While having a clear marketing strategy doesn't guarantee success, research shows that it's a key ingredient in improving your odds of profitable growth. Marketing is how you connect to your potential customers, it is a notorious sink hole for funds. Get it right and it can secure long term profitability.
In short, a successful marketing strategy ensures a need in your target market matches a product or service your business can deliver.
Once you've found a match, your goal is to cost effectively communicate the benefits of choosing your offering to the target market.
Remember though that acquiring customers is a difficult and expensive business, so when you've found a new customer how much are they worth to you: is it a one-off transaction or a more profitable relationship you hope to nurture over many years?
Any marketing strategy you choose needs to be flexible, so imagine the strategy you set out as a series of sign posts rather than a fixed train track. By taking a flexible approach you'll be able to navigate unforeseen circumstances you'll come across along the way.
Here are the 5 steps to developing a strong marketing strategy:
1.Understand your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant
So what are you good at?
A marketing strategy with substance must play to your strengths as a business.
To lay strong foundations for your marketing strategy it's worth spending some time putting together a SWOT analysis, assessing your business' strengths and weaknesses; the market opportunities and market threats.
During this stage it might be worthwhile conducting some market research with your existing customers to get a more honest idea of your reputation in the market place.
An anonymous email survey may give you more candid response - so be prepared for praise and criticism! If you're sending a survey out to 100 or fewer people try www.Zoomerang.com as it's free to use and easy to create a professional looking survey.
Strengths might include: specialist knowledge, unique product features, personal service, flexible service.
Weaknesses might include: inefficient computer systems, high customer attrition, limited financial resources, low employee skills.
Opportunities might include: growth in market sector, change in government regulation, using the internet to reach new markets.
Threats might include: new competition, economic downturn, more attractive alternative to your product/service
2) Segment your market
Many small businesses fall into the trap of thinking that their product or service will appeal to ‘everyone'. Often the reason they do this is because they fear that excluding certain groups of people will limit their opportunity.
This thinking couldn't be further from the truth - and remember that while you may think your target market is limitless your marketing budget certainly isn't!
So, instead of trying to ‘boil the ocean' let's instead try to characterise the needs of particular segments or groups of a market. The focus of your marketing strategy should be to identify their needs through market research and address those needs more successfully than your competition.
By matching your strengths to the particular needs of a segment in the market place will give you the greatest chance of success. For example, there might be a market segment that considers quality first and foremost. If this matches your strength as a business that delivers a quality product then all your marketing activity should highlight the high quality of your product or service.
3) Write a marketing plan
Once you've clarified your strengths, the market opportunity and your target market it's time to write it down in a marketing plan.
Your marketing plan will crystallise much of the thinking you've done so far and help you to formulate the actions needed to put your strategy into place and the resources needed to make your goals a reality.
Using SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) objectives in your strategy should make measurement of your success easier to judge later on.
Your plan is a working document and should be regularly reviewed so that it reflects any changes in your market. If you've not written a marketing plan before you can download a marketing plan template at Marketing Strategies 101
4) Decide on tactics to reach your market
Now you need to consider how you're going to reach your market.
Will you sell direct, through a partner channel, a retailer....?
These decisions will affect how you go about making your target market aware of the products or services you have to offer and why they meet their needs.
Typical approaches to communicating your message might be through print advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, public relations stunts, online, and point of sale (POS).
While an approach that uses several communication channels usually works well, try to stay disciplined otherwise you'll burn your budget up fast and lose focus.
It's worth considering some of the emerging marketing channels presented by social networking sites, too. However, while these channels might be a free or low cost way to promote your business, they can still take a lot of time to nurture.
Ultimately the channels you choose should be dictated by what your target audience is most responsive to. By building up a detailed picture of a typical ‘buyer' of your product (their gender, age, income level, family circumstances), you'll be able to start thinking more creatively about how to reach them.
5) Measure your progress and refine
While marketing is not always an exact science, you should still be able to build a fairly accurate picture of the impact of your marketing activities and strategy.
A simple start to measuring your success is to ask every new customer how they heard about your business.
By putting in place mechanisms to track the effectiveness of your strategy you can judge how well you're performing today and use the results to shape future marketing strategy.
Carrie is passionate about helping businesses succeed; especially small business. Having run her own business since 2000 she knows what she is talking about.