Small Business Marketing: ‘Who You Are’ or ‘What You Do?’

For many small businesses, determining the direction of a marketing campaign depends on the answer to this critical question: “Should I market what I do, or who I am?”

This is a challenging question, of course, because ideally you would like to choose both. Marketing “what you do” refers to advertising and promoting your services. In other words, if you’re a plumber, you’d advertise your ability to fix leaks, install water heaters or assist in remodeling.

Marketing “who you are” is about establishing your brand in the mind of your customers and your market. As a plumber, marketing who you are would mean establishing yourself as a reliable, high quality solution to plumbing challenges. It would mean emphasizing the qualities that set you apart from your competition, whatever those may be.

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For instance, maybe you pride yourself on responding within six hours of a call, or maybe you guarantee that you can fix the problem in one visit. Establishing these qualities in the minds of your customers is part of marketing who you are. So which marketing approach should you choose or suggest?

Marketing what you do is the best way to convert leads into immediate jobs. When a customer has a flooded basement due to a broken pipe, they’re not looking for great story telling and brand identity—they are looking for somebody who can fix their problem immediately. Clearly, marketing what you do is the best short-term strategy for picking up new clients or customers.

Speak to problems and provide solutions.

Marketing who you are is how you build your brand. Now before you dismiss brand building as unimportant, think about your last shopping trip. If you’re like most people, you’re willing to pay a premium for top brands—whether you’re talking about Nike shoes, Sam Adams beer or Calvin Klein polo shirts.

For you or your client, as a small business owner, building a strong brand means that your customers will not only remain loyal—but they will also be willing to pay more for your services! The goal here is to make sure that when a customer or potential customer thinks of a plumbing company, landscaper or electrician (whatever it is that you do), they think of your company first.

Successful brand building virtually guarantees that you will have a steady stream of work, because you are known as the best at what you do. And people that want the best will pay more to be able to work with you.

While it’s clear that building your brand is the best approach to take for the long term, it’s a slow process. Many small businesses simply don’t have the budget for an extended marketing campaign that might take months or even years to turn a profit. That’s why, for most businesses, the answer is a combination of the two.

By marketing your services, you can be assured that you’ll get some new business. As your budget allows, you can gradually invest in brand building at the same time. As you progress, you can gradually shift your budget away from marketing your services and towards building your brand.

The timeline and budget will obviously vary depending on your specific situation, but the bottom line applies to all small businesses: It’s important to market your services in order to bring in new business—but it’s equally important that you don’t neglect your long term strategy of building your brand.

If you are consulting local businesses you need to think about this variable not only for you clients but also for yourself.

This is the difference between becoming a commodity and a brand. I generally consult small businesses that are just getting started to go for the “what you do” marketing in order to build a pipeline of business.

Once you’ve got some cushion, pay a little more attention to the “who you are” and you may find that price is not the main point of competition for your prospects. Positioning yourself as the educator and advocate will have them calling you the expert and make it tough to compare you apples to apples with your competition.

4 Replies to “Small Business Marketing: ‘Who You Are’ or ‘What You Do?’”

  1. Hi Jack
    TY for this informative article.
    It made me think about how I am marketing my own business.
    I have found actually that most businesses think in terms of branding. Recently I. Building a lead gen. Site for a business I made the mistake of allowing the strong personality of the owner direct me away from ” marketing what he does” to ” branding his business”.

    After 5 header image revisions, each sillier than the preceding ones at his direction. He didn’t like the end result and the site.

    Praise God I found the strength to walk away from that elusive payday and cut my losses. Yes, I lost compensation for about 30 hours of work, however I gained knowledge of this niche and am moving on to apply it correctly with others in The same niche.

    Great article bro

  2. Hi Jack-

    I am brand new to OfflineXFactor and have been listening to your case studies there that are very informative. I really like this article, and agree with the practice of speak to problems and provide solutions, and do just that in my health and wellness business.

    Looking forward to working this program!


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