Marketing questions for going to market

Getting the right help early can get you to the right customers

By Chris Tatum

Entrepreneurs are rightfully a proud lot. It does, after all, take a certain amount of charisma and determination to risk it all for a dream, for the chance to turn a good idea into a profitable one. Only a few among us have the ability to set aside fear, reassess a situation on the fly and keep plowing ahead — often against the grain of conventional wisdom.

But pride can also be a barrier to success. Entrepreneurs often become so consumed with wanting to be perceived as successful that they’re afraid to admit their weaknesses. I fell into this trap when I first launched my public relations company.

These days, I openly acknowledge my shortcomings, seek the guidance of entrepreneurs whose strengths complement my weaknesses and look for opportunities to help other new business owners avoid the pitfalls I encountered. Here are some of the most frequent questions I get asked:

At what point should I bring on professional marketing help?

Marketing, publicity and promotion should never be an afterthought. Unless you’re an expert marketer, you should consult a pro before launching your company. A well-defined marketing plan ensures you and your employees know exactly what you’re selling, to whom you’re selling it and how to sell it effectively.

Chances are, once you’re up and running, you’ll need to revise your marketing strategy a few times. Don’t panic, it’s normal.

What should I expect of a professional PR and marketing team? And how much should I pay them?

First and foremost, you should expect a marketing team to listen. Nobody knows your business better than you, and nobody’s passion can rival yours when it comes to your product or service. A great marketing team will condense your knowledge and passion into a strategic plan that details your company’s sales and marketing goals, steps it will take to achieve them and tools by which it will measure their effectiveness.

As for how much you should pay, there are variables. Some marketers require up-front payment for services, while others operate on a monthly retainer system. Some may work on commission. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the deal that fits your budget.

Cracker Barrel notoriously spends about 2 percent of its revenues on marketing. Is that a good ballpark number for me to keep in mind as my business grows?

How much you spend should be secondary to how well you spend it. Knowing the demographic you’re trying to reach, and the avenues through which you can best reach it will help you better allocate marketing money. The kind of product or service you offer can also determine how much you should budget for marketing. Instead of focusing on an amount, focus on what works and what doesn’t. Redirect your marketing money accordingly.

Should I handle my company’s social media efforts, or outsource it?

Social media is an ever-evolving form of marketing and I’m not convinced there are experts. Just like traditional marketing, the tactics that have worked for some campaigns have failed others. Still, there are people far more astute at identifying certain online audiences and connecting them with products they’d use. Unless you’re one of them, I would consider outsourcing it.

Everyone says video is essential to modern-day marketing, but what makes a good video?

People remember what they feel, far longer than what they hear or read. A visual story can reach an audience with greater impact than any other medium. The secret is to understand how to maximize the power of video for the story you wish to tell. Here are some guidelines:

- Great lighting is essential. Lighting sets the mood and tone of your message.

- Let the pictures tell the story. The narrator should simply tie the story together.

- Hire a great scriptwriter, a professional who knows how to take your message and turn it into an engaging, interesting story.

- Think outside the studio. A CEO sitting on a set, boasting about a product may look impressive. But in most cases, the real proof of the power of a product is in the home … of one of your customers.

Chris Tatum is president of anew pr in Nashville and also serves as a senior publicist at PLA Media. Before PR, he was a broadcast journalist who filed stories for several networks and local stations across the Southeast.