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You already know the success of your business depends strongly on a well planned marketing strategy. Yet only 56% of small businesses have a marketing plan according to a study by Marketo. Worse, the number that keep their strategy up-to-date, and brings aboard all members of their team to become aware of, execute, and improve their strategy are far lower.
Whether you’re a large company that needs a hundred page plan, or a small business that will cover their strategy in a five to seven page document – the goal of your marketing strategy stays the same. You want to identify the benefits of your company and find ways to create awareness, engage, and persuade your target markets.
With today’s fast-changing consumer preferences, technological innovation, new channels for promotion, and competitors – it’s more important for a company to build and iterate their marketing plan than ever before.
As the famed Peter Drucker noted: “Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation. All the rest are costs.”
Benefits of developing a marketing strategy
If you still aren’t convinced – whether you’re a business consultant, founder, or director of a company – here are more benefits to developing an iterative marketing strategy.
Creates direction and unity
Well defined plans boost confidence. Your team will feel much more secure if they know the trajectory of the company, and where they are aiming to go. If you share your vision and ask for feedback from your employees they’ll gain excitement, feel more engaged in the business, and ultimately become more committed to the company.
No plan = no accountability
You can’t hold the people in your business accountable for a goal they are unaware of, and can’t take ownership of.
Success rarely comes without detailed planning, brainstorming, researching, and analyzing to improve your future results. Making a plan, is step one to execution. Otherwise you are rowing a boat without a destination in mind.
Writing it out, and taking notes
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“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.” (Albert Einstein)
How many times did you have an idea or a thought, that you didn’t write down immediately, and later forgot?
We’re busier and more distracted than ever before. That’s why it’s important to always take notes and get things down on paper. If an idea hits your mind – write it down and keep track of it. Evernote is a great tool for this. It allows you to keep notes and reference them at a later date. You can even clip and share with your team. Microsoft’s OneNote is getting better, and introductory Project Managers like Basecamp are helpful too.
Information in a written or virtual document stays – no matter how circumstances change, other work you move on to, etc. You’ll always be able to remind yourself about certain goals, objectives, and plans you make. One of the primary keys to productivity and focus is getting ideas out of your head and on a piece of (virtual or real) paper.
While we’re talking about writing, have you thought about writing an ebook for your businnes to increase your inbound marketing performance? If you don’t know how to write one – download our free guide on “How to Write an Ebook”.
Competitive Advantage comes from Planning
This is especially important for small businesses that often fail to plan around their key advantage in their market, or fail to define one. Many start-ups and small firms hurt themselves by not paying enough attention to real strategy. Instead, they focus on marketing tactics that might not bring good results or be out of date with short-term thinking in mind. Worse – many tactics aren’t even projected, or measured. Don’t spend precious capital, or expend hours you can’t bring back without creating a plan and seeking a return on every marketing endeavor. A return could be a sale, awareness, or even a lesson when experimenting. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and strategize using those in mind. Do NOT ignore them (SWOT analysis tips below).
Start off by creating a marketing strategy with projections, and analysis that will help you refine and build your business over the long-run. Tie this in directly with your competitive advantage, and unique selling proposition.
One-man show or team effort?
Even if you’re taking the lead in creating a marketing strategy for your company, you want to include other key players to bring awareness and commitment from your team.
Firms often keep their marketing strategy private for different reasons like lack of trust in their employees, or even lack of confidence in the strategy. Don’t follow this bad practice and include as many key people as possible, to make sure you take feedback from all the aspects of your company – which will undoubtedly help you in creating a better marketing strategy.
Marketing today isn’t just confined with how you succeed at gaining customers. Marketing ties into how you atract talent, hire, bring on partners, and effects every aspect of your business from operations, to even equity value.
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Determine your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. Your marketing strategy will be affected by them in many ways. SWOT is a core and classic part of corporate strategy and planning for good reason. It’s a simple way to assess internal and external forces around your business.
Be honest and rigorous when developing your SWOT – this is not something you want to sugarcoat, for your business’s sake. After you finish the analysis, you’ll be able to measure the effects each quadrant may have on your marketing strategy.
Where to start?
An initial marketing plan should cover one year. Later, after you start executing, see the results, get to know your market and customers – don’t be afraid to hit the two to four-year plan down the road. But first, put your focus and energy on the year that’s ahead.
Don’t rush with creating your marketing strategy. Focus on creating the right strategy. It’s better to take a couple of months, even more, than starting early with the implementation of an inappropriate plan. Executing a bad strategy can be a lot like building a house and missing to put in every other brick – imagine the crash! It’s harder to fix after the house is up than when planning.
Marketing strategy is not a document you create once, seal up and leave it in a drawer. It’s open to changes, and best reviewed at least quarterly, or even monthly. Things change – markets tend to evolve, people can leave your company, and you can’t precisely predict how your customers will react. Over time, you may even target a completely new market you weren’t aware of when creating the plan. Make sure you are ready to review it anytime there’s need for a change to get things on paper (remember Einstein here).
Key elements of a good marketing strategy
Before you start, it’s crucial that you determine the history, size, and trends across your market or industry. Use market research and real data about your competitors and technological trends. How big is your industry this year, versus last? What are the projections for next year? What are the shifts in buying behavior? Where does your company currently, and historically rank? How do the top people and companies across your industry work and market? If you are going into a new market – find lessons, and inspirations from companies both past and present.
We’ve now worked with hundreds of companies, across over 14+ timezones as of 2017. The number one problem we see across struggling companies is the limited effort put into quality research and understanding vs. successful companies that know their market inside and out.
There is a myth across the business world, that market research isn’t valuable, as your product or service is so unique it has absolutely no relation to another, or that customers never truly know what they want.
They’re completely wrong. This is a major cognitive bias you have to fight against, and is too common amongst founders (that often fail).
If anything, the very minimum that a better understanding of your market and history provides, is a pathway to avoid major mistakes. Business and science are common this way.
In science, you wouldn’t want to engage in a new experiment, without first learning about others that have attempted similar experiments, and their results. Business should be approached the same way. Learning the mistakes and successes of other companies, helps your business gain valuable time and resources. Imagine the teams of very smart and hard-working people, years of collective effort, and capital expended and lost on failed ventures or tactics. It happens every day. Those lessons are a valuable way for you and your team to avoid similar mistakes, and gain from insight and knowledge. Quality research buys you years you othewise do not have.
Buyer Personas: Before you start, it’s crucial that you determine who your customers are. Use market research and real data about your existing customers to create a semi-fictional representation of your customers. Personas are not the same as real people. You are instead building a model of common potential customers – what are their hobbies, their income, their biggest challenges, and needs. Include their demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, communication channels, and goals. If you recognize this better than your competitors – you’ll be a step ahead of them by being able to fulfill and anticipate your customer’s needs. Personas form the focus of your marketing tactics and strategy.
If you have existing customers in this market, conduct market research by sending them surveys via email to further develop your SWOT. Remember to keep the questionnaire short and simple – your customers probably won’t bother spending too much time helping you out (unless you’re in a position to offer an incentive for this act, or gained enough loyalty to encourage their participation).
To learn how to successfully create buyer personas for your business, download our FREE ebook – How to Create Buyer Personas.
This is the hard part. You need to convince your customers that your product or service can solve their problems better than the competition, or in a unique way. Put a lot of focus on recognizing your biggest strengths and summarize them in a statement called the value proposition. Separate yourself from the competition and make it apparent. This is your positioning, and makes the difference between campaigns that grab attention, or get cluttered with others. Make sure all members of your team know this, as marketing isn’t just advertising or digital. It’s word of mouth.
Culture and Transparency
We talk a lot about Web 2.0 or social, or how the the future of communication and advertising is evolving. But there is a trend that we still haven’t fully accepted. Privacy and secrets, are dead.
Separate Facts vs. Assumptions
When planning the future – you are by nature working with probabilities, and not hard facts. But don’t leave things purely to chance. Good fortune comes to those that work hard to gain odds in their favor. Be aware of the assumptions versus facts in your vision. Always. Not separating between facts and assumptions won’t get you anywhere nor give you a clear picture of your business. Be clear of your own biases, optimistic thinking, and avoid a lack of adequate research or experience by those making the strategy.
Separating between facts and assumptions allows you to also employ one of the most important aspects of marketing – experiments. When you know that something is an assumption – test it. It could be the channel, advertising method, website copy, a sales brochure, email, etc. Test each and every assumption in your plan, until you gain a baseline of facts upon which to build future marketing campaigns.
A plan isn’t just a way to build your business, but a tool for discovery and knowledge. The quality of your plan helps you discover the limits of what you and your team may not know, so you can begin to gain valuable knowledge by experiments, or outside counsel to achieve your goals.
Your product or service needs to get out there, and it’s time to decide on the best marketing activities for your business. They need to resonate with your target audience and make sure they hear about you, and more important – see how your product or service meet their needs. Whether you choose PR, Facebook advertising, exhibitions or any form of promotion – always keep in mind your ideal customer (persona) and limit your activities to methods that will work for your value proposition. You will avoid spending your budget on activities and marketing channels that don’t bring you desired results.
Monitoring, measuring, and evaluation
This element is often neglected, but probably the most important one to future results. You need to know if your marketing strategy is effective or not. Make sure your plan recognizes prior efforts, and sets projections for the future. Over time, collect these results to improve your marketing. If you regularly monitor, measure, and evaluate your marketing efforts, you’ll be able to see how your strategy is performing, what you’re doing well, what should be stopped, and what should be changed. This is crucial to executing a long-term marketing effort.
To help your company grow, you need to align best practices alongside leading software and processes. To find out systems and tools that can help you – download our FREE Growth Stack presentation.
Questions to ask when developing a marketing strategy
After conducting market research, developing a SWOT analysis, building your buyer personas, and taking note of our tips above, here are the questions to ask to create your strategy:
- What are our goals for our marketing strategy? What do we want to achieve?
- In which way is our business environment changing? Are the current trends opportunities or threats?
- Who are our ideal customers, and where are they online and offline? (Buyer persona + channels)
- Which channels, costs, advertising and methods should we target? How do we prioritize and choose the most effective channels and methods of communication? (Paid, earned and owned media channels)
- What are our top competitors utilizing to reach their client market? What seems to be most effective or pertinent for our efforts?
- COMPANY HISTORY:
- What channels have worked best for us in the past, and how can we improve upon these efforts?
- PERCEPTION + BRAND IDENTITY:
- How do we want to be perceived by our staff, customers, clients, partners, and the general public? (How are we currently perceived? – Brand Identity, and Brand Voice)
- SOFTWARE AND TOOLS:
- What software, tools, and processes can we use to help build our marketing efforts and judge their progress?
- How will we measure the effectiveness of our marketing efforts? How does this tie into the metrics we will use to judge the progress on our goals?
- What feedback can my sales, operations, client-facing, and HR teams provide on our marketing efforts?
After you finish putting your strategy together by answering those questions, you might think it’s time to sit back and relax, but this is just where the fun begins. Great companies refine their marketing strategies, and change them as they gain valuable data on their efforts.
You’re on a starting path to get your team together, commit to a goal, and improve upon your future endeavors. Remember, a good strategy is nothing without even better execution, and continuous improvement.
To discuss or to gain help on your marketing strategy, get in touch.
Follow along and subscribe at the right for more, and if you need help with your marketing strategy, contact us for a free consultation. Subscribe on the right, as we continue to follow up on additional marketing tips to help your business grow.
Marketo Market Research: https://www.marketo.com/analyst-and-other-reports/marketing-trend-watch-2014-planning-edition/
Pixabay 2: https://pixabay.com/en/albert-einstein-portrait-1933340/