Discussions with The Hartford’s Small Business Owner Online Community have taught us that many small business owners who have seen a dip in business due to COVID-19 are choosing to use this slow period productively. Many of them aim to improve their sales and marketing strategy, which may include highlighting a specific product or service that’s particularly relevant during today’s crisis. To do so, some hope to better harness social media marketing, while others have decided to build a wider digital marketing plan. These plans are not limited to social media, but include other forms of digital advertising such as search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing and even eCommerce strategy.
You may think that marketing costs should be the first to go during difficult financial times. That may be true for your business at first, but keep in mind that once your marketing plan is strategically dialed toward your target audience, you’ll likely enjoy increased lead generation and an uptick in sales.
Now isn’t the time to drop marketing altogether, but it’s certainly a good time to make sure that any marketing dollars you spend are likely to have a strong return. To ensure this, you may want to hire an expert. When things are back to normal and you feel comfortable allocating funds for your marketing budget, consider hiring a marketing consultant.
What is a Marketing Consultant?
When businesses want to improve their marketing efforts, they often turn to outside marketing consultants. These top marketing experts blend strong skills, like strategic thinking and problem solving, with technical marketing skills to help businesses build a strong foundation for their sales and marketing plans. Consultants’ marketing services typically include:
- Identifying the right target audiences for a product or service
- Developing high-level messaging strategies that will resonate with ideal customers
- Determining which marketing channels will perform best
- Creating a high-level marketing strategy based on the above factors
- Consulting on which marketing technology to use to execute the marketing plan
Some marketing consultants specialize in various niches, whether by skill set (e.g. digital marketing, content marketing), industry (e.g. consumer technology or B2B services), size (e.g. start-ups, small businesses), or a combination (e.g. digital marketing for B2B tech start-ups). Whatever their specialty, they should be skilled at high-level strategy that sets the foundation for your marketing efforts.
The Benefits of Working with a Marketing Consultant
A marketing consultant’s major goals include helping businesses create strategic marketing plans that align with big picture business and delivering strong return on investment (ROI) for every marketing dollar spent. The best consultants help their clients by:
- Boosting sales
- Reducing wasteful marketing costs
- Better understanding their ideal customers
- Creating marketing channel performance reports
- Discovering new sales channels and customer types
You can greatly benefit from a marketing consultant. Just think of them as an outsourced head of marketing. You should consider hiring one if:
- You need specialized marketing skills or expertise that your in-house team doesn’t have.
- You want to streamline your marketing efforts and marketing technology.
- You’d like an outside perspective on how your current marketing strategy is performing and how to improve it.
- You have marketing issues and haven’t found a solution.
- You need help creating a comprehensive marketing plan that integrates all channels.
Differences Between a Marketing Consultant and a Marketing Agency
While marketing consultants are strategic, marketing agencies tend to be more tactical—unless they specifically offer strategic consulting services, which we’ll get to later. Many small business owners prefer to work with marketing consultants prior to enlisting the help of marketing agencies. Doing so ensures they are only spending their time and money on marketing efforts that will result in their desired goals. Marketing consultants help business owners tie their marketing goals to their overall business strategy. They do this by defining the types of conversions they should aim for during various stages of their sales funnel, and determining which marketing tactics will help them achieve those conversions. Small businesses can then take these plans to offer more informed direction to their marketing agency.
Keep in mind that marketing consultants focus on guiding your strategy and teaching best practices, not necessarily implementing and executing your marketing plan. If you require additional bandwidth to carry out marketing tasks, then you may want to work with a marketing agency that offers various marketing services such as graphic and web design, copy writing, digital advertising, SEO services and more.
Marketing Consultant Services
While marketing and advertising agencies can help you carry out the various tactics in your marketing plan, marketing consultants help you lay the strategic foundation. Their business marketing services may include:
- Market research
- Persona development
- Marketing strategy
- Project management
- Marketing performance management
- Content strategy
Some marketing consultants even help small businesses build an outsourced team of freelance marketing specialists who carry out tasks related to creating content, email marketing automation, social media marketing, SEO and digital advertising.
Do Marketing Consultant Services Drive Business?
A good marketing consultant’s goal is to lead your marketing strategy toward improved business outcomes. This often means increasing the number of leads you generate and then better nurturing these leads toward favorable buying decisions, driving sales and increasing revenue.
Traditional marketing practices have always leaned toward casting a wide net and focused mainly on influencing customers during their final purchase decisions. However, modern marketing strategy can better target specific customer bases and has evolved to reflect current consumer habits. Today’s consumers are savvy researchers who independently seek out information. They rely on videos, blogs and customer testimonials to review an item before making their buying decisions. Both consumer-focused businesses and B2B companies have responded by making efforts to better understand their customers’ buying habits, as well as how to reach them during critical stages of their buying journey.
This shift toward inbound marketing efforts means that businesses proactively educate their potential customers about issues related to their industry while informing them of various types of solutions. In this way, businesses gain credibility and inspire trust, ultimately positioning themselves as part of their customers’ solution. Good marketing consultants understand how to do this and help businesses uncover their ideal customers’ desires and concerns, while also mapping out the customer buying journey to build efficient and effective marketing plans.
Hiring a Marketing Consulting Firm
Some small business owners choose to work with a marketing consultant. This partnership allows them to build their understanding of marketing strategy and to craft a strategic marketing plan that they can then turn over to their internal team. But others, especially those without internal marketing employees, may decide that working with a full-service marketing consulting firm is in their best interest.
Marketing consulting firms blend strategic marketing services with tactical execution. They not only employ high-level experts who can craft a marketing strategy and build an overall plan, but they also have teams of people who can execute their strategies, providing small businesses owners with regular performance reports to help them stay updated.
How Marketing Consulting Firms Can Help Your Business
While some business owners may think that hiring a marketing consulting firm isn’t wise or even feasible during hard times, it may be just what they need to do to save their company. Marketing consultants and marketing firms exist to help clients achieve their goals. With their strategic guidance, small business owners often find themselves defining their business goals and how they can get there for the first time ever—something you must do if you want to achieve success.
If you could benefit from hiring a marketing consultant or a marketing consulting firm, consider asking fellow business owners for recommendations. Reach out to your network and even search for marketing consultants on LinkedIn. Then, meet with some of them, paying close attention to the questions they ask you about your business. Often the ones who ask the right questions, ones that make you think about your business in a whole new way, are the best ones to help you take it to the next level.
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