The cornerstone of any successful business is its marketing. While things like a quality product and customer service are certainly important, marketing is what gives business owners the ability to reach customers in the first place. Marketing alone can determine whether a company succeeds or fails. With that in mind, below are seven keys to successful marketing that every company needs to follow.

1. Knowing Your Target Audience

One of the biggest pitfalls of marketing for any company is not having a clear idea of who exactly you are targeting with your products or services. You can’t put the cart before the horse. Even if you have a great product, you could still fail to produce sales if no one is interested. Instead, do some market research to figure out exactly what demographics would be interested in a product similar to yours. Once you have the data, work on choosing a specific niche you can market your product to. It doesn’t matter if it’s middleclass teens or affluent senior citizens as long as you are certain they could be convinced to purchase your products in big enough numbers.

2. Knowing Your Competition

You also need to know who your competition is. For example, there may already be a market for your kind of product. If so, you will need to plan strategies for how to best enter that market. Will the competition be fierce? How profitable is the industry for the main players? Who owns the most market share? These are all questions you need answers to. Even if your product doesn’t appear to have a market, you could still be competing against other things that consumers can spend their money on. For example, a mini-golf course that opens up in area may end up competing against a nearby movie theater for the community’s recreational dollar.

3. Performing Research

Without proper research, marketing has little chance of success. The data produced from research is the pool from which good marketing campaigns are formed. Plenty of research should be performed to discover the preferences and dislikes of a product’s target audience. This can help you make the appropriate adjustments well before lgaunch. This can include things like surveys, test audiences, pilot programs and more. You may discover that things you assumed your customers would love are flops. The feedback you receive may also give you ideas for tweaking your product that you had never even thought of. Without that kind of data, you won’t be able to work out the kinks before you launch your product.

4. Differentiation

One of the keys to success in any market is differentiation. If you aren’t able to differentiate yourself from similar products on store shelves, it can be extremely hard to crack into the market. Even if you do, you will end up playing pricing wars based on the law of demand. Unless you are supplemented by the government like farmers are, this is not the path to success for a business. Instead, try to add a new spin to your product that gives it uniqueness and a reason for people to choose it over “Brand X.” Make an attempt to bring something new to the table that you can focus in on with your marketing to create that differentiation.

5. Developing Your Brand

Once you have information regarding your proposed product, your target audience, your competition and market, you should focus on developing a brand. Branding can be hard to describe. However, you can think of it as all the little things on the surface that help identify a company and its products to consumers in the marketplace. The classic examples are McDonald’s golden arches and Colonel Sanders. Branding includes things like packaging design, logos, mascots and the overall tone you put forth with your marketing. Your branding can make a big impact. Think of the difference, for example, between the packaging of French’s mustard squeeze bottle and a jar of Grey Poupon Dijon mustard. The difference places one as a mass market item and the other as a higher end product.

6. Keeping a Clear Focus

Your marketing should also have significant clarity to it. If you launch an advertising campaign, the ads you choose to use should have specific goals. If you’re a new company, informing people of what your product is called and what it is for should certainly be at the top of your list. If you stray too far from these objectives, you may leave consumers confused. While there is plenty of weird marketing out today, most of it is for brands that have been around for 50 years and already have deep market penetration and consumer awareness. If you’re new, your advertising is going to need to be clear, concise and educational in regards to your products.

9. Being Flexible

Last, your marketing paradigms cannot be set in stone. Things change. Your market may change. Your competition may change. The tastes of consumers may change. You need to be flexible. However, this is different from being reactionary. If your company’s marketing is jumping on every new bandwagon and constantly shifting, you may lose a lot of your customer base. Instead, you need to find a balance in which you treat your existing customers with respect while opening up the possibility of attracting new consumers to your products by keeping your marketing fresh and relevant.