A little girl in pig tails stares at the camera with a puzzled expression.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Not sure what to do next with your marketing? Make certain your basics are covered.

You’ve got a problem. You want to reach your target audience, but you want to avoid wasting your time and your money. Good.

You don’t want to make my mistakes. Believe me, they are expensive mistakes.

I owned a retail store once. It started strong, landing in the top 45% in gross sales in it’s industry the first year. Unfortunately, that first year coincided with the massive shift to online sales and marketing, and while I knew I should be making the move to reaching customers outside my physical area — and I’d already had some of those loyal customers — I was too lost in the daily operation of the business to heed my alarm bells. In the end, which wasn’t that long in coming, I ended up a $100,000 in debt and a rather bitter, cynical attitude towards humanity. It took over 4 years to clear up the debt and most of the cynicism.

That’s why I started teaching online marketing classes and workshops. I wanted to help others take full advantage of the opportunities, and requirements, of reaching their potential audience today. I quickly discovered many small business owners and nonprofit executives felt overwhelmed by all the technology and conflicting, changing information. Where to begin? What’s really important? What are the basics to get results?

So I created this series to the absolute marketing minimum to get you started. If you have a question, leave it in the comments section below. I’m happy to answer real questions. (And if you’re signed-up for the newsletter, keep an eye out for an upcoming live Q & A sessions.)  If you find the series useful, please feel free to share it with others through your social media or local networking organization. I take feedback seriously and am constantly updating material, so please feel free to a comment. And if you are interested in a presentation for your group or organization, contact me.

The first thing you need to do is to make certain you’ve got the basic essentials covered.

Welcome to the second decade of the 21st Century. No jetpacks, flying cars or robotic maids (I could really use the robotic maid), but some amazing communications even the Jetsons never anticipated and that provide opportunities to reach our target audience in ways never imagined.

To use these opportunities effectively and leverage them for optimal success, you need to grasp three concepts.

You are building a relationship with your audience before you even know they exist.

Have you EVER researched a product, service, or organization online before making a spending decision? Of course you have. Your target audience (i.e., the people willing to give you their money or time or attention) is doing the same thing. Long before they contact you, they’ve checked you out, they’ve decided whether they like you and trust you. And they are doing it online at some point.

The only reason we go online is to find the answer to a question or solution to a problem.

That bears repeating. The ONLY reason we go online is to find the answer to our question or solution to our problem. Even if the problem is that I want to kill 10-minutes with a distraction — so show me Otters That Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch or the hottest colors for fall. We go online because we want something — information, distraction, goods, or services.

Now I’m going to tell you the great “secret” to marketing:

Don’t sell things to your customers; demonstrate or show them how you are solving their problems. Seriously. 

  • You aren’t selling me a pair of trousers, you’re solving my problem of wanting to look good or be more comfortable — on a budget.
  • You aren’t selling me an iPhone; you’re solving a bunch of my communications and information problems with a technological Swiss Army Knife — that also makes me look cool to anyone over 18.
  • You aren’t doing my taxes; you’re finding me ways to pay the least taxes — legally.
  • You aren’t selling me your handcrafted ring or pottery; you allowing me to show I belong to a particular group of people who would own your handcrafted ring or pottery (and here’s a hint, it’s even better when you provide me with a story to tell about my purchase that connects me with the group I want to belong to like how the gems are fair-trade sourced).
  • You aren’t rescuing dogs; you are demonstrating how my contributions to your organization allows me to rescue dogs.

We’ve also become rather impatient. So first we have to find you and then —

You’ve got 3-5 seconds to convince us you have the answer to our question or solution to our problem.

If we see an indicator that our answer or solution is here, we’ll restart the clock. But we’ve got to keep seeing those indicators. Indicators are the keywords we have on our mind (usually the terms we searched on or the words in the post with the link to the site) or images or other media that represent the keywords or our question/problem. We are also picking up “persona” or “branding” signals that gives us clues that I’ve found a place for “people like me” (or perhaps “people like the kind of person I’d like to be”). So a Fran’s Chocolates shows yummy big images of chocolate, H & R Block have words like “filing deadline” and “money” and “maxim refund guarantee” in big, bold headlines.

(And if you are looking for something more strategic than this, keep checking my site. I’ll be offering more — and deeper — materials as I build this series.)

The first step is to make certain you’ve got at least the basics of your marketing tools assembled.

We can hone and polish them with time. But the first, and in many cases hardest, step is just taking action to get your basics done and out there. If you are hesitating, procrastinating, waffling, whiffling, I understand. Honest. I’ve been stalling on my business since 2008 in the mistaken belief that everything had to perfect before I put it out. But that’s not true. Nothing is ever done online or in marketing. We will always be testing and tweaking because things change — our market, our audience, our tools, our resources. As the Laws of Thermodynamics teach us, without providing fresh energy, things begin to decay and die. That goes for everything from our products, our services, our organizations, our relationships, our world.

So if it doesn’t have to be perfect, what does your basic marketing need to be?

Your essential marketing needs to be is minimally viable, that is professional and clear. Fortunately, today you can achieve this without spending a huge amount of money — but you will want to spend some time. You don’t need a lot. We aren’t talking months or even weeks (and if your organization is planning to spend months building or re-building your online marketing campaigns, it probably means you are wasting a lot of time — and money. Today’s marketing is resilient, it’s all about being fast, flexible and responsive.)

Start with the Marketing Essentials list. Check off the ones you have — but check out the next posts on each topic to make certain you have what you actually need. Then tackle the ones you need to complete. (Again, the rest of this series will help you with planning and execution.) Once you start getting real responses and data (we will assume you know to start collecting analytics data from the start), you can work on tweaking your marketing and content.

Marketing Essentials Checklist

  • Email Address
  • Google for Business/Google+ Page
  • Facebook Page
  • Business Card
  • Website

Remember, if you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below. (And if you haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, why not join and get the info, news, announcements first?)