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African startup advice: becoming a marketing machine

African startup advice: becoming a marketing machine.

As a business owner, one of the biggest challenges you will face is telling others what you do.

Not all small businesses can afford the necessary marketing resources to communicate with a target audience, and the marketing and sales effort is often undertaken by the business owner who may be financially astute or a brilliant technician, but inexperienced in marketing.

Anyone can sell if you approach it with the right mindset. Firstly, if you think of selling as "professionally helping someone to buy from you", you will approach it differently. Remember, the environment is so cluttered with everyone's messages, most people will only be interested if what you do fits with what they need or want.

Your marketing efforts need to focus on telling potential customers how your product or service can benefit them and how you can do it better than others who do what you do.

To achieve this, you need to identify your unique selling proposition, or USP. You need to identify your competitive advantage, your uniqueness, and then find ways to use it to develop a strong guarantee and position your business in a niche in the market.

The trouble is that everyone is trying to do this. Your competitors are also positioning themselves as the quality leader, the lowest prices, the service king. When all companies are claiming the same thing, increasingly sophisticated customers begin to discount any claim made by any of the companies.

It's very difficult to be different... but the question isn't necessarily how to be different, but rather how to communicate those differences in a way that your customers will believe and embrace them.

To understand marketing, there are two facts that are true, regardless of what industry you are in. Firstly, all businesses do one thing: they woo customers. Secondly, all customers want one thing: the best deal. So it stands to reason that your marketing should do one thing: articulate why you're the best deal.

Most marketing material is full of hyperbole, clichés, fluff and unbelievable words... cheapest, professional, service, quality, speed... they don't communicate why you are the best deal, and these empty words just serve to create noise.

You need to identify the features of your products and services, and turn them into benefits... how will the features of your product benefit your customer?

To understand what will be compelling to your target market, you must know what your customers value. Your goal is to match the benefit you promote to the needs and issues customers care about.

Speed may be important when doing repairs to equipment. But rather than talking about speed, talk about minimising downtime and getting production back on track so the customer can meet deadlines, production targets and profits.

Without a USP, the only option a business owner has is to compete on price, and unless you are a multinational with bulk buying power and efficiencies, you don't stand a chance at surviving competing only on the lowest price offering.

So how can you move away from competing on price? Firstly, debunk the idea that business has deteriorated to the extent that all customers buy on price. I bet there are many examples in your own world where you would admit to paying more for certain items or services from stores or suppliers. Why? Because of quality? Reliability? Service? Convenience? Brand image?

Each of these businesses has spent time determining clear USPs that are distinct differentiators for the businesses.

So what is your USP? What is it that sets your business apart from all of your competitors? And how are you communicating this benefit to your target audience?

Greg Mason is CEO and Business & Executive Coach at bizHQ. He writes columns for ITWeb Africa that provide advice for up-and-coming African technology businesses and startups. To find out more about Greg, be sure to visit his website: http://www.coachgregmason.co.za.

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