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Marketing Your Business During A Pandemic

By Victoria Hepplethwaite


With the World going digital due to the COVID19 pandemic, there has never been a better and easier time to gain recognition for your business. Social media usage has increased significantly with people shopping online more than before, watching more adverts, reading more articles and generally doing more research and using digital platforms more than they did before the pandemic. Statistics show that over 3.6 billion people are using social media globally, with platforms such as Facebook having over 2.7 billion users monthly. What this means is that it is time to get your business out there and there are a variety of avenues to do so.

To start with you need to understand that marketing plays a big role in the success or failure of any business. You can have the best product on the market or offer the best service but people will never be attracted to it if they don’t know about it. In the words of Beth Comstock, “You can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything”. It is therefore, imperative to choose the best marketing strategy for you and for your target clientele. Before we delve deep into marketing talk, let’s first understand what exactly marketing is.

Have you ever walked into a store, walked down the aisle and picked up a drink not because you have drunk it before but because you keep on hearing about it on the radio, seeing it on the TV or seeing it on Facebook or Instagram? Have you ever found yourself recommending a product or service to someone then you realize that you have never used it before and you just came across it on social media? Well ladies and gentlemen these and many more similar situations that come to your mind are all as a result of marketing. Marketing simply put is any activity undertaken to promote the selling and buying of a product or service. It’s a process of getting potential customers or clients interested in a product or service that you are offering. It further entails retaining existing customers and ensuring that you maintain a good and lasting relationship with them. Your next question now is probably how exactly do I market my agricultural products, my agribusiness or any other services I may be offering?


Conduct Market Research

The first step you need to take is conducting market research. Research plays a key role in formulating your marketing strategy. First off, it gives you an opportunity to scale the competition. You get the opportunity to see what other people who are offering similar products or services are doing; you get to understand who, why, how and where products/services are bought and sold. In turn you receive insight on what is being done right or wrong as well as what customers respond to the most. Most importantly you get to see and understand the demand for your service or product on the market and how you can offer your product or service differently to fit that demand.

Get information from potential customers

The first step is to define your target audience. You need to determine certain characteristics of the customers you are targeting including their age, gender, location, income level, job titles, any major challenges and any other attributes that may be of value to the product/service you are offering. These details may seem insignificant but there is need to map out every detail of your potential customers as this will prove helpful to your marketing strategy. After you carefully detail your target audience there is need to then engage them. There are a number of ways in which you can do this. You could engage people in a group on social media where they could tell you their thoughts, expectations and even answer your questions. You could simply put up a post with some questions and people will be able to answer them. Alternatively you could set up a link to a survey where you can get anonymous responses. There are a variety of ways to do this with different sites that you can use to generate your survey questions free of charge such as Google forms, Survey Monkey, SoGoSurvey and many more.


Do your desk research

A simple Google search can open up a world of information to you. Find out what the experts are saying and doing. Search particularly for government business reports, for reports and articles by organizations that focus on agriculture or the particular business you are pursuing. In Zambia for instance, you will want to look up reports and articles by Inada Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), MUSIKA and many others you may think of.

When conducting your desk research you will need to research your competition. See what they are doing and what the public is saying about them. Check out their review section if they have one. This will help you identify any gaps you can fill and also give you insight into what makes customers happy. Ensure that you look up market reports and market prices for your product/service and understand them. Last but not the least use your social media platforms. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have an array of reports, links, videos and webinars that can help you gain a better understanding of your potential market. In addition, search for posts by people using key words, this will help you see what products the public is crying out for and their reviews of products being offered already.


Establish Your 4 P’s

Product

Brand Your Business

Once you have done your research you need to then create a brand. Before you can create a brand for your business you need to answer this question, what is your story? Branding is very important and it’s not as simple as choosing a good name or creating a logo for your business. Branding is about making a promise to people and delivering on that promise, thereby giving people confidence and trust in your business.


Identify your Unique Selling Position

Your Unique Selling Position (USP) is what will set you apart from the competition. It’s a statement that you will use to sell your product. It will influence your marketing strategy, such that when a customer comes across your brand they will be able to identify what sets you apart from the rest and this will in most cases determine if they will want to use your product/service or not. Your USP therefore, combines what your customers want and what your business will offer well. Your USP should be factual and you should be able to deliver on it in the long term. Bear in mind that finding a USP is no easy task, it requires a lot of creativity.

You should further be able to find a tagline that speaks to your USP and sticks with customers and makes them curious. Let us use Syngenta as an example;

Syngenta USP: World leader in agribusiness with a focus on meeting future demands, creating sustainable solutions to enable agricultural systems to be conserved and developed.

Syngenta Tagline: Bringing plant potential to life.

The Syngenta tagline is catchy and makes a customer want to test what they are promising, while their USP speaks of a unique feature they are offering that will benefit not only the customer but the environment as a whole.

In addition, as you develop your brand keep in my mind that your product is not for everyone and that is okay. What you need is a group of customers who appreciate your product and will remain loyal for as long as you deliver on your promise.



Price

You need to decide on your price model which outlines the structure and method used to determine prices. Your price model is determined by some of the following factors;

Your competitive position – are you offering a scarce product or service? Does your product have a secret to it that no one else can master? This determines whether or not your prices can be higher than the other prices on the market, because people will still pick your product over a cheaper product. Is your product so good and affordable that the majority of the customers will be coming to you and hence, you can rely on bulk sales for your profit?

Industry – you need to study the pricing system in your industry. Is it an industry with prices that are predetermined and cannot be adjusted, does demand affect pricing, are there seasonal prices etc.

Customer Expectations – For certain products and services, customers expect to receive them at a certain fixed price. Hence, any extreme adjustments would make them stop purchasing or seek a more affordable brand.

Place

There is need to determine where the selling and buying of your product/service will take place. There are different ways this can be done now with COVID19. You can setup an online store that people can visit and select items to buy which can then be delivered to them. You can advertise different products and have specific delivery days. If it is training services that are being offered for instance you can train people using platforms such as Google Meet, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Alternatively, you can take the market to the people. Such a situation would entail advertising the different locations you would be going to, giving COVID19 measures for people to adhere to and they can then come to the market near them on that day. This strategy would cater for your customers who may be averse to online shopping as they would like to see the product first hand before they can purchase it. Please note that these are only suggestions and there are many more options out there for you to explore.


Promotion

Once you have a product, price and place figured out, the next step will be for you to decide on your marketing avenues so that you can let people know what you are offering and how they can access it. Some options include creating a website, marketing on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp and even LinkedIn. It is also important for you to join farming associations or associations suited to your business and attend events being hosted in your field. This will allow you to market your product/service and network with potential customers, investors and even fellow business owners who you can learn from. You need to bear in mind though that marketing especially at a large scale does come with its costs that you will need to budget for. For instance, websites come with fees for maintenance and domain hosting, Facebook ads come at a cost and joining associations may come with a fee which is usually paid annually. These are all costs that you need to include in your marketing budget.


Evaluate Your Plan

When all is said and done you need to monitor the progress and success of your marketing plan. You need to set Key Performance Indicator’s (KPIs) to allow you to measure your progress. You need to evaluate customer numbers, sales and partnerships being formed. There is also need to pay close attention to your customer’s reviews and responses as they play a big role in the success or fail of your business. Evaluation should be carried out regularly and revisions should be made to the marketing plan based on what you have observed works really well and what does not.


As you venture into the world of marketing, remember to be patient and consistent as slow and steady wins the race.





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