Your Marketing Plan – What It Should Contain

Running a business without a marketing plan is a bit like driving a car with your eyes closed. Without a plan, you have no direction on how you are going to grow your business and no objectives or activities planned to trigger that growth. This is why companies, investors and leaders all place value in building a marketing plan. However, if you haven’t created a market plan before you may find the process overwhelming. I’ll be honest, if you complete this correctly, it will not be a quick project, you will definitely spend some time on this. A well-researched, strategic marketing plan may take several weeks to complete and will consist of hours of research. While you may continue to operate without a formal plan – it will end up costing you more time, money and resources in the long run.

Businesses with plans succeed, outperform competitors, and retain staff, more than those with no plan. Marketing takes time, money and preparation, but the benefits outweigh the work. A strong marketing plan will ensure you’re not only sticking to your schedule, but that you’re spending your marketing funds wisely and appropriately.

Your Marketing Plan Will Help You To:

  • Identify your competitive advantage and define your unique value proposition
  • Evaluate your mission and vision for relevancy
  • Focus on your strategic target marketsand their needs
  • Determine and focus on priorities
  • Acquire resources you need to implement your plans
  • Obtain the organization support at all levels
  • Set objectives and strategies for chosen segments
  • Define strategies, tactics and campaigns

I recommend following these 10 steps when creating your marketing plan and strategy that will helpg you achieve your goals for business growth.

  1. Begin With a Mission

Identify your mission as a company. A mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making for your business.

  1. Develop Your Target Market and Segmentation Strategies
  • Who are your target markets?
  • What industries do they represent?
  • What is the size of the company (or market)?
  • Why do they need your services or product?
  • What is going to make this company buy your services or product?
  • What is the channel of distribution for this market?
  • Who makes the buying decisions?
  1. Define Personas & Content
  • Do you know your buyer?
  • Do you know the company they represent?
  • Do you understand their company’s business?
  • Do you know their needs and requirements?
  • Do you know where they buy?
  • Do you know who makes up their decision-making or buying team?
  • Do you know their decision-making and buying processes?
  • Do you know how to reach them with your marketing and sales messages?
  • What are the key decision factors that make them choose one vendor over another?
  • Is the decision made around price, service, support, quality, or other factors?
  • Where do these personas go to source credible content?
  • What messages will generate the right response and what information will be most effective?
  1. Complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • What advantages or strengths do you have?
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What do people in your market see as your strength?
  • What could you do to improve?
  • What should you avoid?
  • What are other companies/people likely to see as your weakness?
  • What are good opportunities for you?
  • What could threaten your business?
  • Where is the industry going?
  • What are your objectives as it relates to this target market?
  1. Identify Your Key Influencers
  • Social networks to drive mass impressions
  • Journalists
  • Academics
  • Analysts
  • Professional advisors
  • Websites
  • Industry associations
  • Referral sources
  1. Conduct A Content Marketing Audit
  • Review your existing collateral, content and thought leadership pieces
  • Decide which can be leveraged in new marketing campaigns
  • Identify content gaps so you know where to focus development and resource time
  • Align your content to achieve a marketing objective as well as serve a purpose in the buying cycle (awareness, consideration and decision)
  1. Set Your Marketing Objectives
  • Intended goals and results of your marketing plan, tactics and campaigns
  • Set the metrics (both business and marketing) to track and report on
  • If you’re not use to defining your marketing objectives use the SMART methodology (Specific Measurable Actionable Realistic Time)
  • Marketing objectives are ideally tied to business value including leads, revenue, ROI (Return on Investment), etc.
  1. Plan The Marketing Strategy
  • A detailed blueprint on how to achieve the marketing objectives
  • Strategies list which steps to take, specific action necessary to achieve each step and the expected timeline by which to accomplish each stage
  • Strategies will focus on the 4Ps of marketing: Product (Service), Promotion, Price, Place (Distribution)
  1. Define Your Marketing Tactics, Goals and Mix
  • Advertising
  • Branding
  • Directories
  • Direct marketing
  • Digital marketing
  • Public relations
  • Sales
  • Business development
  • Networking and referrals
  • Events
  • Sponsorships
  • Content
  • Communication
  1. Allocate Your Budget
  • Connect your budget to business value
  • Your marketing objectives and target audiences should help you allocate your spend accordingly
  • Research and capture the price of different marketing tactics (some are more affordable than others – depending on your objectives)
  • Your budget should influence the amount of leads that enter your sales funnel and result in increased revenue (noting that increased spend could decrease profit in the short-term)
  • Leverage benchmarks/best practices on target leads to meet goals
  • Review spend and result on an on-going basis 

In summary, follow these best practices:

  • Focus on your priority target markets and personas
  • Leverage your strengths and not your weaknesses
  • Don’t worry about having an in-depth plan or too many strategies
  • Make sure your marketing plans and budget is practical and measurable
  • Assign specific responsibilities and tasks to skilled people on your team
  • Plan, track, measure, optimize and redeploy

6 Reasons You Should Invest In Market Research

Market research will allow you to properly execute your marketing strategy. Here are 6 reasons why you should invest in market research:

  1. Identify your potential market.
    1. Researching about your potential or existing market enables you to identify your consumer or understand what product would bring the most value to your target audience. It may also allow you to determine the limitations or flaws within your business, product or service, particularly within the lens of the market.
  2. Determine your price.
    1. Through research of the market, you’ll figure out the best price for your product(s), or more realistically, your profit margin. You need to manage both market and profit expectations when evaluating your pricing strategy.
  3. Minimize risk.
    1. Minimizing risks and make informed market decisions using your market research. This will allow you to create objective go-to-market strategies.
  4. Market to your target audience.
    1. Marketing research will allow you to promote your business or communicate with your customers more effectively and efficiently. When building your marketing strategy you should leverage the market and demographic information of your target audience to increase your in-market effectiveness. Communicated and engage with your target audience through surveys, online questionnaires, focus groups, mystery shops and even internal phone/personal interviews.
  5. Discover opportunities.
    1. Business is dynamic and market research can help a company realize and assess opportunities within the market place. By analyzing data and statistics gathered from market research, you can forecast or anticipate future market needs. First-to-market or a competitive advantage may be a result and a profitable one at that.
  6. In researching your market, you’ll overcome challenges by getting reliable answers. The answers shall serve as your key to create the right solutions for these challenges.

Market research can also provide you with the following information:

  1. Market share and trends
  2. The decision-making and sales process of your target audience
  3. Competitor profiling
  4. Customer service ratings (compared to your competition)
  5. Marketing and sales tactics that can retain prospects
  6. The most effective (or memorable) marketing tactics

Whether you are starting a small business or looking to expand your existing operation, you should utilize market research to help you create an actionable marketing and business strategy.

How & When to Start Marketing Your Product: 4 Tips

“How and when should I start marketing?” Many companies and new entrepreneurs can easily get hung up on that question. Whether it refers to determining when to start marketing your product or service to customers, or figuring out the correct market in which to launch, the following 4 steps will help guide your through the process.

  1. Product Knowledge

You need to frame the product/technology as it relates to your proposed product timeline and evaluate what stage it currently resides. Doing so defines the timing of when you should go to market and who would be the ideal target within each of the product’s stages.

If you aren’t sure where your product stands, consider the following points:

  • Are the primary features still being developed?
  • Are there enough features to let someone test and give meaningful feedback?
  • Are you ready to present your product and find a first beta tester or even customer?
  • Where does your product reside in the product life cycle? Each of these stages varies in length and directly affects how you market and what your timing is.
    • 1. Development
    • 2. Introduction
    • 3. Growth
    • 4. Maturity
    • 5. Decline

Product knowledge will assist you with your marketing messaging as well as increasing your competitiveness within the market place.

  1. Marketing Strategy

Your marketing strategy should plan out the approach you will take to reach potential prospects. Define your target audience and know the best marketing medium, channel and budget for each persona.

Your marketing strategy needs to include the following elements:

  • Product & Consumer
  • Price & Costs
  • Place & Convenience
  • Promotion & Communication

4marketingPsandCs

Also consider these points when building your marketing plan:

  • Who your product or service will serve
  • Where to reach these people
  • How to reach these people
  • How to best do the above given the resources you have
  1. Competitive Landscape

To be successful and truly stand out to your target audience, it is crucial to have a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape. Figure out who the top competitors are, along with their value proposition and core messaging. Can your product or service thrive in the market place? All products, services and companies have competitors so be sure you conduct due diligence. I recommend starting with some web searches then building from there.

  1. Messaging

After you have developed your marketing strategy and understand the positioning of your product in it’s competitive landscape, the final component is to define the messaging. Your messaging is the compilation of the first 3 steps, but positioned in a compelling manner. It must be creative, catchy, engaging, memorable and most of all convert-able (leading to new business). If you are to be successfully noticed by a prospect, your messaging must be timely, relevant, and personalized.

Provide value and think about your unique value proposition. Consider the use of comparative language. Are you faster, bigger, sleeker, or cheaper? Your product knowledge, market strategy and competitive knowledge should help you to create messaging that will engage your target audience.

The 4 steps I’ve outlined will help you determine when or how you should market your new product or concept. It should begin developing an actionable marketing strategy that will allow you to under stand your product/service and it’s target audience. This also includes conducting market and competitor research as well as creating engaging messaging. These tips will allow you to properly plan your strategy and execution, which will be the key to your success.

SME Growth Strategies

Growing and scaling are two very important factors in a company’s development and ultimately their success. After your company successfully navigates the initial phases of product/service development it will need to change focus to increasing your market share and increasing your customer base.

The first stages of product development tend to revolve around customer needs, wants and hopefully a gap in the market. When a company begins to develop a product, data must be collect a market assessment should be completed. The more interaction a company has with with their target market, the better equipped the company will be moving forward.

Unfortunately, some companies tend to be focused internally, which can be harmful to the overall production and growth phases. Ultimately, you must know what the customer wants. While you hypothesize a solution (your product) to a specific problem, data must be collected to help improve your chances of success. A product problem is great for companies that are just beginning to understand the direction the company is going to go. Initially the focus is on building a product or service that is going to be positively received by consumers. Growth and scaling of your business comes later.

After you have an optimal product designed and developed, you need to gather feedback from your target market. Engaging and learning with your customers will ultimately determine how your product evolves. This is the point where companies can and should begin their focus on growth strategies.

Now that you have your initial product, you should be focusing on how to brand, market and increase your market share. By now your product has been analyzed, altered and (hopefully) validated by the market. Next the company needs to develop a firm, but flexible growth strategy that the company commits to follow. If your company needs help in this area you are not alone. Having a stable growth strategy and effective plans to complete your growth goals will be the key to your company’s success, or at least preparing them for success. Luckily, for all companies there is a lot of support for developing effective growth strategies.

Top 5 Marketing Questions Your Business Should Be Asking

Nowadays, everyone is trying to manage a business and brand that sticks. Businesses and marketers are very busy with multiple channels, campaigns, metrics, projects, and deadlines. To stay competitive, business and marketers should be asking themselves these 5 questions.

  1. Who are your target audiences or personas?

This is Marketing 101, but you’d be surprised how easy forgetting about this fundamental question is. Approaching every project thinking first and foremost about your audience should be second nature. This would also be why your company exists. You’ve missed the market if you’re not targeting or providing value to a specific target or persona.

If you’re just getting started, establishing audience personas will take some due diligence and a fair amount of market research (try your CRM or client files). But it’s well worth the effort if your campaigns are to have the most impact.

  1. When is the right time to provide value?

After creating target personas you need to understand their job details and where they spend their time looking for information. When you identify your audiences’ primary job responsibilities you can zero in on the various pain points they face daily. With that knowledge, you can tailor your message to fit what your audience needs.

Also, your target audience will inevitably spend time looking for new information and consuming content. You need to know where this so you can provide informative and quality content. That is where your brand’s message also needs to be.

  1. What is keeping your audience up at night?

Even if we don’t want to, we all take our work home with us from time to time. These concerns can offer insight into how to reach different customers. While this may not be easy, by doing some strategic research, you can learn a lot about your audience’s needs. This will help you to provide valuable content and deliverables to your personas.

  1. What will make you stand out from the crowd?

The marketing market is saturated. This is why you need to see a piece of marketing a few times before it resonates. People experience a steady flow of content from multiple sources: emails, social media posts, traditional advertising, and many other channels. Keep it short, sweet and simple. This is how your message will stand out.

Keep your audience’s attention by having a clear, focused message about the solutions you can provide that will address their pain points. Be sure you provide value and consider offering an incentive.

  1. What action do you want your audience to take?

The call to action (CTA) is could be considered to be the most important part of any marketing message that your audience receives. Use 1, maybe 2, CTAs at a time. If you have multiple CTAs, your audience will likely become distracted and confused and less likely to convert. Make sure the CTA is easily visible and engaging follows through with the action it presents.

Marketing: How to Break Through the Noise

The market place – any market place – is noisy and crowded. Marketing has moved towards a content, value-driven strategy where companies are competing (even more so) for market attention. Below are my recommendations on how to cut threw the noise.

  1. Build a marketing strategy

Be sure to include the following elements:

  • Strategy: Start with a business strategy that addresses your target customer, market, technology and business needs
  • Products and services: Have a quality offering that meets customer needs (both stated and unstated) better than the available alternatives
  • Target audience: Understand as much as you can about your prospects and customers – who they are, what they need and want, and how you can best provide value
  • Competitive and market analysis: Understand the market in which you compete, including as much as possible about the industry and competitors
  • Brand: Build a strong brand and reputation in the minds of all key audiences – customers, partners, employees, shareholders, the local community, and others
  • Communication: Effectively communicate the value you provide so as to generate demand
  • Sales and distribution channels: Provide the right tools to enable those who sell and recommend your product to be successful
  • Operations: Deliver, track, and analyze your marketing efforts to understand what’s working and where changes should be made
  1. Think digital

If you’re not thinking digital first, you’re already behind. Be able to develop and deliver targeted digital campaigns that will provide an increased return on investment (ROI). Measure and track your digital marketing and make executable improvements, while focusing on lead generation.

  1. Create alignment

Marketing will succeed or fail based on your planning and execution. Alignment along internal and external stakeholders will increase the performance (and results) of your marketing strategies. Even some of the most creative marketing initiatives can fall flat if you don’t have alignment.

Have consultative and collaborate conversations between marketing team members and business stakeholders to create alignment. Review to make sure you have the resources (and budget) available to execute your strategy. Great marketing initiatives fall short if they are not provided sufficient resources. Have you thought about the technology required to execute your strategy? You need to. Exploring opportunities here also aligns with executing a successful digital marketing strategy.

Marketing needs to have a strategy is you want to successfully cut through the noise and have a valuable impact in the market place.

You Chose That Name? Avoid These 5 Naming Mistakes

Naming your company, product or service, either new or old, is a great opportunity. If you get it right it could put it on the “map”, increase awareness, and spark buzz from the marketplace. However, if you get it wrong it may make you invisible, mis-represented or non-existent. Naming is a mix between an art and a substance but these 5 tips should help.

  1. Don’t be (or want to be) like everyone else

Avoid this curse of human nature. While you may see something successful in the marketplace, such as a well-known brand/product, I would encourage you to be inventive and avoid the need to duplicate. Strong names and brands have been built, which is how you should approach your naming process. This is an opportunity to establish and build a strong name/brand while differentiating you from your competition.

  1. Remember what’s important to your target audience

Before you start naming, make sure you’ve reviewed and refined your brand positioning so you know exactly what your target audience is looking for and wanting (even if they might not know it yet). As discussed in tip 1, you should also position yourself as distinctive. Avoid how you want to be positioned or perceived rather position yourself as what your target market is expected.

  1. Be simple

Basically, don’t say everything. A good name (or brand) is an entry point. You create interest by intriguing your audience not by telling them everything. You can capture their attention and then provide information after, through packaging, advertising, website, social media etc.

  1. Avoid trends

Create a name or brand that will last longer than the recent trend, such as dropped letters, juxtaposed concepts, slang or “trendy” acronyms. Select a name that you’ll be able to present with pride for longer than a few years (or trend).

  1. Check your grammar

Don’t lose perspective and be mindful of spelling, grammatical and pronunciation issues. Also, consider how your name is interpreted in the media as well as in other countries, languages, etc. Be sure to take your time and review your choices.

A brand, product or service name is extremely important to creating awareness and engaging your target audience. This is an opportunity – don’t waste it.

5 Metrics You Should Be Tracking To Help Increase Sales

Are you tracking and accessing metrics to improve you business? Here are 4 important metrics you should track to improve your business.

1. Total sales by time period

You should be tracking your sales by a time period that is relevant to your business (monthly, weekly, quarterly, annually). By tracking sales by time period, you know exactly how well you’re performing. You know if your sales are up or down versus the prior period, be it the prior day, week, month, quarter or year.

2. Sales by product or service

This metric tells you exactly what is performing (a.k.a. selling) and what’s not. This will help you to focus your business and marketing strategy. Declines in the sales of certain products might mean new product versions are required where as increases in sales means you need to support that product or service and make sure the capacity is there.

3. Revenue per sale

The easiest way to increase sales and profits for most companies is to increase the average revenue per sale. Tracking this metric will help you devise strategies to increase your revenue per sale and track the success.

4. Sales by lead source and activity

This metric will help you focus your marketing and advertising spend. The key here is to spend more on the advertising or “lead sources” that produce the most sales, and to stop wasting money on sources of leads that don’t. By tracking the lead sources for your sales, you can optimize your lead generation.

I also recommend trying to track sales by activity as well. This can include sales per click or impression (for digital marketing), sales per lead or phone call and networking or events. Most sales people say that sales is a numbers game. If you go to more events, speak to more prospects, and issue more proposals you’ll close more sales. It’s true. You need to track the results and effectiveness of each of these efforts to see what is working so you can do more of it. You also identify what’s not working, and can fix it right away.

5. Revenue per sale

The easiest way to increase sales and profits for most companies is to increase the average revenue per sale. Tracking this metric will help you devise strategies to increase your revenue per sale and track the success.

The goal of tracking metrics is to provide you with the information and ability to alter business and marketing strategies to increase your revenue.

Affordable Marketing Strategies

How much should I spend on some basic (or I’d say required) marketing strategies? Fees can range depending on the age and size of the company and national, local or global marketing goals. This should help get you started:

Branding
Inexpensive: 99designs can help you design and build up your brand (roughly $400, but it doesn’t include additional collateral: business cards, letter heads, email templates, etc.)
Good: A small agency may charge between $4,000 to $5,000 and should include all necessary collateral
Great: More than $10,000 and this is if you are going to a large agency who is creating your entire brand book, story and collateral, among other assets

Website
Inexpensive: Wix or WordPress can be a do-it-yourself website and can be free (minus time and effort)
Good: For a WordPress site designed to look like your brand, it will usually cost you around $3,500 (or more if you need a shopping cart)
Great: At least $15,000 – the price will depend on the objective, functionality, automation, design, etc.

Social media
Inexpensive: Do-it-yourself or hire an intern
Good: Between $1,500 and $2,500 for a small agency
Great: More than $4,000, which would be contingent on the number of platforms, listening software, amount of real-time interaction and PR integration (great tactic)

Advertising
Inexpensive: Word of mouth, tell your family and friends!
Good: Some social media marketing (between $300 and $500/month) and targeted display advertising ($500/month)
Great: Full social, outdoor, print, digital, pay-per-click will set you back at least $5,000/month (or more), but you’ll definitely have a presence

Content
Inexpensive: Do-it-yourself or hire an intern
Good: A freelancer platform like Odesk.com (you can name your own price)
Great: Agency content usually runs $250 and $1,000 per piece depending on word count and graphics

Events
Inexpensive: Show up and network at other people’s events
Good: Cross-market with another brand with the same target audience
Great: Full events strategy. For production teams, small event start at around $5,000

While marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all these tactics should help you establish some presence and budget accordingly!

Selecting the Right (or Best) Marketing Budget

The timeless question. “How much should I spend, when I want to market, advertise or promote my new….?”

Ultimately, it all comes down to planning and budget. You have to plan, segment and execute with strategies that will not only achieve you objectives, but align with your budget.

Here are a few tips for navigating that elusive marketing budget:

1. Marketing Math
Do you know what your budget is?

New companies: For companies that have been in business for 1 to 5 years, I’d suggest using 12% to 20% of your gross revenue or projected revenue on marketing. If you’re under a year old, you still need to build and develop your business and clout before spending budget on marketing.

Established companies: For those companies that have been in business more than five years and have some market share/brand equity, we suggest allocating between 6 and 12 percent of your gross revenue or projected revenue.

While this may seem like a lot, remember new and emerging brands are looking to capture new market share and develop brand recognition with an audience that doesn’t know who you are. Once the brand is established and a portion of the market is brand-conscious you can reallocate funds accordingly.

2. “I need to grow my brand to make money, but I have no money to help do that.”

Branding isn’t easy and you’ll make some mistakes along the way. This is why it’s very important to build and fund this strategy accordingly. Just like any large project, it will take time, effort and money. Really, when is the last time you built something free that has endurance? It’s also important to make sure your dollars are spent wisely and tied tightly to specific deliverables. Don’t waste money building the wrong thing. Aim to set objectives and execute on the right tactics the first time.

3. The Marketing “Must Haves”
You need these, it’s as simple as that. The marketing mix (and spend) may differ, but you should plan for all of these.

  • Branding
  • Website
  • Content
  • Social media
  • Events
  • Public Awareness
  • Local Advertising