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
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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.

The 4 P’s & C’s of Marketing

This blog post takes me back to my university days. Expanding on the P’s with the C’s of marketing and branding was a great addition to my marketing strategy skill set. The 4 P’s of marketing – Product, Price, Place and Promotion – are well known, however the addition of the 4 C’s – Consumers, Costs, Convenience and Communication –  can help to build a more robust marketing strategy.

4marketingPsandCs

Products & Consumers 

Consumers have needs and wants which products (or services) should provide. Learning what a target audience wants or finds value in will help you to develop a product that will be successful in the market place. Conduct a market place gap analysis to see if there is an opportunity for your product.

Price & Cost 

The price must be justified by the market place and by your profitability margin. You need to consider the indirect costs that your target audience must pay to use your product or service. If you rely strictly on price to compete you are vulnerable to competition – in the long term.

Place & Convenience

If it’s not convenient it doesn’t matter where you place the product. This depends on your target market’s preference and can range from the internet to a catalogue or a phone call.

Promotion & Communication

Promotion can be considered to be more of a marketing campaign or medium, where as communication can require a value exchange between the buyer and seller. It’s about providing value. Content marketing or an innocent can usually align promotion and communication as long as it provides value. Be creative and you can make your marketing engaging.

Strategizing Your Promotional Marketing Mix

In business or marketing strategy, you have probably heard of the “4 P’s” of marketing (Product, Price, Place and Promotion). The promotional aspect can also be described as the “Promotional Mix” and it determines what actions to take to reach your target audience. If you find yourself asking “How do I know what works?” the answer begins with your target audience. This blog post will help you to strategize your marketing plan and I’ve even included estimated costs.

Marketing Tactics

  1. Business Name

Your business and brand name is crucial to your success. ($1,000 – $8,000)

  1. Logo

Your logo should represent your company and your brand. This is a must-have and quality does count. An affordable solution is 99Designs. If design and creativity isn’t your strong suit then you should invest in an engaging logo. ($500 – $10,000)

  1. Slogan

This may be optional, but this short description can explain your unique value proposition to the market. ($500 – $5,000)

  1. Website

Developing a website can be almost free (e.g. from WordPress or another free online template) or a substantial investment. It all depends on your ability to build a website, develop a strategy, content, etc. It will cost less if you can write it yourself and supply the photography, but if you don’t want to build a website, you should hire someone who does. You can also save money by being involved in the planning and content selection. ($5,000 – $50,000)

  1. Content Marketing Schedule

Unless you’re ready to draft a content marketing plan you should probably enlist some help. Providing valuable content will help move your targets through a track-able process.

  1. Email Marketing

This will help you provide value and disseminate you content. Free templates can be set up with any number of online eNewsletter programs. ($50  – $20,000)

  1. Social Media

Set up your social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) and ensure they are consistent with your branding and messaging. You should be able to do this yourself, but make sure you’re on the right networks – correctly.

  1. Blogging

Writing a blog is free and easy to do once you’ve planned your content strategy. Creating a blog will help you keep your website content fresh.

  1. Signage

Signage will let the market place know that you exist and help people easily you’re your location(s). ($500 – $50,000+)

  1. Directories and Classified Ads

Whether online or in a newspaper, these should be a cost-effective method to list your company in it’s target industry. People searching for specific items can locate your ad by category. ($25+/each)

  1. Community Newsletters

If your goal is to reach a specific community, than community papers may provide you with a cost-effective tactic, however readership varies. ($50 – $500/ad/size)

  1. Outdoor Advertising

This tactic will increase your local presence. Outdoor advertising covers a variety of media, including lawn signs, bus benches (0 – $200/month), shopping mall signs, billboards and building sponsorships. ($5,000 – $50,000+)

  1. Videos

Videos are an extremely important, especially within your content marketing strategy. They can be used in a variety of mediums including both digital and traditional marketing tactics.  ($2,000  – $50,000)

  1. Search Engine Optimization (and Outsourced Content Creation)

Your company and it’s digital assets need to rank highly. Enlisting the services of an expert will save you time, which will allow you to get back to business. ($1,000 – $5,000/month)

  1. Radio

This brand awareness tactic will increase your presence with commuter traffic, especially in rural communities. ($3,000 – $10,000/month)

  1. Television (TV)

Advertising on local (or national) television can greatly increase your brand awareness and increase recognition. (Estimate $1,000 – $10,000/month + production – you need a solid 30 second spot)

  1. Newspapers

Newspaper (local or national) can help build local, immediate attention and over a period of time can increase brand visibility. ($2,000+/month – depending on ad size)

  1. Promotional Products

These are branded items that you send (or give) away to gain (and retain) attention. In Calgary I recommend Level2, however there any many choices in every city.

  1. Direct Mail

Targeted, local direct mail can be effective if there is a valuable offer or create that stands out. This can also be applied to eNewsletters or digital marketing. ($0.5 – $3/ household is consistent depending on the creative you are mailing)

  1. Digital

There are many new online advertising channels to consider. Start with Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which is essentially your online search traffic that should relate to your company, product or service. Then look at display advertising, which is the online version of billboard advertising, layered in with retargeted and behaviour ads. Next think about social media advertising (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). If you’re confused by the above let me know and I can help. While marketing budgets may vary they are also affordable and track-able. ($25/day+)

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

A CRM system, emails and phone calls will help you manage current relationships, increase referrals and attract new prospects to be clients. If you don’t have a sales process or strategy you will not generate new business. ($25/month+)

  1. Recommendations, Success Stories and Celebrity Endorsements

Some of these are free or earned and others are not – however all will help you increase credibility within your market place. Always be aware of the risk.

Build Your Promotional Marketing Mix

Choose your promotional marketing tactic based on your target audience. This includes the volume, type, and geography of the target customers you are trying to reach. Depending on your marketing strategy (or objectives), choose the method that is the most direct and provides the most value. Your target prospects need to engage with your market for it to be a success. Forecast and plan your marketing budgets to ensure that you allow enough budget to carry your campaign throughout completion. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Just be sure to measure the results of your marketing.

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.

10 Tips for Creating an Engaging Business Blog

Business blogging is a powerful tool which when used correctly, can impact your marketing significantly. Here are 10 recommendations on creating a successful business blog:

  1. Set Goals
    Have complete knowledge about your content marketing, social media and blogging goals. Make sure the goals are specific, measurable and achievable.
  2. Define Your Target Audience
    Defining your target audience personas will help you create valuable content based on their content interests. Be consistent and appeal to their pain points.
  3. Plan with a Content Calendar
    Great blog posts don’t spring up out of the blue without proper planning. An established content calendar helps ensure regular, streamlined content flow through the year.
  4. Create a Content Marketing Plan
    Increase your visibility by creating content. If your content is good, increased visibility will translate into views and leads. Promote your blog through cross promotion initiatives on social media, your website and online paid advertising. Also incorporate social sharing buttons on your blog pages for increased distribution and engagement.
  5. Assign Adequate Resources
    A successful blog needs resources: to generate quality content, for creative work (images, design, formatting etc.), to work on the editing and marketing your content.
  6. Work on Content Optimization
    Your blog is a major contributor to your search rankings. Optimize your content by using relevant non-brand keywords. Integrate your blog’s URL into your company site URL which helps in branding and further search optimization. Also, make it easy for people to access your blog from your website and vice versa. Lastly, structuring your content into short paragraphs will help visitors read your content.
  7. Brand Your Blog
    Ensure your blog is consistent with your brand identity, including brand colors, logo, font etc.
  8. Connect Your Blog to Relevant Product/Service Pages
    Make it easy for blog readers to find your products linking your blog pages to the right products/services with a persuasive call-to-action and hyperlink.
  9. Include visuals
    Balance the presence of text on your blog with adequate visuals including photos, video and presentations.
  10. Measure Performance
    Track your blog’s effectiveness by measuring important performance metrics including the amount of traffic, leads and sales generated. Also measure the extent to which your blog is helping you cut costs in search and customer service.

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.

15 Tips on How to Create a Successful eCommerce Website

Every website needs visitors and customers. Websites are specifically designed to serve customers. An effectively designed eCommerce website experiences high conversion rate and brings the desired profit for a business. However not all the web designers understand how to make the eCommerce websites conversion-friendly. Below are 15 tips to help you build a successful eCommerce website.

  1. Identify your prospects 
  2. Have simple navigation 
  3. Use high resolution product images (or stock photos)
  4. Include valuable product details
  5. Employ simple, clear and visually engaging call to actions (CTAs)
  6. Feature product and/or service videos 
  7. Have 24/7 visibility into your shopping cart 
  8. Offer free shipping as an option
  9. Avoid distractions 
  10. Leverage landing pages to feature valuable content, products and services  
  11. Offer special discounts or sales clearly
  12. Display your contact information easily and visibly
  13. Consider multiple transaction options
  14. Feature an effective and useful Site Search: Advanced
  15. Keep the site simple, engaging and focused on providing value 

Building an eCommerce website could be a challenging task, but the tips given above offer great help even to a newbie web designer. Try to improve the usability and shop-ability of eCommerce website that you are designing. Keep in mind that building a website is a never-ending process. You’ll need to keep updating your website on a continually ongoing basis.

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.