As small business owners, we take notice of what other successful business owners are doing. Where are their marketing dollars spent, and which tactics seem to get results?

The problem with that strategy when it comes to marketing is that it’s not a strategy. In fact, the biggest obstacle to growth for many small business owners is a lack of a focused marketing plan. Without it, one-off marketing tactics almost always fall short of expectations.

So how do you create an effective marketing strategy, so you can then decide which tactics to focus on? It starts with a clear foundation and revolves around the customer journey.

First, determine who your ideal client is and what problem they need to solve. How do you reach them, and why should they work with you? Build your message around the answers to these questions.

Once your market and message become clear, it’s time to focus your efforts on creating a strategy around the proven 7-Step Hourglass system – Know-Like-Trust-Try-Buy-Repeat-Refer. This framework helps narrow down your tactical options so you know which ones to employ, and when.

What is the Marketing Hourglass?

Known as the Marketing Hourglass, each stage of your client’s journey can be viewed through this process (see John Jantsch’s book ‘Duct Tape Marketing’ for more detail). Instead of the usual sales ‘funnel’, the Hourglass framework takes into account the importance of the ‘repeat’ and ‘refer’ stages, making the funnel shape more of an hourglass shape.

For example, what will you do to get clients and customers to the first stage, the ‘Know’ stage? How will clients find you? Start by auditing your overall online presence and begin creating targeted content. Focus on the tactics that will get you in front of your ideal client, such as keyword research, content development, SEO, speaking and networking.

The next stage, the ‘Like’ stage, revolves around content that educates. Your message will begin to resonate and your authority as an expert takes shape. At this stage tactics should include getting your content out to the right audience through social media, blogging, video, and website.

The ‘Trust’ stage happens when your prospects are willing to go further with you and take action, such as giving their email address in exchange for information. To move your prospects through this stage, your efforts should be focused on ensuring that your branded materials are well designed and communicate your message clearly. Your brand should be consistently portrayed anywhere your customers see it – it’s always a good idea to work with professional graphic designers, website designers and copywriters who will help reinforce your brand and message on any print or digital platforms.  (Click Here for a Free Marketing Review)

Invite your prospects to become clients initially by offering them lower priced products or services, trial offers, evaluations or consultations. This is called the ‘Try’ stage. Once a prospect buys from you, even if that purchase is only $1, they tend to buy from you again. This stage isn’t about profit – in fact this part of the Hourglass should be considered part of your client acquisition cost. This is simply moving the prospect through the customer journey, from considering your business to becoming your client.

Once your customer has experienced your product or service on a small level, the time is right to introduce the ‘Buy’stage. (This is the point in the Hourglass in which you will begin to see return on your marketing investments, and it takes time to get here.) It’s critical to have strong systems and processes in place to create a smooth customer experience. In short, always under-promise and over-deliver.

To nurture the ‘Repeat’ stage, create an ongoing relationship with the customer. Teach them through continuous educational content, stay top of mind through newsletters and social media, and reach out personally when appropriate.

This all leads to the final stage, the ‘Refer’stage. Make sure you create opportunities for clients to review, refer and engage with you through online and offline channels. Don’t underestimate the importance of this stage to your business’ long-term success!

Before you waste another dollar on ineffective marketing tactics, use these 7 steps to formulate a marketing strategy and then focus on two or three tactics at most to fulfill each stage of the customer journey. In time, the tactics that you utilize to accomplish each step of the Hourglass will begin to produce tangible, long-term results.

About the Author

Brooke Patterson is a Brand & Marketing Strategist and CEO of Vandermedia Design & Marketing, a creative services and marketing company based in Carlsbad, CA. Having worked with companies such as the San Diego Chargers, Ford and Centerplate, Brooke uses her experience in high-level branding and marketing strategies to transform her clients’ small businesses.

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