Over the years, I’ve worked with many business owners through my advising duties at Chemeketa’s Small Business Development Center. My clients often ask, “What marketing will work best?” They usually start with a website, (yes, it’s essential), but what’s next?

Marketing is not about what you’re selling, or how long you’ve been in business, or how you make what you sell. All those things might matter, and can be important to how you express value and promote, but only if they reflect what your audiences want and care about.

Before you choose what to say and where to say it, know your audiences.

When you know and understand the people you must reach to be successful, what their concerns and problems are, their reasons to search out what you offer, you’ll market effectively.

It’s that simple. But it’s still not easy. That’s why what you’re marketing is less important. Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” for the right audiences, and you’re nearly there.

Your message isn’t “We do XYZ,” but rather, it’s the answer to the questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I care?” from the viewpoints of your target audiences. That critical message must be in your tagline and on your website’s home page and support it with detailed proof points. Avoid generic language such as “great quality” or “outstanding service.” Instead, be specific about how you fulfill that answer.

Knowing your audiences better will guide where you ultimately place your marketing message. But your website is the foundation. Your marketing goal is to generate interest and send people to your website (or retail store).

In addition to having a website, there are many other creative ways to market your business. If you’re a local business with trucks or vans, vehicle graphics (with the right message) are basically free moving billboard signs. If you sell to other businesses, build a professional LinkedIn presence and ensure your website provides valuable information to download so you can capture warm leads. And if your audience is younger and your products and services are visual, utilize social media to attract attention to you and your website.

No business appeals to everyone. You want to market to your people—your best customers, those who love what you do and who recommend you. Begin with focusing on those people specifically: who they are, how they find out about your business, what they expect from your business, what they know or don’t know about what you do, what experience they’ve had with your competitors, and so on. Using their words (including testimonials and reviews) will add power to your marketing—on your website, in social media or in advertising.

No matter who you’re marketing to, how you sell or what you sell, the first principle of marketing is to reach the right audiences with the right message in the right way.

Jennifer Morrow is a Business Adviser at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center. The Chemeketa SBDC offers no-cost one-on-one business advising with Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties. To contact the SBDC, email [email protected] or call (503) 399-5088.