The momentum of your brand is important, especially for large retailers. Brand awareness does not build overnight, not even with an aggressive marketing budget. Awareness takes time to build. And without it, your product is less likely to sell at shelf. In most cases, a brand less than 2 years old lacks enough brand awareness to support sales at shelf. Therefore, building brand awareness should begin before your product is available in market.
Get comfy. This is a long post. Really, it should be called Marketing 101.
Where to begin: Start marketing before you launch
Brand awareness building should begin as soon as you lock down your brand name and website domain name. Start building your email list. A free and quick way to set up a landing page to collect emails is http://kickofflabs.com. Building your social media following can also begin early - even without a product ready to sell. Instagram is a great way to showcase your brand personality and begin building brand awareness. These are great ways to start nurturing relationships with your target consumers without spending much money or exposing your IP. Over time these assets will build a following for you. From there, you will have a solid foundation for which to execute a formal marketing strategy.
Should I hire a marketing expert, consultant, or agency?
Eventually, yes. But not until you’ve done some DIY marketing and PR yourself. Why? It saves you money, but also gives you first-hand understanding of who your consumers are, what marketing messages resonate with them, and which marketing vehicles are most effective for your business. Remember, marketing is an evolution over time. You will "test and learn, and then refine”. Plus, brand strategy must originate from you, the CEO. You, as the business owner and brand steward, must define who the target consumer is, your brand promise, your brand personality and attributes, and what your unique selling proposition is.
I have a free 4-part email course broken out into 16 (yes, 16!) bite-size videos to lead you through creating your own brand strategy. It is self-paced and easy to follow.
Once you have your brand strategy defined on paper, you are ready to hire marketing consultants or agencies to build the Marketing Plan. Or, you are now ready to build the Marketing Plan yourself.
A tangential note about brand strategists
There are branding experts out there to help you define your brand strategy, if you are struggling to do it yourself. Be very cautious as many of these so-called branding experts have never in fact built a consumer brand in their life. You want someone with either previous experience at a large brand strategy agency or someone who has worked as a brand manager at a consumer packaged goods company. And please note: "visual branding" is NOT the same thing as "brand strategy". Visual branding is a fancy term for “logo designer”. And rarely do these designers understand brand strategy. In short, most brand strategists or brand managers have learned their trade after many years of on-the-job training and after an MBA. I might be sounding a bit elitist here. But I’ve seen enough self-declared brand strategists to be weary and issue this caution.
What should a marketing plan entail?
A good marketing plan for retailers is one that is comprehensive and multi-prong. It should incorporate both digital marketing and offline marketing.
Digital marketing can include anything from online ads, social media, video marketing, etc. Offline marketing consists of the traditional methods of marketing. It can include out-of-store methods such as PR, event marketing, TV or print advertising. It should also include in-store marketing such as promotional funding, merchandise displays, and shopper marketing campaigns.
A marketing plan that satisfies retailers is one with a consistent cadence of marketing activities across multiple consumer touch points. And it must align with the same shopper segment that retailer is targeting.
Now that you know what a good marketing plan should entail, the next step is to decide whether you can afford to hire agencies and/or consultants – or if you will have to do it internally, either by yourself or delegating it to one of your employees. If you think you have the expertise and bandwidth to create a comprehensive marketing plan and execute it, then do it!
But if you realize that you have to outsource it, the next step will be to find experts for each prong of your marketing plan. Rarely is there a one-stop shop that can do EVERYTHING for you. It is hard for one agency to be extremely competent in the many forms of marketing. So prioritize which pieces of the plan are important to attack first, then find the right agency that specializes in that area, ask them for their proposed plan (which you can in turn show retailers and claim as your brand's proposed "marketing plan"). Once you approve the plan, they can execute.
What type of marketing agency or consultant do I need?
It is conceivable that over time, you will end up hiring one agency/consultant for buying and executing digital ads, one agency/consultant for SEO, one agency/consultant for social media, one agency for PR, one agency for event marketing, one agency to buy print/radio/TV media for you, and/or another agency to build the creative for the print/radio/TV. And the list goes on. It could be that some agencies can handle a few of these things, but rarely will one agency be able to do all of it under one roof. And as you can imagine, managing all these vendors is time consuming so at some point, your hiring plans might include someone to oversee your company’s marketing.
Where do I find these marketing people?
There are so many agencies and consultants out there. As a result, the search for a good consultant/agency is hard. Referrals are a good way to filter the pool. Networking and sniffing out consultants in-person is another way. Always check their resume on LinkedIn to make sure they have had big agency or experience working on national brands. There are so many self-declared experts with varying ability to drive results. So why bother with them? Just focus on the pool of experts that have worked at these big companies.
Marketing is a big topic with many opinions. And my opinion just represents one of many ways in which to go about building your brand awareness. Educate yourself and form your own opinions. There is no one right way to do marketing. But there is definitely a wrong way to do it…which is to do nothing at all!
Not sure where to begin if you are brand new to marketing? Start with this free online course. You'll arm yourself with the right jargon and be able to hire/manage marketers with confidence. It's free, no catch. Just a resource I've made available to help you navigate marketing.