Marketing on an entrepreneur’s budget

When you are first starting out as an entrepreneur, you may have limited room in your budget for marketing. Fortunately, you don’t need to have a multi million dollar marketing department to create recognition for your brand. You just need to know how to tell your story.

Dr. Kevin Lehnert has taught marketing at Grand Valley State University for six years.

“There’s no easy tool to create brand recognition, but the best thing to do is to understand your story,” Lehnert says.

Lenhert holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Psychology from St. Louis University, an MBA from Loyola College and a PhD in Marketing and International Business from St. Louis University.

He emphasizes that brands find success when they are authentic and dedicated to their story.

“For an entrepreneur, you want to think about what that story is,” Lehnert said. “That story should carry through in almost all of your communications, whether it’s your website or your social interaction … That is the fundamental basis of branding.”

Lehnert sites Apple as an example of how strong storytelling can set a brand apart. In a market flooded with smartphones that all have similar technology, most consumers gravitate towards the iphone.

“Apple’s story is one of fashion and design and cutting edge technology,” says Lehnert. “There’s a reason than we save the boxes that our Apple products come in. That’s the brand. That’s the power of the story that Apple is telling us.”

Figure out what makes you different. It is likely not going to be the actual product that you are selling, but rather how you can relate to the consumer with your own unique worldview. In order to figure out what exactly your story is, you need to examine why it is you are doing what you are doing. Why do you want to start your own business? What is driving you in your venture? What sort of impact do you want to make? Why is your product or service important to you? When you determine what exactly it is that sets you apart, stick with it. Being consistent and authentic with your story is important.

“The story has got to be true,” Lehnert said. “Don’t make a tall tale, because the lie will destroy that. That authentic, real story about what makes you so very unique and important– your customers will respond to that.”

Once you figure out what your story is, how do you tell it? When you don’t have the funds to launch a strategic marketing campaign, social media is a powerful tool that can be utilized to project your voice. A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that 65% of American adults use some form of social media. In all likelihood, you are probably already using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So how do you separate your personal persona from your brand’s persona on social media? You don’t necessarily need to.

“There should be a link between the two,” Lehnert said. “It’s not authentic otherwise. Speak to the passion and speak to the story that relates to your professional life. It will come from your personal life.”

Find out where your customers are in the digital landscape. If you are selling handmade goods, Etsy is probably a best place for your efforts. If you are starting a financial consulting firm, your time will be better spent on LinkedIn rather than Instagram.

Lehnert advises following trade journals in order to figure out where exactly your consumer is and what the best avenue is to reach them with the resources that you have. He also suggests having a conversation with experts in order to determine where you should start, what you can accomplish on your own and what you should eventually hire out for when you have the money to spend.

“You can spend a lot of time and resources banging your head against the wall trying to figure it out on your own,” he said. “Or, you can pick up the phone, call someone who does this, and have a half an hour conversation. You will be better off for it.”

 For local entrepreneurs, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) offers a series of marketing strategy classes for $60.

For the literary-minded, All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin  delves further into storytelling strategies in marketing. 



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