7 Ways a Marketing Strategy Will Grow Your Business

“What is the best money I can spend in marketing to grow my business?” Without a doubt, this is the question I’m most frequently asked by small business owners. It may seem like a question that is promptly followed by an “it depends” type of answer, however, it’s actually quite easy to pinpoint one tool that is relatively inexpensive, delivers a high ROI and, sadly, is not commonly found in a small businesses’ toolbox. It’s a marketing strategy.

Why is a marketing strategy the most powerful tool for growing business? The straight-forward answer is that a solid marketing strategy will address current challenges and map out paths by which a business can grow in the future. It will audit a business’s brand and message, but isn’t limited to branding alone. Rather, a marketing strategy is a combination of big picture and detail analysis that incorporates a wide range of marketing channels tailored for that business’s industry, market, and budget. The majority of marketing strategies I write for small businesses include a high number of items that can be performed for free by current in-house staff, resulting in a plan that won’t lead to a fortune spent. In fact, a good marketing strategy is an investment in saving money because it targets a business’s efforts and helps avoid waste.

At this point I need to qualify my earlier statement; the best money spent in marketing is a smart marketing strategy written by an experienced marketer on behalf of a specific business, not something sketched out by a rep at a service shop (think printer or web firm) or from a generic, ‘small business strategy’ check list. For a marketing strategy to be truly effective, it needs to be a customized effort involving research, analysis and a careful matching of opportunities with the business’s resources and budget. This can never be a quick or off the shelf effort – a smart marketing strategy takes some time to develop properly. My own typically take less than a month and are generally under $2,000.

It’s important to keep in mind that while a smart marketing strategy won’t force a business beyond its means, it will present a mix of opportunities that meet immediate goals and show paths for growth. A marketing strategy’s advantage is that it paints a picture of a business, highlights who that business is targeting, focuses its marketing budget, and develops a schedule for reaching out to buyers. It accomplishes this in 7 key ways:

1. Develops Brand & Message

A brand is simply a business’s public look and message. Businesses all have the beginning of a brand – an official name – and some have taken steps to identify a logo, tagline, and possibly a general color scheme or style guide. In small businesses, these are often a reflection of the owner’s personal taste rather than an evaluation of the market and targeted buyers (years ago I had a client who chose her corporation’s color scheme from her kitchen wall’s paint chip). They may be a result of a family brainstorming effort or an owner’s flash of inspiration. Sometimes they are geographically influenced or an attempt at gimmickry. The point is that while it’s rare to find a small business that developed its name, logo, and message as the result of true market research, it’s a universal rule that, for good or bad, small businesses will refer to these items as their business’s brand.

And this is where a marketing strategy steps in. A smart marketing strategy will thoroughly evaluate a business’s brand through experienced and unbiased eyes. The marketer is not (hopefully) a member of the family and most likely hasn’t seen the kitchen’s walls. Instead, an experienced marketer will audit the brand as both a buyer and a marketer, and evaluate its ability to quickly convey the business’s story, whether or not it targets the appropriate buyer, and if it is unique enough within the marketplace to set the business apart from the competition. The marketing strategy will highlight any brand challenges, inconsistencies, or weaknesses before suggesting modifications and improvements.

Unfortunately, ‘brand’ seems to be a point at which many small businesses abandon their strategic efforts. A business’s brand is essential and well worth a hefty effort, but ‘branding’ isn’t enough of an action item to grow a business and isn’t where a smart strategy ends…

2. Audits Current Program

Which segues nicely into the next stage of a strategy: auditing the current marketing program. This stage goes beyond branding to review all of the business’s marketing efforts and is an essential component to any smart strategy. It’s at this stage that wasted money or effort is discovered, missed opportunities highlighted, or where I find that a client had started down a positive path in the past but either abandoned it too early or was off in its message. Has the business’s marketing program been well thought out or has it been a shotgun approach through a series of one-off efforts spread over time? This is where we find out.
My audits look for strengths as well as holes and weaknesses in a business’s marketing program by dissecting the marketing channel mix, promotional locations (both online and traditional), frequency, and more, then matching the entire program to the targeted buyer profile. I spend quite a bit of time looking through the business’s marketing tools such as its web site, brochures, newsletters, and social media and evaluate the business’s staff resources, factoring any strengths into the final evaluation.

3. Profiles Buyers & Marketplace

It may be hard to fathom but there are small businesses that face each year without knowing much about their own marketplace and the very buyers upon which their livelihoods depend. As a marketer, it baffles me how any business can hang its shingle without taking the time to first evaluate who it will sell to and from whom it will grab market share. Questions such as, “how many buyers are out there?”, “how do they like to be reached?” and, “who am I competing against?” are all fundamental to business success because it’s only through this knowledge that a company can adapt and grow. The only way to create this profile is through research!

I start by pulling information directly from my clients through a combination of interviews and surveys filled with carefully crafted questions. I’ll ask then re-ask until I’ve developed a complete profile from my client’s perspective. My work then turns to generating a buyer profile from a marketing perspective that stems from my client’s high level buyer description. I’ll dig and research until my profile is complete, then compare my profile with that of my client’s. Hopefully we’re in synch, but if not, I’ll point out where we differ and evaluate where my client can hone his or her efforts.

At this point I’ll also want to look at the marketplace from my buyer profile’s point of view, and will “shop” the competition. I’ll look at the business’s geographic reach and investigate both demographic data and local economic growth plans. All of this data will play into the final evaluation of whether my client should continue in its current market or branch out into an area that’s buyer-rich.

4. Evaluates Competition

“Who is my competition and how do we differ?” That’s a question every business owner should be able to answer at any given time! Business owners should be aware of who is snagging market share from them and how each competitor compares in services, quality, customer service, messaging, and overall marketing efforts. It’s wonderful to be the best service provider available, but that won’t mean anything if the competition is signing more buyers!

For this stage of a marketing strategy, I like to shop the competition from a buyer’s perspective before comparing my findings to my own “client shop”. Since I’m an outside consultant, it’s fairly easy for me to assume an unbiased buyer’s approach to most shopping efforts, be it B to B or B to C, and I look for easy shopping situations, who could satisfy my buyer needs, would entice me to make a purchase or conversely would turn me off as a buyer. I use these results to suggest ways my client could improve his or own business’s message and to…

5. Determine Marketing Mix

This stage of a marketing strategy is a game of, ‘find the buyers’. After all, what is marketing if it isn’t an effort to communicate with buyers and lure them to a business? To me, this is the truly strategic stage of a strategy, but one that could not exist without all the previous steps. It is at this point that the strategy should answer questions such as, “should a business adopt the latest trends or stick to more traditional methods?” or, “what will provide the biggest bang for a limited budget?”

It’s also the stage where experience really pays off as there are many, many ways to spend money in marketing and only so many options that will reach the right buyers. I enjoy this stage the most and spend time looking under rocks to discover new options and find cost effective solutions. No two strategies should be ever be the same at this stage, making this the most custom portion of the entire process. A good strategy will look beyond paid search and Facebook ads and find new ways to present the business – within budget.

This is also the most flexible portion of a smart marketing strategy. I like to include a variety of options that range from ‘incorporate immediately’ to more longer term efforts that make sense once the business has grown or has put other marketing tools in place. A good mix will pull in multiple marketing channels and allow a business to reach buyers on many levels.

6. Finds Internal & Low Cost Options

Many businesses have low cost and free marketing options already at their disposal and may not realize it. A good marketing strategy reviews a business’s internal options, evaluates the business as a whole, and discover resources that can be used in the marketing plan. I like to empower my clients and give them the chance to save their budget for bigger ticket items down the road.

7. Designs 1 – 5 Years Marketing Plan

I wrap up every marketing strategy with a 1 year, month by month, marketing plan. This marketing plan lists carefully selected marketing efforts determined in the strategy and provide a schedule for when they should be launched and evaluated. For smaller businesses, I try to stick to the low cost options that can be maintained internally with optional efforts that may cost more money or should happen after an early goal has been achieved. More expensive or involved opportunities are generally reserved for a 2-5 year plan and are contingent upon achieving goals.

By incorporating the above 7 stages into a thoroughly researched and carefully crafted strategy, a small business will have a map by which it can achieve its goals and grow its business. It’s money well spent and something a business really shouldn’t exist without!

Your, I Mean YOUR Marketing Concept

Let’s start with a definition:

Management philosophy according to which a firm’s goals can be best achieved through identification and satisfaction of the customers’ stated and unstated needs and wants.

OK, it sounds rather clinical but it’s a pretty simple concept. Easy to understand but not so easy to implement. Every business is different and needs it’s own marketing concept. My marketing concept will not work for you because of many factors. Considerations to be made in every business include:

  • Your location.
  • Your products.
  • Your customers.
  • The time of year. (or month, or season)
  • Your competition.
  • If you are a physical location or an internet business.
  • Your budget for marketing.

Your marketing concept must take these points into consideration. Answer these questions and you’ll have a good grasp on what you need to do.

  • Your Location.

Particularly if you have a brick and mortar location, you need to know your area. Are you in an urban or rural location? What is the population of the area you want to serve? Are your potential customers willing to travel to where you are to buy what you offer?

  • Your Products.

What a your products and/or services? What sells best? What has the biggest profit margin? What is your “signature” product? What product or service is unique to you and your business?

  • Your Customers.

This is the most important item to consider for your marketing concept. We could spend hours talking about knowing your customers but for our purpose, let’s consider a few questions to answer. Are they mostly male or female? What is the average age of your best customer? Where do they live? What is the average income of your ideal customer? Write a paragraph or 2 describing your ideal customer. Do people shop online for the products that you sell? Are your products and/or services considered a luxury or a necessity? If you live in an area that is experiencing high unemployment, will people still be interested in your offer at the price you are asking? These are just a few questions to be answered. Given your particular situation, I’m sure you will come up with more.

  • The Time Of Year. (or month or season)

Many business marketing concepts have to take into consideration what time of year it is. Take for instance where I live. Here in Northern Michigan we live in an area that depends on tourism. In the summer we see a great increase in population and many businesses rely on good summer sales to make them profitable for the entire year. In another town, Frankenmuth, Michigan, much of business there is related to the Christmas season. (If you’ve never been to Frankenmuth, you owe it to yourself and family to make the trip. Especially to see my old buddies Kevin and Ron Kern at Kern’s Market!).

  • Your Competition

Knowing your competition is key to your success. What are your differences? Are your prices in line with the others? (Not that price is the most important factor, but it puts you in the game to be competitive.) Is your customer service better than theirs? If not, what changes do you need to make? How close are they to you? Do you compete with them or do they compete with you??? Think about it!

  • Physical store location or an internet business.

Depending on your focus, either or both can be very successful if you plan it out. Here are some questions. Is you store location easy access to walk by traffic. Does what you sell rely on impulse buying? What is your parking situation? Is it easy to get in and out of your store and does it have good handicap access? Do your hours of operation match with your customers shopping habits? Does your store have a public bathroom? Is the lighting good?

If you run an Internet business, how are your skills at SEM and SEO? Do you use WordPress for your website? How are your writing skills?

  • Your Marketing Budget.

Important here is, make a plan and follow it. Nothing will kill a great business quicker than poor funding. One of the great things about an Internet business is that it can be started and run on a shoestring, this isn’t meant to discourage you from a brick and mortar business, but it is the truth. Anyway, Questions: What is your largest funding source? Who do you have to answer to, if anyone, before spending money on marketing? How much does it cost for a Yellow Page ad? Is that where your customers find your products? Other places to advertise can be: local newspapers, Craigslist, Google AdWords, radio (can be a great source), TV, word of mouth (the BEST if your existing customers love you!) and some other things coming up that can really change the marketing game and give you the advantage you deserve.

This article is meant to get the old inventive juices flowing and I’m sure you can come up with many more questions to answer. As always, the more you learn, the better chances for the success you want. America is still the BEST place to be when it comes to business start up (and for everything else). Time to build your dreams. YOU CAN DO IT!

Internet Marketing Strategies – Where Do I Start?

Finding Your Path Through the Internet Marketing Jungle

Trying to decide how to strategically market your product or service (or yourself) on the internet can be overwhelming. There are a myriad of marketing possibilities to choose from, and more great strategies are being offered almost daily. How can an internet marketer decide on the best strategic marketing plan that works for their business?

There seems to be as many answers for which strategies to use in what situation than there are internet marketing strategies themselves! There are definitely too many strategies for any one marketer to utilize them all. If you have a very large team with access to multiple internet marketing specialists, your marketing strategies can incorporate most available methods. However, most of us do not have access to that kind of resource.

How Do You Choose Your Internet Marketing Strategies?

There are too many internet marketing options to discuss them all in a short article, but there are three general principles that can make a huge difference to your marketing efforts. Following these principles will not just improve the success of your current internet marketing plan, but can help you figure out where to start focusing your efforts in the first place.

Three Principles for Making Appropriate Strategic Marketing Choices

1) Be Capable in your Strategic Marketing

Not all marketers are created equal. We all have a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately we tend to focus more on how to fix our weaknesses rather than how to harness our strengths. It is true we should all strive to improve ourselves, but sometimes the time and effort placed on learning the internet marketing strategies we are struggling with would be better placed finding and perfecting strategies that we already have an aptitude for.

When a strategy works well for the majority of marketers it does not necessarily mean it will work well for you. If a particular strategy does not come easily to you, it will take more time and will likely not generate the top quality you need to stand out against your competitors. If you are not adept at something, use a different strategy that you can implement effectively with the unique capabilities you do have, or make the investment to outsource if you have the means to do so.

This does not mean we should not learn new strategies! If you are not constantly learning, you will also not succeed. Make sure you are not perpetually spending more time learning something that is difficult for you than you are taking to actually market your product or service. Some great internet marketing strategies are better left for others who have a better aptitude for them. Their expertise will allow them to do it better than you anyway.

2) Care About your Strategic Marketing

Let’s face it; everything we do in marketing is not fun. It is work, and most definitions of work do not include the word ‘fun’. However…take a second and think about sitting in front of your computer to work on your latest marketing project. If you would rather be sitting in the dentist’s chair getting a couple of teeth pulled, you are spending your time with the wrong strategies. Work can actually be enjoyable. At the very least, you should be able to find a few good strategies that beat getting teeth pulled. There are many strategic marketing choices on the internet. Pick the ones you enjoy and care about.

“But my current marketing strategies are supposed to be the best for my product!” “My upline says this strategy has been working for everyone on the team!” If you hate what you are doing, it will show in your work, just as your passion will shine through when you are doing something you love. It will be difficult to put in extra hours when necessary, you will be more apt to give up prematurely, and you will be unable to do exceptional stand-out work if you hate every minute of it.

Start by learning the marketing strategies you are most interested in, see which ones you like, and master those first. Eventually learn them all so you can find which methodologies you most enjoy and are best at. These will be the marketing strategies that perform the best for you and are more sustainable in the long run.

3) Be Consistent with your Strategic Marketing

For many marketers, the strategy seems to be: ‘Chase the latest and greatest marketing options as soon as they appear.’ They work on something, get mediocre results, then three weeks later when a great new idea comes along, abandon their current efforts and ‘try’ something else. This is not a recipe for sustainable success.

Sometimes the latest hot new marketing trend can work wonders and inject a lot of cash into your business. New ideas should be taken advantage of when appropriate. However, if it’s new it is unproven and may fail. Has it been tested in your niche market? Will it still be working a week from now? If you change your marketing plan more often than you change your socks, you will never get really good at anything. You will be spending as much time learning new things as you do actually marketing your product or service.

Consistency is the key. If your strategic marketing plan is based on solid and proven strategies and you do not give up and start something new every couple weeks, you will become an expert in those strategies. They will get easier, less time consuming, and start running like clockwork to bring you a consistent stream of clients. It is easier and less risky to learn and test new methods when you have a proven and profitable system already in place to fall back on.

Points for Choosing the Right Internet Marketing Strategy

– Develop a good strategic base of internet marketing methods that you enjoy and are capable of implementing effectively.

– Be consistent with these marketing strategies so you become an expert and are profiting from them with minimal effort.

– Try almost everything, including the ‘hot’ new methods that look like they have potential, but don’t abandon the tried and true methods that have already been proven to work.

– If you find new marketing methods that you enjoy and can utilize effectively, add them to your long tern internet marketing strategy and use them consistently until you master them.

Follow these steps, be patient and consistent, and you will succeed in finding your own strategic path through the internet marketing jungle. Happy Marketing!