I believe one of the most important parts of developing or redesigning a marketing strategy is to look around you and see what is being said. This might include the company specifically or the industry as a whole. Gather public opinion and listening to what’s being said online can really help shape the approach.

This realization was fortunate enough to come to us early pretty early on. I’ve seen countless times now when businesses, mainly small ones who have the best intentions, neglect this important step. If you are trying to make major adjustments to your approach, it can be pretty costly to do so.

For this reason, each time we work with a small business we make a concerted effort to do some due diligence and look around online for what is being said. Certainly it can help a business like ours, since that’s a part of what we do all the time.

But as an owner, manager, or marketer for a small business, what steps can you take to monitor what is being said about your organization online.

Use listening tools that are available. There are many out there for all different size businesses. A basic example of one would be Hootsuite, where you can get reports back and see insights from your social media campaigns.

These might not mean much at first glance, but if you think a little deeper about what it means to be talked about online you’ll see the value.

Just getting mentioned in a tweet or a hashtag or yours being used can have some significance. Looking at Facebook and find posts your tagged or included in is another good example. Keep you’re eye on these social outlets so you can stay informed.

Also don’t be afraid to do a Google or Bing search for your own business. Hopefully you will see you own page, but in addition you could see where else your business in mentioned online. Having this knowledge can be quite powerful, especially when you see it in the context of that other page.

Sure this is something that can be done ongoing, and it is always wise to do so, but going through these steps before a major marketing overhaul is a great idea. Reading what others have to say about your small business, can lead you towards more appropriate and informed decisions.

Even if what you find is not overwhelmingly positive, use it to your advantage. Take it as unsolicited constructive criticism and make your business that much better because of it.

Maybe you noticed some people saying that you weren’t the most polite to deal with. Fix it by beginning to integrate new elements into your marketing that tell them otherwise. Little things like this can make a big difference in the grand scheme, especially when you are reworking your marketing.

A big part of this has to be the willingness to change. Maybe your branding has been one way since the start or so consistent that you’re scared it might drive away new customers. Remind yourself that change is inevitable, and for most small businesses you need to do just that to survive.

By deciding to revise your marketing strategy you have likely made this choice already. Now it’s important to integrate your own vision as well as goals for the company, with how your customers perceive you.

Make your branding consistent with how you would like to be viewed in the future. If you have been lacking in some areas and consider what is being said around you, make sure you do your best to make the necessary changes. This can be done with anything from a new slogan or simply imagery on your marketing materials.

Understand that this should be a cyclical process. Yes, as I already stated at least twice in this article, extremely important to do this when you are just starting. But every week, or month, whatever it may be, make sure you are listening to the digital world for mentions of your business.

It will let you refine your already wisely developed approach and tailor it more towards the public’s opinion of you.

If I may give one last example on this. A local bar of mine that is well known and been established for many years just got caught by the state for doing something no bar should ever do. They refilled premium liquor bottles with cheap, low quality, liquor and passed it off as the good stuff.

A bold move, I know. Lots of townies and local patrons regularly frequent the place and they just knowingly ripped them off. Worst of all they were doing this for close to a year, as this was the length of the investigation. So how does this relate?

Their reputation is pretty much tarnished now. From a marketing standpoint, the wisest thing they could do to gain back customers is overhaul their marketing. Sure their service would need to drastically improve inside before I go back, but it’s the public’s image of them that really counts.

Word of mouth might be the only thing to bring customers back. They need to be regularly listening online (they have an active Facebook page) as well as throughout the community to see what is being said.

If they are lucky things will change for the better for them. But from a marketing perspective, they need to redevelop their whole approach to reaching customers, begin an apology campaign, and regularly listen as well as integrate all that is being said into their marketing.

So stay wise, stay informed, and make sure you do what it takes to incorporate what is being mentioned in a positive and helpful way for your business.
Kevin Gaertner is Co-Owner of Cyclone Strategies, a marketing agency which helps small and medium sized businesses create and implement online marketing strategies.