Marketing 101

Doing a little self-marketing? A few basics to keep in mind.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


As someone who wrote and produced business communications for many years, I offer this column with some hesitation, because I know that self-marketing is rarely successful marketing. I also know many early-stage entrepreneurs are operating on a shoestring budget, and that with the easy, no-cost availability of social media, some self-marketing is inevitable.

So, here are a few pieces of the Marketing 101 syllabus that I hope you will keep in mind and be able to discuss with your professional marketing team in the very near future.

I cannot stress this strongly enough: you are not your customers, though you may have a fair amount in common with them. Thus, it is imperative that you think about what your customers want, and how best to present it to them as you put your marketing materials together.


WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE. What sounds impressive, funny, catchy, etc. to you may be of virtually no interest to your customers. The language you speak may not be the language of your customers. By that I mean the terminology, the cultural language, the vocabulary of your communications, though you may want to think of the substantial non-English speaking population here and how to reach them.

For example, I was once asked to write a brochure about workman’s comp for a large law firm. The majority of potential workman’s comp claimants are blue collar workers, so I wrote the brochure in that language. The blue-blood attorneys at the firm hated it, found it way too simplistic, and by implication, beneath the status of their firm. I saw the final piece after they rewrote it internally and honestly, I could barely make sense of it. I highly doubt that it generated any significant business for them.

Do your very best to step outside your- self. Beware of having friends just like you critique your materials. If possible, ask a few of your customers for their opinions.


THINK, ‘WHY SHOULD THEY CARE?’ Another essential basic is that your marketing must focus on benefits, not features. The gizmo you invented may be made of the latest high- tech materials, operate at warp 7, come in 57 different colors, and smell like warm chocolate. All good. But here’s what your potential customers need to know:

• Why does it matter what it is made of? Are your high-tech materials more durable? Lighter? Allergen-free?

• What is the value of operating at warp 7? Will working faster save customers money? Make them more productive?

• Why does the color matter? Is this a fashion accessory or a tool? Is it helpful for the gizmo to be high visibility or low visibility?

As for the chocolate smell, well, I think we can all agree that anything chocolate is good.


BE DIFFERENT. Most new businesses are operating in a field that is already populated by numerous other businesses, aka competitors. As you market your enterprise, think about what makes it different (in a good way). These are known as distinguishing variables. For example, a small bank markets against the giants by promoting its personal service. A new restaurant highlights its signature menu items.

Obvious distinguishing variables include price, convenience, quality and customer service, among others. The problem is that unless you can genuinely demonstrate that you are better than your competition, you are simply making the same claims as everyone else. Try to identify something that is both a legitimate benefit to your customers and something you do better than your competition and focus on it relentlessly.

MAKE ‘EM LAUGH. One last thought: adding a touch of appropriate humor to your marketing materials is often a great way to get attention and to distinguish yourself from the competition. Keep it clean, relevant and harmless — especially to your target audience — and make sure it still manages to convey the special benefits of your product or service