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We hear from a lot of business owners that they understand that they need marketing, but that they don’t really understand marketing. It makes sense – the Internet changed a lot of marketing, and took what was already a mysterious part of business and made it even more mysterious.

The overall concept of marketing is pretty straightforward. Here is a quick overview of what marketing is, and how all of your efforts should help each other.

What Is Marketing?

At the core, marketing is defined as “all the actions a company undertakes to draw in customers and maintain relationships with them”.

Putting this knowledge into practice, marketing is:

  • customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist
  • customers need help understanding what problems you solve for them
  • customers need to know why they should choose your business

So, if a customer knows you exist, knows what you do, and are convinced of your solution – congratulations, your marketing is working! If sales are low, that’s an entirely different problem, a.k.a “you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. That’s another blog post.

The Marketing Funnel

Traditionally, marketing is defined as a funnel, and for all practical purposes this metaphor is accurate.

The marketing funnel consists of different stages, and prospects move from top to bottom. First, prospects who you have reached out to are in the top of the funnel (Awareness), second are prospects who are educating and learning about your offerings (Consideration), and finally prospects those who are taking steps to becoming customers (Conversion) are at the bottom.

Marketing FunnelThe story this image tells us is powerful.

Prospects can’t visit your website if they don’t know it exists. Prospects may not fully understand your company from just a radio ad. A print ad with just a background photo and company name may not tell the prospect what you do. All of this is bad marketing, and it happens quite often.

Let’s look at each phase separately.

Phase One – Awareness

Awareness is taking a stranger who knows nothing about your organization and introducing it. This introduction can be done in several ways. Advertisements and paid media (like display ads, radio, video ads, TV commercials, print ads, and more) are designed to show off your business in front of a new customer. There are also passive ways, such as search engine optimization, which rely on customers “discovering” your organization while researching topics. That’s the entire job of awareness – to make your business known, and hopefully memorable to a prospect.

It’s also vital to select the right advertising medium and messaging. For example, if your business caters to the 18-24 age group, a newspaper ad may have poor performance. Another form of awareness is inbound marketing, which is intercepting a prospect as he researches information – for example, if a user is searching online for “auto body repair” and that is your business, having a paid ad and a website for the user to visit would be ideal.

Phase Two – Consideration

Now that we understand awareness, we need something for users to do who are interested. Most modern marketing drives prospects back to a website so they can explore your business and determine if they are a good fit. Websites allow prospects to research, read, and explore all on their own.

Understanding what prospects need in this phase is critical. Information in this phase is usually general about the product or service, or the idea of the product or service, and how it helps the prospect. This is also where a lot of marketing fails. Prospects hunger for information – if your marketing is lacking while a competitor outperforms, prospects will gravitate to the competitor who provides the better information.

Sometimes, prospects can move straight through consideration to conversion. For example, if you are a plumber, customers may need you quickly and do not need to research – they just need a phone number or email.

Phase Three – Conversion

Now that our awareness campaigns are bringing in prospects, and our consideration campaigns are educating prospects, we need to try to convert prospects into customers. Sometimes, just a bit more information is needed – tactics like testimonials, white papers, and reviews and awards can help users who are still on the fence. Sometimes users have questions they can’t research or find answers to and want to speak to someone on your staff, or prospects may need demos and hands-on meetings.

In most cases, the customer has moved past the concept of needing just any solution, and is almost always in need of information around the organization.

By this phase, prospects have typically reached out to your organization, have transformed from an unknown prospect to known prospect, and your sales team is working to court the sale. The conversion phase commonly has unique needs, so attention is needed to give the right information to the prospect.

Putting It All Together

This is where strategy comes into play and creating movement between the phases. If you have a website, how are you promoting it – if at all? If you are paying to advertise, does your consideration marketing help users who want to learn more or need more info? What are competitors doing that you aren’t? What do your customers routinely ask that you could share early?