This article was originally published in Corp! magazine.
We live in an amazing time. Michigan is buzzing with the entrepreneurial spirit of the start-up culture. However, not all business are celebrating. Some established companies feel left behind, with new companies taking market share and, sometimes, making their product or service obsolete. Fortunately, it’s not too late for these companies to take action, and reignite their business in the digital age.
Market Hacking is a process of developing new markets for established businesses, using creativity, digital marketing techniques and analysis. The concept is derived from a method referred to as Growth Hacking, which many start-up companies use to grow their business quickly.
Digital companies and new start-ups must grow their client base, subscriptions, and sales – quickly. The reason is they have limited resources, and need to reach specific revenue levels before they run out of money. They employ fast-paced growth hacking by testing new ways to spread their offering in a viral manner. They use email, pay-per-click campaigns, and social media to test different concepts, and analyze what does not work and what does.
Like Growth Hacking, Marketing Hacking uses many of the same methods. However, the latter process has the luxury of being able to take a longer-term view toward opening new markets. Established companies have something new companies often do not: customers, revenue, and experience. Company and team experience are used in the Market Hacking process to determine which tactics and new markets to pursue. The customer base and revenue help to fund the expansion, when possible. Both processes focus on company growth, and do require an entrepreneurial, start-up state-of-mind.
Discovering New Markets
Larger companies, with extra cash, have the option of acquisition as a practical expansion method to establish a foothold in new markets. Unfortunately, most businesses are not able to consider this option. For the average business, a Market Hacking approach makes much more sense.
The first step in the Market Hacking process is to find a new market for expansion. There are many ways to approach this first step. For some companies the answer is geography. If you are a Michigan company, expanding into Ohio might be a good move. Often, expansion to new locations fails because the company approaches their new target community with the same old approach and attitude established by management years ago. So, before you dive in, research your new area, test your message, and get to know the community.
A good approach to develop new markets is to take a hard look at your business and industry. What complaints do you hear about your industry? What negative statements do customers say about your company? Often, fixing the status quo creates new opportunities. With that in mind, consider your current customers. How do they use your product or service? Does your clientele make adjustments, combine your offerings with other services, or build add-ons to make your product better?
Maybe your product or service, in its current form, is soon irrelevant in the current market. If this is the case, take time for some deep soul-searching. Your company has experience solving problems, so what problems can you solve with your knowledge base and resources.
What can you combine with your product or service to create something new? How can you separate your company from the competition? Look at fashion, design, and technology, that can make your offerings more desirable. In some cases, the answer is to find the solution that makes your product obsolete before your competition does.
This exercise can help to generate new energy in an established company. Even if the adjustments are small, a new approach and attitude are necessary to kick off a Market Hacking campaign.
To establish a new market, it’s important to know where to focus your energy. Experience tells us that successful digital marketing campaigns require creativity, product development, brand awareness, tools to increase website traffic and analytics analysis to determine which messages and strategies are working. Lastly, it’s important to create a retention program, to keep your new, hard-won customers.
Market Hacking uses what I like to refer to as combination marketing; combining multiple marketing techniques to create a better result. For example, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a powerful long-term digital marketing strategy. Fixing poor SEO will help increase traffic to a company website. Generally, when people visit a webpage for the first time, they do research, gather information, and leave. If they don’t fill out a form, or send a request, you have no way to follow up with them.
If you combine retargeting (also known as remarketing) with your SEO campaign, then you have an opportunity to follow-up with more messages relevant to your visitors’ needs. Retargeting are the ads that follow people around the Internet after they visit a company page. Now, when your visitor is ready to make a buying decision a few weeks or months later they are still familiar with your company.
Before you begin developing an awareness campaign (a program designed to make your name, people, product, service or logo more recognizable), you have a little home work to do.
First, ask yourself what is your story. A good story is sharable and quickly spreads. How are you introducing your offerings to your new market? Does your story make your prospects the hero? Consider asking the following question as it relates to your marketing approach and materials: Who cares?
It is true that being in business for twenty years can add credibility. Unfortunately, few people will share such information. You may have a great warranty, however it’s not the foundation of a story that spreads. Excellent service is important, it’s also expected, and everyone makes those same claims. The only people who can make believable statements about your great service are your customers.
Now that we have dismantled about ninety percent of small business marketing strategies, let’s look at what works.
What is the persona of your new target market? How will your new target customer look good by purchasing your product or service? Why do they need your product or service? Dig deep and keep asking why. Create a simple story that makes your prospect the hero and answers the question why they want your product.
Once you establish your message, it’s time to consider the tools that can deliver it. Establishing your message to begin your campaign doesn’t mean it’s final. It may be only your first attempt at crafting an effective message. As you begin testing, you will make adjustments and tweak your story along the way, based on results.
There are many digital marketing tools you can use for branding. Social media is an excellent option. You can develop your reputation as an expert with a blog or Twitter feed. Engage with online organizations and media to earn interviews, mentions or opportunities to write on their blog.
Purchasing targeted display ads is another excellent branding play. The reason is you can earn a lot of impressions for relatively little cost. For example, you can target a message to a specific town or ZIP code, and earn one-million impressions for only a few hundred dollars. A side benefit is you may earn some direct sales in the process.
Branding is not about direct sales, so use this approach to soften the ground for other direct sales and marketing activities. The more people who are familiar with your name, message and good reputation; the more likely they are to buy from you.
Driving traffic to you website is an excellent way to generate leads and sell more product. Before you begin the process of earning new traffic, take a good look at your website. Are you impressed? You can spend serious money on tools and marketing platforms to drive qualified traffic to your website. Unfortunately, if your website does not have a modern design, lacks easy navigation, or doesn’t have a relevant message, you will lose opportunities.
Search engine marketing (SEM) ads, like Google AdWords; social media marketing (SMM) such as Facebook ads; and SEO, are all good digital marketing methods for driving new traffic to your website. Both SEM and SMM are beneficial because you can track the sales process from the top of the sales funnel to the bottom.
Digital advertising allows for quick adjustments. Unlike placing an ad in the newspaper, you can change a headline on the fly, and test new ideas as new data are received. Digital advertising isn’t necessarily cheap advertising, but it is efficient advertising.
SEO (search engine optimization) gets a bad rap. It’s an important part of being found online. I find it amazing how many meetings I attend in which business owners explains that SEO isn’t right for their product or service. The reason is they are looking for the C-suite executives or affluent buyers, and they believe that these same educated, successful, wealthy people don’t try to find solutions by using the latest technology.
The more obscure your market, the more important it is for you to be found via search tools. People who really don’t know what or where to find an answer to their problem look online, by typing various search words and phrases.
To be fair, the case is made every year that SEO is dead. However, until people stop using Google, and search engines discontinue ranking results in order of best to worst results, SEO will be alive and well. There are always reasons why one website listing is higher than another. It is up to the SEO practitioner to understand why, and help their client rank better and drive more traffic to the website.
The goal of every company is to increase revenue. Tracking conversions is how we know marketing efforts are working. A conversion is the action you want your visitor to take. This could include signing up for an email, calling the company, or purchasing a product online. Results indicate the success and influence the future actions of a Market Hacking team. It’s important to give a marketing plan time to take root and provide the rewards promised. However, some marketing ideas and tactics will not convert and adjustments must be made.
Not all digital marketing tactics work for every company. Some companies benefit from a more social approach. Others require hard data and a solid sales funnel. Which is right for your company?
This is where an established business must return to a start-up mindset. The management or board must be willing to set aside the old process of marketing and advertising by committee. Willingness to take risks, and allowing room for failure are mandatory, so your Market Hacking team must have the latitude to find the best platforms and message to open or expand markets. The answer is often not what we think it will be.
Using the data provided by analytics tools such as Google Analytics helps a marketing team make better decisions. Facebook ads may drive more traffic, but Twitter promotions may convert more people into customers. You don’t know until you test.
Once you find profitable combinations of branding, traffic development, and conversion tactics, you can take your message to larger and more expensive media with confidence. Still, it’s important to continue to test because messages don’t always transfer well to different media.
Market Hacking requires regular examination of the data and a continuing effort to pull creative ideas and opportunities out of the data provided by online tracking tools. The beginning of a Market Hacking strategy often looks much different at the end. This is in contrast to a marketing strategy that does not change or adjust through the campaign process. Market Hacking is designed to improve the chances of success through a process of a developing a winning strategy.
After The Sale
The creativity and analysis doesn’t end when the sale is complete.
It’s worth noting that you should have a process in place to qualify new leads before begin your Market Hacking campaign. Make sure everyone on the team knows whom to turn leads over to, and the process to close online leads and sales effectively. This includes fulfillment, if applicable.
Once you’ve earned your new customers, it’s important to have a plan to keep them as customers. It’s more cost-effective keep a current client happy than find a new one. Email and social media are good digital communication tools to use after the sale. Both help you keep in touch and top-of-mind with your customer.
Market Hacking is an organized process of digital marketing. It’s a mindset that seems risky to many established businesses. However, it’s also the very mindset that drives the innovation and success of companies that are taking your market share. It’s time to get back in the game. Now your best defense is a good Market Hacking offense.