, follow up. ‘Nuff said!
To help get you started on the road to awareness-building, I’d like to share eight proven ways to build awareness in the market research industry (in no particular order):
Whether you’re considering print ads, online banner ads, e-newsletter ads, contextual ads or pay-per-click ads (and by the way, test them to see which ones work best for you), here are few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Limit your ad to one main message. Give it some focus.
- Use a compelling visual and fewer words (a challenge for many MR marketers).
- Make sure there’s a clear call to action (e.g., call this number, click here, download this document, etc.).
Here are some steps for getting started with advertising:
- Gather media kits/advertising guidelines from those places you are considering advertising.
- Don’t just focus on costs. Understand each outlet’s demographics and reach before committing (i.e., the more “expensive” one might actually be a better deal!).
- Ask if there are ways to target specific segments of the readership/viewers.
Yes, believe it or not, old-school press releases still have a place in our society and still can be an effective way of building awareness for your firm.
The two most common types of press communications are press releases (remember, the content must be truly newsworthy) and personnel announcements (new hires, promotions, etc.). Once written, there are two primary ways to distribute them to the press. You can either build your own PR contact list (i.e., editors and writers for publications/Web sites that your clients read) or use distribution sites like PR Newswire and free-press-release.com. These sites work reasonably well but sometimes your release will get posted in the oddest places!
Three tips before jumping into this:
- Learn the proper format for a press release.
- Always include a company logo (and photo, if appropriate).
- Imbed links from the release back to your Web site (e.g., from your company name, from a product name, etc.).
If you’re not yet on the social media bandwagon, you should be – if for no other reason than building awareness for your firm, though you can do much more than that. For B2B firms like yours, the top social media platforms to consider are a blog, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.
Social media can impact the awareness of your business in two primary ways. First, just having a well-thought-out presence using these platforms will help you get found online and build awareness. Second, and more importantly, these platforms provide an opportunity for you to engage the marketplace in dialogue, which not only increases awareness but (depending on what you say) can help position you and your firm in the minds of the readers. Unfortunately, this is the piece that most marketers skip.
One piece of advice: These sites are constantly changing, with new bells and whistles being added all the time. Stay on top of those changes so you can take advantage of them.
E-mail blasts sent to large groups of recipients – clients, prospects and suspects – can be a great way to build awareness but there are some important guidelines to keep in mind.
- Focus on your internal database first. While they know of you, it might have been a while since you were top-of-mind with them.
- If you’re going to rent a list, find a reputable broker and build a list based on industry, title, company size and location.
- Partner with another organization that can provide access to their database for you (e.g., an industry trade publication or association).
- Don’t blast from Outlook or your e-mail client. Use a commercial platform like Emma or Constant Contact. Not only will they allow you to create branded, customized e-mail templates but their built-in analytics are extraordinary.
- Focus on and test the subject lines. The goal is to get the recipients to open the e-mail.
You hire salespeople to close deals. Fine. But they can also be a great avenue for awareness-building. Think about it: They attend networking events, staff the booth at conferences, cold-call and maybe most importantly, they have the opportunity to make multiple contacts inside the same company – spreading your sphere of influence.
That last point is critical. All too often our relationship with a specific client runs through a single person – a person who absolutely loves us. But when that person goes away, the relationship goes away. To minimize the impact when (not if) that happens, one of a sales rep’s primary responsibilities must be to connect with as many people as possible inside each client’s office.
Presentations – real or virtual – are one of those awareness-building tactics where you really get some bang for your buck. First, the event will be promoted, putting your name in front of thousands of potential clients. Second, the event itself exposes you to a captive audience of potential clients and moves you to top-of-mind as they’re sitting there for an hour, listening to you. As importantly, because you are the speaker, you are presumed to be a subject-matter expert – something that effectively positions you and differentiates you from your competitors.
A couple of hints about presenting:
- Never sell. Make the content useful and useable.
- Create a compelling presentation with lots of visuals and few words on the screen.
- Record the presentation for later use.
- Practice, practice, practice!
Nothing is more terrifying for most people than to have to walk up to a complete stranger and introduce themselves, which is exactly what networking is all about. The good news is that the other person is just as terrified as you are. But when you work through your fears, networking can be a very productive way to build awareness and relationships.
Here are a few hints before you head out to an event:
- Pick the right event. Go where your clients and prospects are most likely to be.
- Create a great elevator pitch. Don’t just tell someone what you do but tell them who you do it for and why they should do business with you (i.e., how you’re different, why you’re unique, what the benefits are of working with you, etc.).
- If there are two or more of you from the same company at the same event, split up! I know it’s more comfortable to be with someone you know but the point is to build awareness and make as many contacts as possible.
- Finally, after you have had a conversation with someone, as soon as they walk away, jot down some notes to refer back to later.
I read some statistics recently that said that the average B2B buyer has made 60 percent of their buying decision before they ever speak to anyone at a firm. What that means is that they’re doing their purchasing homework online. And if you want to be included in the pre-buying process, you need to make it easy for prospects to find your firm’s Web site.
In addition to all of the other marketing that drives people back to your Web site, part of your marketing mix must include SEO. Your Web site (and blog) will absolutely get more traffic if you rank higher on the search engines.
While there are a number of things you can do to be successful at SEO, here are three of the most important:
- Spend time researching and selecting the best keywords. Often the most obvious ones will also be the most competitive, making it more difficult for you to rank higher. Look for the long-tail keywords or those that are more specific and less competitive (e.g., instead of “research firm,” try “online qualitative research expert”). You can do free keyword research on Google AdWords.
- Once you’ve selected your keywords, integrate them into your Web site and blog in a natural way. Cramming them in the site just to get them in there is obvious to the search engines and doesn’t help your ranking.
- The No. 1 thing you can do to improve your search ranking is to regularly add good, relevant content to your Web site.
This article is a summary of Building Awareness: The First Step to Revenue Growth for MR Firms, a webinar that I presented in November 2012 as a guest of Quirk’s. If you’d like to watch a recording of the webinar, visit http://tiny.cc/ontqrw.
This article was originally published online for Quirk’s.