Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company's course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.
Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.
At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:
1. Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, figure out the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Be respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition can.
2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.
3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer's dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.
4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.
Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today's business owners utilize.
Social media has become an essential part of businesses' marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.
"Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms," Farmiloe told Business News Daily. "Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms."
Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.
Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.
"Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast," Farmiloe said. "Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send."
For help choosing an email marketing service, visit Business News Daily's buyer's guide.
The popularity of smartphones and tablets has helped change the way companies target their customers. Since people have the devices with them nearly all the time, companies are looking to implement strategies that reach customers on their gadgets.
"Mobile marketing is interruptive," Farmiloe said. "It's because of this power that a marketer has to let the consumer determine how and when to receive marketing material. That's why almost every app comes with the option to turn notifications on or off. The consumer has to hold the power with mobile marketing."
Creating a well-defined list of budgets, goals and action items, with appropriate personnel assigned to each item, can help make your marketing plan a reality. Think about how much you're willing to spend, the kind of outcomes you expect, and the necessary tasks to achieve those outcomes. A Cleverism article advised defining three key elements to help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts:
- How you want to track your campaign
- The channels you want to track
- The metrics you want to measure
The metrics — the numerical data that allows you to see if you're reaching your goals — are the best ways to measure your return on investment, according to Cleverism. This can include wesite visits, lead conversion, click-through/bounce rates, social media effectiveness and referrals. More tips for measuring your marketing results can be found in this BND article.
Further reading and templates for your marketing plan can be found on the following websites
Additional reporting by Katherine Arline.