Crafting a marketing strategy vital to sustaining small business

MSU’s Dr. James Barnes recently launched a new course, “Master Your Marketing,” that teaches businesses how to craft a marketing message with the goal of reaching and retaining customers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a loss of 1,952 private sector businesses across the U.S. from March 2020 through December 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic and the government response to it was at its peak. BLS reported relatively high numbers of business creation in 2022, with June showing 359 new businesses and 1,050 new jobs created.

However, those COVID-era losses were felt not only by the families and households impacted by the closures, but in the local communities where the businesses no longer provide their goods and services.

For 16 months, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index has stayed below the 49-year average of 98. Today, small businesses across the nation continue to suffer due to high inflation and difficulties in securing quality labor.

Employers cite inflation as a major factor impacting their businesses with many owners continuing to report lower profits which impacts every area of their business operation. According to the NFIB’s April report, 31% of those businesses polled blame weaker sales as the primary reason.

Dr. James Barnes, an Extension Professor at Mississippi State University and founder of the Bricks-to-Clicks program, says marketing is a key factor for business survival in a post-pandemic economy. Dr. Barnes launched his program 11 years ago at the request of businesses within the community who were just then attempting to use online platforms to push marketing strategies.

Barnes recently launched a new course, Master Your Marketing, that teaches businesses how to craft a marketing message, providing owners and managers with tools to target and engage their audience and potential customers.

Dr. Barnes says the question businesses were asking themselves over a decade ago remain the same today.

“That is still the question today. How do I get attention? How do I get my ideal customer’s attention,” said Barnes.

Yet, while the question is the same, he says the tools to achieve the answer look different today.

Dr. Barnes says businesses often see an opportunity or gap in resources to a particular market. When that need for service is realized, business owners are spurred into action and attempt to create a product or service. However, when it comes to consistently connecting with their customer base, businesses can fall short without a marketing strategy.

Barnes noted that marketing should be an expense that is aimed at producing a return on investment. If that return is not being realized, the marketing strategy should shift. He said an important component for any marketing strategy is providing a clear and consistent message.

“I think for a lot of business owners they think, ‘How do I have time to do all of this?’” said Dr. Barnes. “The question is, what are you really giving up if you don’t set aside that time?”

Not only are consumers looking to websites to find products and see reviews today, but they are utilizing social media outlets to connect with businesses in new ways. Building those online relationships and platforms is important.

“At the end of the day, it’s just about building relationships,” said Dr. Barnes. “Yes, you have to get the attention of your ideal customer, but what do you do then?”

The invention of the internet and launch of social media have drastically changed the way businesses advertise over the last 30 years. Dr. Barnes says the largest social media platforms utilized by businesses today are Facebook and YouTube. He says those platforms provide a significant reach with a potentially wide demographic. However, there are other channels, like LinkedIn, Instagram and TikTok, that can be complimentary with the larger reach platforms.

Dr. Barnes says one of the most underutilized resources is building a targeted email list. Email correspondence is one of the highest conversion strategies out there, if used properly.

“Social media is grand and great, and as powerful as it is, at the end of the day it is rented space,” said Dr. Barnes. “Leverage what you have in social media followers, but you need to move them into a place where you can build a relationship with them with email.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put a strain on businesses that some could not withstand. During that period, businesses who survived often had a marketing plan in place that utilized social media, and email while conveying a clear message. Dr. Barnes said those businesses were able to adapt, unlike businesses who were focusing on “random acts of marketing.”

“If you were doing random acts of marketing when COVID came along, you probably exited the whole system unfortunately,” said Dr. Barnes.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, Barnes said moving away from random acts of marketing and towards a sales funnel is imperative to the survival of a business. 

— Article credit to Sarah Ulmer of the Magnolia Tribune

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