Marketing is more than simply advertising. In short, marketing in any business is the strategy that places that business’s product or service in the hands of its potential customers. Advertising is a marketing tool, a tactic, along with sales, public relations, pricing, packaging, etc.
What kinds of things are involved with marketing? Start with a marketing plan. A marketing plan is important and is developed from your business plan. Plan is the operative word here. Determining your target market (who you think will likely be your customers — and “everyone” is not usually the answer) is an important part of your business plan and your marketing plan. A marketing budget is part of your business plan and is the financial basis for your marketing plan. Deciding how to invest that money is your marketing plan. A rigid budget turns your marketing plan into an expense, but you are better served to consider marketing as an investment. Marketing strategies involve building your brand. Your brand is built on everything from how you answer your phone to how well you deliver on your promises, in addition to the quality and uniqueness of your product — your alpacas. Brand building involves the total emotional experience you provide for your clients or potential clients during any business transaction, or even during a simple ringside conversation. What are people in the industry saying or thinking about their experiences with you? If they see your farm logo or hear your farm name, and it evokes a positive response and immediate recognition, you are on the right track.
Let’s examine advertising, one of the more visible tools used in applying a marketing strategy. It has been written, “a terrible thing happens without advertising — NOTHING!” That is certainly the truth. We have all heard the old saying “if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door” — not true! Unless you advertise your new and improved mousetrap, no one will know it exists! Marketing and advertising are necessary parts of any enterprise, but a part that is often neglected or not well thought through by many small business owners. Making the world aware of your product and its value to your potential customer is critical to making sales, and making sales is critical to staying in business and eventually running a profitable business.
As an entrepreneur, you are passionate about your product, as you should be. Why else would you sacrifice your time and invest such a large part of your savings? While passion can be contagious, (that comes under public relations!) don’t assume everyone will share your vision and see your products in the same light that you do. Customers buy more than just a product. (or more than just an alpaca or a breeding) They buy an entire concept of what a particular alpaca will do for them. You must market within the context of your customers’ wants and needs. They must feel that you are solving a problem or improving their situation.
There are many ways to get your message to your target audience. You have to decide which avenues you will pursue. You also need to measure the success of each of the marketing methods you choose, which will help in deciding what methods to stick with. In the end, measuring success comes down to dollars and cents (and sense). Measuring the success of any one marketing piece may be more difficult. Your marketing pieces should work together to build an image and brand for your business. Having ‘brand awareness’ is important in having people think of you when they consider a purchase of the types of products you sell. Working with a professional marketing person/designer is important. A good designer can help you to build that image and keep it consistent. They know how to design logos, ads, documents, etc. and can develop professional presentations for you. Many people think they can handle this aspect of their business themselves, but usually they would be better served by using a professional. Proper execution and presentation can make the difference between an ad campaign, logo, or other tool that is memorable, and one that is forgotten, or thought of as amateurish. Think long term value, not just price.
A logo is one of the first things that you need to represent your business — it sets the tone for your entire marketing concept. Its simplicity or complexity is up to you, but, a unique symbol and simple image will be both memorable and present fewer problems for printers and publishers who must reproduce your logo, often at a small size. Once your logo is developed, use it on your business card, letterhead, envelopes, print ads, web site, banners — literally everything you use to promote your business. You only get one chance to make a good first impression!
Business cards are requirement for any business. A well designed business card with your logo and contact information is of critical importance. Always have your business cards available to give to any and all potential customers. They are inexpensive and you may find that people keep them and refer to them when they think of making a purchase. Full contact information is a must!
A website should show the world what your business is and why your product has value for your customer. A website can be quite simple — just a few pages or it may be quite extensive. It might describe your philosophy for your business and the benefits of working with or purchasing product from your business. You may show pictures and provide descriptions of your product (alpacas) and/or products made from alpacas that you offer for sale, as well as services that your provide. Pay attention to the way in which visitors to your website will navigate through its pages. The interactive experience should not be frustrating, or visitors will leave your sight without discovering everything you have to offer. Include current special offers and discounts on your home page, with links to draw visitors into your site. Visual appeal and ease of use as well as content that is of interest to your target audience may turn a casual visit into your next buyer! Content on your site should be written to improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that a search of topics on the internet will position your site near the beginning of the search results. Read up on the best ways to achieve these kinds of results. There are also tools — many free — that will show you what pages are being viewed, where the viewers are coming from, how much time they spend on your site, and a wealth of other specific data. One popular free tool is Google Analytics. Ask your webmaster — or if you administer your own site, simply create an account at google.com, and follow the simple instructions to add this product to your free account. You can then study and interpret visits to your site, which will be an aid in making any future changes to your site or marketing plan.
Third party websites may be valuable entrance points for people to find your business. Usually they list many similar businesses and may offer the user or potential customer a way to search the many businesses represented for the type of product (alpaca) they are looking for. It may be a bit hard to stand out from the crowd in these group websites, but they offer customers an opportunity to easily find you, if you have what they are looking for. If you have an account on any of the popular social or business networking sites, include your website’s URL (address) as part of your profile. If you can take the time to participate in any of these networking sites by posting questions or comments, or simply read what has been posted by others, you may receive valuable feedback that will help you fine tune your marketing plan.
Magazine ads are a tried and true method of advertising. There are several magazines available in the alpaca industry that offer opportunities to place anything from business card sized ads, to full page color ads, depending on your needs and budget. Ads are a way to brand your business and products and to get into customers minds. It is important to realize that placing one ad will not be likely to result in immediate sales, but the regular placement of ads in magazines that your target market looks at will get you in their mind and help keep you there. The effect is cumulative. Magazine ads can be used to point people to your website for further information. Don’t forget to ask your farm visitors, or those inquiring on the phone where they heard of your farm. That will help you track the effectiveness of your ad.
Brochures, flyers, postcards, newsletters, etc. are used by many businesses to contact prospective customers. General brochures about your business are useful to give to prospects to bring the benefits of doing business with you to their attention. Other types of printed materials may be more effective if they have a very specific purpose. For example, a mailer or flyer describing an event or program at your farm or business should include a call to action with an incentive, such as a coupon, or a discount to the first so many people to register. This added urgency helps to get people to make the commitment to attend your event or make that phone call!
The use of email to send ads, newsletters, and announcements has become more common and can be an effective means of marketing your business. Care must be taken not to over use the medium and to be sure that you are sending messages to people who are willing to receive them. “Permission based” email is actually required as part of the anti-spam laws that have been passed in recent years. Being considered a spammer by your potential customers is not a good idea. Email marketing, like printed advertisements, is most effective when it has a specific purpose and drives customers to you with an incentive.
Author and humorist SH Simmons wrote: "If a young man tells his date she's intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he's saying the right things to the right person and that's marketing. If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is — that's advertising. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is — that's public relations."
This quip may be one easy way to view marketing, advertising and public relations. And it no doubt shows the importance of word of mouth advertising.
Do ask your satisfied customers for testimonials and their permission for you to publish what they have to say about your farm, your alpacas, and your customer service. This may be one of the most valuable forms of public relations.
What an opportunity for you to work at your public relations and to show off your alpacas! Shows should be considered a form of marketing. They can help you to network with colleagues in the industry who might also be customers. Shows are also a way to meet new prospective alpaca buyers as many people will find a show near them and come to visit to learn more about the animals and the industry. It is important to remember that everything you do at a show is marketing. Not only are your printed documents representing you, but also your pens, your display, your own dress and demeanor and the way you maintain your pens and your animals and present them — all of this speaks to who you are and what kind of business owner you are.
Opportunities at shows include:
Getting your business known in your local area can be quite important in bringing potential customers to your farm. Having an open farm (especially during National Alpaca Farm Days) can be a way to bring many people to your farm. Some may just be out for a nice fall outing, but some of those visitors might just fall in love with alpacas and come to see you again. Others might tell friends or relatives about the beautiful animals and farm that they saw and those people might become customers. Many farms have farm stores where they sell alpaca products — from raw fiber to finished goods and garments. Product sales may help support your farm and may spur interest in raising alpacas in others.
Anything special that you can offer your potential customers to get them to your farm is a part of marketing. If you have an area of expertise that can be presented at your event, for which you have an established reputation, you will attract both new breeders and those who have been around awhile, but would like to polish their own skills or add to their knowledge base. Be sure to offer something that is unique, provides value to your customer and showcases the specialty of your business. Providing refreshments isn’t a bad idea, either!
Writing articles and making presentations showcasing specific skills or knowledge that you may have is an excellent way to bring attention to your business. Alpacas Magazine is always looking for articles written by someone knowledgeable who also has a flair for writing compelling articles.
Getting yourself known in the industry as a doer and participant in the development of the industry can be helpful in making people aware of your existence. Serving on committees and boards is considerable work and should be done first and foremost as service to the community, but it can be helpful in building awareness of your business in the industry.
Contributors: Lori Pheil; Shauna R. Brummet, Ph.D.