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Marketing 101. What you need to know about helping people buy your product

Business · 7 min read

Never Stop Marketing

First, a bit about us. Don’t click away, this is important. Last year DHL shifted nearly 4 million tonnes of airfreight on behalf of around 2.7 million business customers. These are companies ranging from global corporations right down to the classic teenager in his dad’s garage. 

Like everyone else, they each started their business life with just one thing – a good product or idea. And that’s where they’d stay, without getting to grips with at least some aspects of the process known as marketing. If you want to thrive, you need to put marketing at the very heart of your business; here's how you get started.

What is marketing? Is it just a fancy word for selling?

It’s way more than that. While selling is mostly about the transaction of goods for cash, marketing concerns itself with the entire business process. It embraces product development, the people who are most likely to buy your product, your pricing structure, promotional techniques and more. If you see a pattern developing here, you’re right.

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The key principles of marketing all start with a P

It’s generally held that there are five Ps in what people call ‘the marketing mix’ (Some stretch the term to include seven or even nine, but there are five main ones). Whether you sit down and construct a formal five-year marketing strategy or do things a little more on the fly, you should always be thinking about the five Ps: Price, Product, People, Place and Promotion. Let’s take an overview of each one:

1. Product

This is presumably why you’re here. You’ve got a good product and you want to sell it. For the sake of brevity, our use of ‘product’ also includes things like apps and services, and applies to business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sales. Right from the start, you need to forget that you’ve got anything to do with the product at all. Instead, examine it afresh from the perspective of a potential customer. Channel their thoughts like this:

  • Hey, that looks cool. I wonder what it does?
  • I could use something like this in my study/garage/kitchen
  • I wonder if it’s available in black?
  • Maybe there are cheaper versions elsewhere?
  • This would make me look good to my boss/partner/kids
  • Not sure about that name. How am I supposed to pronounce it?
  • Why all this packaging? Don’t they know plastic is the enemy?
  • It would make a great gift. Maybe it’s cheaper if I buy several
  • Ah, the instructions. ‘Utilize’? ‘Enablement’? Who talks like this?

By forensically examining every aspect of your product – maybe asking disinterested observers to do likewise – you’ll find ways to enhance it or make it more appealing to more people. You need to think ahead too. Just about everything for sale has a ‘product life cycle’, a period after which sales naturally decline. You must be ready for that, and plan to introduce new and/or improved versions of the product long before your sales curve starts to head south. 

“Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them do so.”

– Bryan Eisenberg, Author & Keynote Speaker

2. Price

Ever noticed anything odd about men’s grooming site, Dollar Shave Club? They’re wildly successful at what they do, but nobody’s ever bought a razor from them for a dollar. It can’t be done. Not once the cost of shipping is included. That’s just one example of how a clever pricing strategy (together with a catchy name) can reel the shoppers in. Determining the price of your product is a balancing act. Set it too low and you might appear cheap and inferior. Set it too high and people will quickly look elsewhere. There are exceptions, of course. A Dyson fan will blow the same air around your living room as a regular fan, but advanced technology and a unique design mean the company can command a cost per unit many times higher than other manufacturers.

Rather than going with your gut feeling, do some research. Look at what your competitors (if any) are charging and learn what your potential customers would be willing to pay. Consider offering bulk discounts or introductory offers, or adding value in other ways such as a user guide or club membership.

Then consider which pricing strategy you should implement. There’s a range of different strategies to suit different objectives and marketing environments. Some of the main ones are:

Market penetration

This is where your initial price is set artificially low, then hiked once you’ve achieved a pre-determined market share. New subscription services like TV or broadband providers typically use this model. As we’ve seen, the Dollar Shave Club is pretty much just the name on the door.

Price skimming

Price skimming occurs when a first-to-the-market company can afford to charge a higher price, but then has to adjust its prices downwards when cut-price competitors arrive on the scene. Most hi-tech items are eye-wateringly expensive at launch.

Neutral pricing

Here, you set the price to match whatever the bulk of your competitors are charging. It’s not a strategy to adopt if your products are demonstrably superior to others.

Once you’ve settled on a price that brings the orders trickling in, turn your attention to how you can modify your pricing strategy so that the trickle becomes a stream, then a torrent, then a flood. Never stop testing, in other words. (But always have that other P-word at the back of your mind – profit.) 

3. People

A lot of companies claim to be people-centric, but this should always be more than a buzz phrase for your ‘about us’ page. People – individuals – should be at the heart of everything you do, not just a consideration in your marketing plans. Ask yourself:

  • What do people want from your product or service?
  • Are they using it in ways you hadn’t envisaged?
  • How are they interacting with your brand?
  • What are they saying about you on social media or review sites?
  • Do you value your customers or feel they somehow ‘get in the way’?
  • How can you improve their experience of your website or products?
  • When was the last time you wrote a personal note to a customer?

You may call them crew, colleagues, team members or plain old employees, but the people who work for you are vital to the success of your enterprise. If you’re passionate about your business, you’ll clearly want people who share at least some of your commitment. This shared idealism not only creates a happier working environment, it also helps gives you a competitive edge over less united rivals. This topic is explored in our article investigating how to build your team for success. 

4. Place

'Place' in a marketing mix context refers not to a single location but to several: where your business is located; where your customers are located; and any points in between such as warehouses, distributors and retailers. How you get your products from you to the end user is, as with most things in marketing, customer driven. You have to find out where your customers are, where they might look to find your product, where they’d feel most comfortable buying it, how long they’re prepared to wait for it to be delivered, how often they’re likely to place an order and so on. Knowing the answers will help you determine the best – i.e. quickest, simplest and most cost-efficient – method of getting your stuff out there.

Now, you could be lucky in that your business might thrive just through selling handmade watches to a handful of high net worth individuals every year. In which case, distribution is a pretty simple matter and your main concern is ensuring you have hefty insurance. But for most SMEs, a more structured system will be required. Depending on the nature of your business, it could involve multiple stages:

It’s no exaggeration to say that distribution can make or break a business. But help is at hand. Because when it comes to national or international logistics, whether for global corporations or bedroom-based startups, nobody can offer more hands-on experience or helpful advice than DHL. With offices in over 220 countries and territories, we’re the first name in crossing borders, reaching new markets and growing your business. And, as our software aligns with many e-commerce platforms, your customers can see shipping costs transparently. Quora has some interesting contributions about Place in the marketing mix.

5. Promotion

This is what most people think of when you talk about marketing, but promotion is just the communication aspect of the marketing process and is often one of the last steps you take. Promotion can take many forms:

Advertising

  • TV and radio
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Posters
  • PPC (pay per click) advertising
  • Online banners
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Social media

Sales Promotion

  • Money-off coupons
  • Loyalty programs
  • Product sampling
  • Competitions
  • Point of sale

Public Relations

  • Press releases
  • Exhibitions and events
  • Sponsorship
     

6. Packaging 

Unlike traditional advertising like television or press ads, digital media lets you scientifically test the effectiveness of promotions very accurately. You can launch a marketing campaign online and immediately see how many people interacted with your ad, visited your website and bought a product. The trouble is, your competitors can do exactly the same thing – and their marketing budget might be bigger, meaning they can reach more people, more often. 

So it’s here that you balance the science of responsive marketing with creativity and impact, so that your advertising stands out from the crowd through the use of striking images or a distinctive ‘tone of voice’. Incidentally, pay no heed to those who claim advertising ‘doesn’t work’ on them. They’re often the ones who drive a VW ‘because it’s reliable’, wear Levis ‘because they’re hardwearing’ or use Persil because it ‘washes whiter’. 

The importance of word of mouth

No form of promotion has ever bettered word of mouth. The internet has made it a lot easier for you to harness its power, using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You could be a natural at engaging with people online but, as with most other aspects of marketing, you may prefer to get expert help. 

And remember, in a changing world it's vital that your marketing adapts to new circumstances and stays relevant. That means keeping it refreshed and never once thinking that it's a box that's been ticked. 

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