Every small business needs customers, but acquiring new ones can be challenging. In order to grow your business, you must first develop a marketing strategy. For some, marketing feels like an obligation that draws time and energy away from the business. However, this could not be further from the truth. Marketing is a fundamental element of any business plan. It gives you the power to find new markets and show people why they should do business with you.
What is a Marketing Strategy?
A marketing strategy is simply a plan for finding and acquiring new clientele. It is mandatory for any successful brand, no matter how long they have been in business. Even long-standing businesses need to reevaluate their marketing strategy from time to time.
Making a plan is largely dependent on the type of business you run and the audience that you want to reach. There are many different approaches to marketing, and each can be effective for different circumstances. Below are just a few examples of different marketing strategies:
Whether you want to mail weekly newsletters out to potential customers or put an advertisement in the local newspaper, print advertising is an effective marketing strategy for many small businesses. Despite many brands moving to digital marketing over the past two decades, print media is still one of the oldest and most established forms of marketing. Brochures, flyers, newspaper ads, and physical newsletters are just a few effective methods for reaching new customers.
Having an online presence is one of the most popular (and effective) marketing strategies today. Starting online is pretty easy, but building a following is more of a challenge. However, one of the most popular ways to find customers and clients online is through social media. Creating a Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter page can expose your small business to millions of people who can easily find you through keyword searches related to your products or services. Social media is not the only form of online marketing though. Creating an email list of past clients allows you to send out weekly newsletters, advertisements, and special offers, all with the click of a button.
Building a strong website or blog allows for content creation, which can get your business to appear in more search results. You could create a website dedicated to your place of business. Then, publish new blog posts related to your customers’ interests each week. Within these posts, be sure to include a CTA (Call to Action), encouraging readers to visit your shop, buy a specific product, or sign up for a newsletter.
Word of Mouth
While word of mouth marketing can be extremely effective, it is not very easy to control on the business side of things. Word of mouth marketing means that your past clients do the marketing for you by spreading the word about your business. One of the best ways to build this kind of marketing strategy is by making sure your business provides the best service in every respect, from product quality to customer interactions.
Additionally, there are clever strategies for encouraging word of mouth marketing. For example, your business might consider giving customers incentives to bring in new customers through free giveaways or discounts. In essence, you are taking a small hit to your bottom line in the short term to get more clients in the future.
Why Should You Create a Marketing Strategy?
Many small business owners cringe at the idea of marketing. They want to focus on doing what they do best, not seeking out new customers or practicing endless self-promotion. While it is important to always put your business fundamentals first, a sound marketing strategy is still a necessity. There is a plan out there for every budget, so you can always find something that fits your needs. If you’re still on the fence, here are a few reasons to create and implement a marketing strategy.
Promoting the Brand
For most small businesses, simply opening your doors and waiting for the customers to flood in does not work. People need to know that your brand exists. More importantly, they need to know what your brand can do for them. Whether you run a pet-sitting service or sell baked goods, it would be difficult to turn a profit if nobody knows about you. Marketing is the best way to tell people about your business.
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Engaging With People
Remaining aloof is never a sound strategy for small businesses. If you own a physical shop or an online business, reach out to people via social media, email, forums, your website, or even in person to start a conversation. These engagements show potential customers that there are real people behind your brand. Not only that, it shows that you see them as more than just means to an end. Brands that engage with consumers see far greater engagement in return.
Expanding Your Market Reach
Marketing to potential customers allows your business to reach a larger audience. By experimenting with different avenues like digital marketing, print ads, QR Codes or content creation, you can reach clients who would not have known about your brand otherwise. If you are considering opening a second location or expanding your product line, you can even test the waters through marketing first.
Working With Your Budget
Creating a marketing strategy is not just helpful for growing your business but also for keeping an eye on the bottom line. If you are working with a lower budget and need to find a cost-effective way to market yourself, evaluating your options and coming up with a plan is the best way to reach new clients while staying within your means. Start with your initial budget and then decide what kind of marketing works for you by conducting a cost-benefit analysis.
Set Your Business Goals
In order for a marketing strategy to be established, you must have certain goals in mind. If you want to become the next tech giant, set a goal and evaluate how you can make it happen. Maybe you simply want to open a second location in your community or increase your net profits by 20%. No matter what your goals are, you need to consider your values and aims in order to devise a sound marketing strategy as part of your overall business plan.
Set a Budget
With your business goals in mind, set a budget that accounts for marketing. The kind of marketing you need will depend both on your budgetary restrictions and the scope of your goals. For example, if you simply want to increase repeat clients by 5% annually, a simple marketing strategy will probably suffice. You might consider a social media ad campaign to drum up business or perhaps a booth and brochures to hand out at a local trade show. In either case, you will need to set a budget and evaluate what percentage will be dedicated to marketing.
When setting a marketing budget, it is easy to think about it as an expense, possibly even a luxury. However, this is not a helpful mentality. It is best to think of marketing as an investment in the future of your business. If you pay for an ad campaign or content creation now, your investment should be paid back (with interest) in the future.
Set a Timeline
Goals are generally ineffective without a deadline. Understanding when you want to accomplish goals is just as important as the goals themselves. So, in order to have a meaningful deadline, you must devise a plan that accounts for when and how important milestones are met.
It is also important to differentiate between your short and long-term goals. Short-term marketing strategy refers to the goals that offer a quick boost to profit, traffic, or engagement with your business. Generally, these are most helpful when your business is still in the early “growth” stages.
During this time, you will want to invest in marketing that offers quicker returns. For example, if you run an online retail business, you may consider digital ads targeting key demographics. These ads can bring consumers directly to your website, potentially resulting in immediate sales and (hopefully) repeat clients.
While short-term goals are necessary for making sure a business is bringing in business now, they don’t usually account for business 5, 10, or even 20 years from now. To make a plan for the distant future, you will need to set a timeline for long-term goals. These strategies help maintain your brands image over time and bring you results years after implementation.
There are a lot of long-term strategies that can be done with a website or blog, including “evergreen” content, which is content that has lasting appeal and continuously brings new people to your website. Another form of long-term marketing is public relations. By strategically and systematically releasing information to the public via different media avenues, you have greater control over public perception of your business.
If you are setting goals, establishing your budget, or making a timeline, you need to set priorities. In order to do this, return to the fundamental purpose or mission of your business. If you started a business to give back to the community, you need to consider this when crafting every part of your business plan. This way, when two goals or activities conflict, you can choose which one gets priority based on how well it fits into the bigger picture.
Research Your Market
Market research is an integral part of any marketing strategy. In order to understand how best to reach your potential customers, you must understand how your audience responds to different messages, how your competition reaches customers, and how your products and services fit into the larger market. This way, you can always be one step ahead when marketing your brand.
Research Your Competitors
Small business owners often forget the importance of competition. Not only can competition help drive businesses to continually improve their strategies, but it can also help you learn from the successes and failures of others. Look into the advertisements, websites, newsletters, and social media presence of your competition to get a feel for what works for them and what needs improvement. By doing this, you can craft strategies that emulate what they do best while avoiding certain pitfalls for your market.
Research Your Target Audience
Establishing a target audience is one of the most important parts of an effective marketing strategy. One of the easiest ways to track the interests of different demographics in your business is through your company website or blog. Using a service like Google Analytics, you can see the general location, gender, age, and interests of the people visiting your site. In short, you can have Google do the heavy lifting for you. Here are just a few of the important categories that you should be focused on:
- Age - When it comes to products and services, most people tend to buy and consume different things at various stages in their lives. For example, a person in their 20’s will be more likely to want new technology and software, while a person in their 60’s will be more likely to take an interest in healthcare.
- Economic Status - If your business supplies luxury items or services, then your marketing would be wasted on households who fall below a certain income level. Similarly, if you produce cheap products that appeal to consumers at a lower socioeconomic level, there is no need to market to the 1%. Find out who to focus on based on the cost of engaging with your business.
- Geographic Location - You need to know where your customers come from in order to market to them. This is much easier if your small business only serves the local community, but if you are connected with consumers all over the world, it is important to adjust your marketing for different regions and cultures.
Identify Your Strengths & Shortcomings
The first step toward fixing a problem is identifying it. If your business is lacking in certain areas, you have to know so that you can fix them, or at the very least market around them. For example, if you sell a product that is high-quality but lacks a certain feature that competitors’ products have, you should use your marketing strategy to focus on other features that make your product superior.
However, you don’t only need to focus on your shortcomings. By identifying your strengths, you can figure out how to persuade the public to choose your brand over another. Think of your marketing strategy like a highlight reel. You want to show people the best of what you have to offer so that they can have a positive image of your brand and, at the same time, understand how you can serve them.
Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
In the world of marketing, developing a USP is one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd. A USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, is essentially the aspects of your brand, products, services, or image that are unique in the market. This sounds easy enough, but sometimes it is hard to find a unique reason that also functions as a selling point.
For example, let’s say you sell souvenirs in a beach town. What sets your shop apart from others in the area? At first glance, this may be hard to figure out. So, as with all aspects of market strategy, you need to do your research. Look at the messages and advertisements of your competitors in the area. What are their USP’s? How can you differentiate your business from others? The best way to identify and develop your USP is to look at your mission statement, product design, quality of services, and pricing. Evaluating these categories will help you discover how your brand offers something different to consumers.
Keep Updating Your Strategy
Marketing strategy is a continuous process of trial and error. No matter how much research you put into your plan, sometimes you need to try different marketing avenues to find what works. However, even once you have found something that is effective for your business, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. Markets evolve, and marketing strategies must adapt to keep up with changes in consumer interests, the economy, legal regulations, and the size and scope of your business. Don’t be afraid to update your strategies, because adapting to change will help your small business weather even the toughest storms.