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You Can Grow Your Business With This 3-Step Marketing Formula

May 15, 2014 | Updated Jul 15, 2014

Once you get the basic premise of what marketing really is, there isn't that much to it. Sincere apologies to my many colleagues with four and eight year degrees on the subject. I'm not saying there are not finer points to it -- there are. But at it's core, when you really break it down, marketing for a small business or a nonprofit organization can also be very simple.

Real marketing for a small organization has three basic components:

1. Define an audience.
2. Reach out with something specifically for those people.
3. Elicit a physical and measurable response.

Define an audience.

Decide on a group of people you want to target. It might be all of your current customers, just your newest customers, people that you met at a specific event, people that have purchased a particular product or service from you. Maybe they all live in the same zip code or school district. Sky's the limit here. Just decide. Who do you want to target?

Reach out with something specifically for those people.

Maybe you have a special offer for return customers, a coupon or an announcement that only applies to a specific city or state or region. Maybe it's an article or update about specific to a product you have sold to them or an event you want them to attend in their area. Whatever it is, reach out and make sure you are clear that it is specifically for them. To take it up a notch, address them by their name. Just a first name is fine in most cases. This is not required, but it's nice.

Elicit a physical and measurable response.

This is the part that makes it marketing. Up to this point it's really been about communications. But when you add physical, measurable response you are really marketing. Simple as that. If you're not measuring, you're not marketing. That's the line.

So what qualifies as physical, measurable response?

It has to be something that represents a human making a decision to take action. Clicking on your email to read the rest of the article on your website. Printing your coupon and walking into the store. Forwarding an event invitation to a friend. Sharing your Facebook post on their own page. Clicks, comment, phone calls, appointments, purchases. Anything that is the result of you reaching out to an audience. All of these count and there are many acceptable forms of response. The key is can you measure it? Today's marketing tools run the gambit and make it easier than ever to measure response. Example -- most email marketing systems will tell you who opened your email, who clicked on what, when? What time? Website analytics will tell you what page people tend to enter your site with and where they tend to spend time or leave. Maybe no one signs up for your seminar but 100 sign up for your open house promising brunch. Some responses are more predictable than most.

The good news is that you really cannot fail.

Can your campaign flop? Sure. But marketing is separate from sales, closely related -- obviously -- but still separate. Marketing is about reading the signs and adjusting for a higher response. When you are really marketing, a no is not a failure. It's a response that you can measure. Real marketing allows you to get a whole lot of great information without spending a lot of money. You can obviously set goals and reach toward them, but it will not take long to get a sense of what realistic goals look like and to read and react accordingly.

Remove emotion and assumption from the process.

Results don't lie. Data is data. This many people did what you wanted them to do. This many didn't. Good info. How will you change your approach or higher return? You cannot let your feelings or assumptions get in the way. Let me illustrate the point. Maybe you spend four hours a month writing a letter from the editor for your company newsletter and over time you have become vested in this process. It's become important to you. But you go back and look at the stats to see who opened it and read it. If a handful read it out of hundreds or thousands, maybe re-think that four hours and funnel it toward whatever people DO click on in your newsletter. This doesn't mean you cannot do that thing you love to do. It means you should write it about what people have shown you they really do care about. That's just one example but it makes a point. Because you are measuring, you can look back at your efforts and do more of what worked. Stop doing what doesn't work. Again, that isn't failure. If you're surprised by a response -- or lack of one -- you reword it, rework it, put it in a different spot and try it again. New measurement. New response.

You can afford this.

Much of what you need to try this can be done for the price of your morning latte. In fact, you can do a lot of real marketing without spending a dime. You can use Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest and manage it. You should definitely be collecting contact information for your clients and customers. Especially an email address. Think about all those free tools I just listed. How do they reach out to their own users, to make sure they are engaged and come back to the site? Email. You need email addresses to keep that contact in a relationship with your organization. Get the digits -- and you can collect them from those free sites. Any reputable email marketing service will provide a way to let your clients and prospects join your list from those free sites and from your website. You should probably invest that latte money in a good email marketing service with built-in tools to help manage those free sites and a variety of campaigns depending on what you want to accomplish any given week or month -- they really don't cost much at all. And they make so much of this easier with built in stats and tracking. Measurable stuff.

All I can say is, try it.

If you follow this simple formula, you will really be marketing. You can absolutely do it. If you are concerned about your ability to do it yourself, search for free webinars or even in person classes nearby. Sit down with a piece of paper and write these three steps. Then write what you will do to make it so. Define an Audience. Reach out with something specifically for them. Elicit a physical, measurable response and then see what happens. Adjust, rinse and repeat. This is how you grow a business.