marketing 101

Marketing 101: The Comprehensive Guide for Business Owners

Effective marketing introduces your products and services to the people who might want to buy them. For B2C (business to consumer) companies, that means connecting with individual consumers, and for B2B enterprises, it means cultivating relationships with other businesses.

In this comprehensive guide to marketing, we’ll look at the fundamentals of marketing, including what it is, what it isn’t, its major components, and some of today’s most efficient and productive marketing strategies.

Marketing Is

What Marketing Is … And Isn’t


Ask 10 small business owners to define marketing, and you’ll get 12 different answers. For some entrepreneurs, marketing is a slippery, squishy concept that means … whatever they want it to mean. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t help you sell more products or secure more clients. Real marketing has firm boundaries, and it interacts in defined ways with the other components of your business.

What Is Marketing?


The American Marketing Association defines marketing as, “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In everyday English, that means that marketing is the sum of everything you do that shows people the value of your product or service.

What Isn’t Marketing?


Marketing is not sales (although marketing drives sales, and we talk about that below). Neither is marketing product support, customer satisfaction, publicity, or the “creative stuff.” It’s just what you do to let people know about you in a meaningful and winsome way.

The Major Components of a Marketing Initiative


Marketing includes several consistent components: market research, audience identification, brand positioning, competitive analysis, strategy, budget, and metrics. Let’s look at each component individually:

  • Market research—What does your customer want? What is the “pain point” you can address or the problem you can help solve? (Most entrepreneurs fail because they build something they want to sell not a product people want to buy. Solid market research would nearly eliminate this problem.)

  • Audience identification—Who needs the product or service you sell? The more you can define and refine your target audience, the more effective your messaging and channel choices will be.

  • Brand positioning—How will your target audience differentiate you from all your competitors striving for their business?

  • Competitive analysisWho are your competitors? What are their strategies? Where are they strong? Where are they weak? How is your product or service different from what they offer? The answer shouldn’t be “it’s better.” It may be something like quality, price, packaging, or accessibility.

  • Strategy—What activities will your marketing plan include? Social media? Podcasts? Email? A website? The collection of these activities form the components of your marketing strategy. Don’t get too hung up on trying to do something “strategic.” Just decide who you’re talking to, what to say to them, when to say it, and how to say it. Boom. You have a rudimentary strategy.

  • Budget—How much can you afford to spend on marketing, and which line items will get the lion’s share of that money? Marketers tend to fall in love with their creative ideas, so have the accountants give the plan a once-over before you implement it. Hoover failed to do this in 1992 when they offered their UK customers a free ticket to the U.S. as a reward for purchasing one of Hoover’s vacuum cleaners. That’s the 2020 equivalent of a $1,500 gift for a $236 purchase. Travel-ready British buyers flocked to Hoover outlets, and the campaign’s upside-down budget brought the company’s UK office to its knees.

  • Metrics—Determine your goals, objectives, and evaluation measures in advance. On a timeline, determine when you’re going to see what’s working and what’s not. Then, you can realign your budget to add more money to your most effective activities.

    Small business marketing expert Melinda Emerson details these components succinctly in her INC article, “Seven Essential Components to a Marketing Plan.” It’s a good one to bookmark.

    Inbound Marketing


    Traditional Advertising -vs- Inbound Marketing


    The Egyptians started advertising about 4,000 years ago by putting ads on the papyrus that papered their homes, and their idea of advertising expanded but didn’t change much over time.

    Traditional advertising broadcasts a wide message intended to catch the people who are likely to buy. This kind of advertising is sometimes called outbound marketing or interruptive advertising. Examples include billboards, television commercials, and magazine ads. Because these ads are expensive, most outbound marketing happens at big corporations.

    The advent of the internet democratized marketing. Thanks to the no-or-low cost options of email, social media, and more, small business owners could suddenly afford to market to their target audiences through valuable content distributed online. This form of marketing, usually called inbound marketing, leaves a trail of digital breadcrumbs for prospective buyers to follow from their question to your business. Examples include blogs, social media, and podcasts. In general, inbound marketing generates three times the results at 62% lower costs than outbound marketing.


    Why Your Small Business Needs to Do Marketing


    Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, difficult, or done by a high-paid professional flown in from the coast. More and more small business owners are bringing their companies online and jumping into the digital marketing fray themselves.

    Here are three reasons your small business needs a marketing strategy:

    1. To control what people hear about you.

    If you aren’t marketing your business, someone else is. That other person may be your competitor, a disgruntled client, or your mom; but someone else is telling people about you. If you aren’t controlling that narrative, then the public may not be getting accurate information.

    2. To learn what your clients or customers really think.

    Part of marketing is listening. But listening is hard, so we often don’t do it. Good marketing forces you to learn what your customers want, how they want it, and what they’ll pay for it. With that information in mind, you can make a new product they’ll want to buy.

    3. To grow your revenue stream and market share.

    Companies that market their products or services in an organized way make more money than those that don’t. Are there exceptions to this rule? Probably. Are you one of those exceptions? Probably not.


    How Marketing & Sales Work Together


    Sales speaks one-to-one, business-to-client. Its goal is to turn an interested lead into a buyer. Marketing, however, speaks one-to-many. Its goal is to raise awareness and create connections between the company and the customer.

    Why is it important to know the difference between sales and marketing? Two reasons: First, you want to make sure you are doing both sales and marketing, not just one of those and calling it both. Second, you want to evaluate your sales department against sales metrics and your marketing department against marketing metrics. If you conflate sales and marketing, you could be evaluating the wrong things, which can lead to poorly informed decisions.

    Traditionally, marketing has served as the first point of contact between a company and its buyers, making way for the sales team to follow behind. With the recent introduction of Account Based Marketing (ABM), though, that model is getting renovated.


    The Skinny on Account Based Marketing (ABM)


    Also known as Key Account Marketing, ABM focuses entire marketing campaigns on key customer accounts. Essentially, you create an entire marketing initiative aimed at a single client. In the early days of ABM, the strategy mainly appealed to enterprise-level companies with the budgets to pull off an array of mini-marketing campaigns. Recently, however ABM has gained traction in the small business universe.

    Simple things like targeting specific clients with paid ads or personalizing your marketing to top accounts or prospective accounts are ABM strategies that small businesses can undertake. Sangram Vajre, the chief evangelist at Terminus, is an expert on for small and mid-size companies, and his podcast #FlipMyFunnel is a treasure trove of information about ABM marketing.

    Marketing Strategies


    The 7 Most Effective Inbound Marketing Strategies for 2020


    1. Be a guest on podcasts or host one yourself.

    Podcasts are growing fast. About 73 million Americans listen to at least one podcast a month. Whatever product or service you sell, someone hosts a podcast about that. As a guest on an interview-based podcast, you can introduce your business to your ideal clients using your most intimate sense, your real human voice. You also get to meet the host, who is often well networked in the industry, and maybe even chat with other guests who could turn into clients.

    If you’re really ambitious, you can host your own podcast and become well networked in your industry yourself. Hosting a podcast is not for the faint of heart, but some media companies will gladly help you set up, produce, and market your show. The best part? You can invite your top prospective clients to be guests on your podcast, thus creating fresh sales leads.

    2. Email your list regularly.

    Email may be the internet’s oldest marketing strategy, but there’s plenty of life in it yet. About 3.8 billion people around the world use email. It has a 6.05% conversion rate and an ROI of 4400%. Email is free, simple, targeted, unintrusive, and effective. Use it.

    3. Connect on social media platforms.

    You already know you should be doing social media, right? What you might not know, however, is that you need to do more than post content regularly. Use the platforms to talk with your customers in a conversational way. Highlight your customers’ successes and joys. For instance, you could ask them to post a picture of themselves using your product (if it’s appropriate) on Instagram.

    Also, stick with Facebook and one or two other platforms. Spreading yourself across the social media landscape will wear you out and generate little additional benefit. Finally, don’t spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media. As a small business, that’s all you need.

    4. Make and share videos on YouTube or TikTok.

    Video is big and getting bigger. YouTube has become the second most used search engine in the English-speaking world after Google. So video is a great space to be in. You can hire a professional to make the products for you, or you can shoot fun, creative videos yourself. One caution, though: some business owners are whipping out their iPhones and making videos every day. That can be a good idea, but sometimes it seems like they’re making a video for video’s sake. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you have something of value to say to your viewers before you create content.

    5. Buy ads on Google, Facebook, and Amazon if appropriate.

    Pay-per-click advertising is one of the few forms of paid marketing you can do on the internet. It’s often worth the investment, too. A paid ad gets prime real estate space on the screen and draws the user’s eye to its message. Google and Facebook love paid ads right now. So does Amazon, and it’s probably the spot for you if you sell on that platform. The trouble with paid ads is that they can run up a big bill really fast. Unless you have a social media specialist on staff, it’s probably safest to hire a company to do paid ads for you.

    6. Market to your current customers.

    It’s cheaper to keep the customer you have than to acquire a new one. Rewards, loyalty plans, newsletters, special deals, and invitations to exclusive events can help your current customers stay engaged and informed. Most importantly, you can keep them buying from you instead of your competitors.

    7. Turn your customers into advocates.

    Word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective tool for advertising your small business. People trust people more than they trust brands, and a recommendation from a happy customer goes a long way. So encourage your customers to leave reviews on Google, Facebook, or Yelp. Respond in a helpful way to anything negative a customer says. Also, be sure to say thank you to your reviewers. These are the people who are helping you stay in business.


    Marketing helps you bring your products and services to your ideal customers and inspires them to make a buying decision. Depending on your size and scope, marketing can be as complex or simple as you need it to be. You can hire an in-house team, outsource to an agency, or bootstrap it on a shoestring. Whatever approach you choose, be sure you know your audience, your message, and your channels. Test your ideas. Review the results. Iterate. Repeat. With all that, you’re officially doing marketing now!





    Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

    Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

    StephanieMarketing 101: The Comprehensive Guide for Business Owners