Marketing is a process that begins before you start your business plan. It requires vision, determination and planning. Strategic planning is an investment that separates the leaders from the losers. Unfortunately, many small- to medium-sized businesses and advocacy organizations fail at strategic planning and even fewer invest in market research. Those two lapses can be fatal as you follow in the footsteps of the proven market leaders. Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail. Don’t fall into that trap or others. The following tips can help you avoid critical errors, while maximizing your return on your marketing budget:
Investment Or Expense: Many businesses think of marketing as an expense not an investment. Many fail to prepare a marketing plan, which includes an adequate marketing budget. Some organizations hire under-qualified people to staff the marketing department, under pay them and then expect miracles. This approach promotes a revolving door marketing department that will never maximize its impact on the bottom line. As such, the company’s marketing department will struggle to build market share, margins and its brand.
Market Research: In marketing and new product development, in particular, speed kills. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so get it right the first time. That goes for your product or service, its price, promotion and point of purchase. Who is your prime prospect? What problem are they trying to solve? What is their solution now? What do they know about you? What do they need to know about you? If you can’t answer these questions, your marketing department is living on a prayer. Faith and hope are not the cornerstones of market leadership.
Strategic Plan: If done thoroughly and strategically, your market research will pave the road for strategic planning. The strategic plan will help you set revenue goals that are consistent with your business plan, while adding in the strategies and tactics necessary to reach those revenue goals. It will identify your top market segments, what they need to hear and how to reach them. Identify obstacles, objections and competition. Is your marketing budget big enough to tackle the job? Will you need outside assistance to handle the work? What is the first deadline?
Prioritize Market Segments: After finalizing the strategic plan, we begin developing the critical messages for each market segment. Then we develop the most important tools and channels to reach our prime prospects. Once you gain momentum in your top market segments, we start rolling out the plan to secondary target audiences.
Convergence, Integration and Influence: The digital age has accelerated the convergence of all stakeholder communications. Marketing, public relations, government relations and customer relations must be integrated for consistency, credibility and synergy. Convergence can raise your online profile and overall influence. Seamless messaging improves your chances of building awareness, understanding and support among influencers and stakeholders.
Relationships Matter: New technology and emerging channels have not replaced the importance of relationships. In some ways, our over-reliance on emerging technology has discounted the value of meaningful facetime and real conversations. Much is being lost in translation.
Data Mining and Information Science: The days of mail and email are far from over. In fact, for business conversations, they are still critical components of your marketing plan. Are you building your database on your current and prospective customers? Are you putting it to strategic use? Are you segmenting that list based on key variables, such as demographics, past purchasing activity, etc. Build your database so that you can customize and even personalize your outreach for maximum impact.
Social Media: Social media is an X factor for most businesses and it’s rarely a silver bullet solution. Some have it down to an art and science, while others fail to engage prospects or customers. Social media is essentially a free weapon in your arsenal, but it takes time and consistency. It also requires someone who knows what they are doing and who they are doing it for. Ignorance and incompetence on social media can not only waste your time, it can tarnish your organization’s reputation. Don’t put the new intern in charge of social media. Prepare a strategic plan. Prepare a media calendar. Define your key search terms across all audience segments. Include powerful visuals and use strategic hashtags to tie your post to keywords and important conversations.
SEO and Online Visibility: If the Internet isn’t working for you, it’s probably working against you. If you aren’t generating your share of business from the Internet, your competitors are picking your pockets. What keywords and search terms are people using when trying to find a business like yours? Use Google’s keyword tools to find the answer. Then audit your website to find opportunities to strengthen the copy and overall content to help generate more traffic from allies and potential customers.
Earned Media: Generating news is an important part of most marketing plans. Mainstream news is still a major influencer and people find the news more credible than an advertisement. Industry leaders are newsmakers, so don’t let your competitors steal your glory. Plus, as you generate news, you are creating fuel for your social media campaigns.
Crisis Aversion: Crisis management is an important part of branding and reputation management. Failing to prevent crises can destroy an organization’s operations and reputation. Forming a crisis aversion team can help spot these issues before they develop. Saving lives, property and reputation is a critical success factor for all organizations. Just ask Boeing, which has lost billions in stockholder equity and airplane orders in the wake of two jet crashes that might have been preventable.