How a Marketing Strategy Can Help Grow Your Business
(and increase your sales)
A marketing strategy is critical to the success of any business. Without one, a business will not experience the growth they crave and may even fail. Most small businesses and entrepreneurs don't have a marketing strategy for several reasons: they don't know what it is or how to implement it, they started their business so quickly, they just started "doing promotions," or they don't know why they need one in the first place. If you're asking, "How can a marketing strategy grow my business?" keep reading.
What is a Marketing Strategy?
Before we talk about how a marketing strategy (or plan) can help grow your business, we should probably talk about what one is. Simply stated, a marketing strategy is a systematic plan to reach your business goals and engage your audience. It includes the elements of your entire sales process from the introduction to the close of the sale. This could be TV and radio ads, brochures and flyers, giveaways at events, social media, emails, and websites (and so much more).
Whether you've thought about it or not, you have high-level goals for your business. It could be about growth (franchise, anyone?), how it effects you personally (retire at 45? yes, please) or your community (provide jobs for the unemployed). This is your destination. If you don't have a travel route clearly mapped out, you don't know how to get there, how long it will take, and what scenic destinations (or detours) are along the way. Your marketing strategy is the travel route you use to get you to your business goals.
A good marketing plan includes a timeline, goals, budget, and a team (even if the team is only you!).
Timeline. One of the first things you need to establish is a timeline. How long will this strategy be for? Are you looking at an entire year? A certain time frame like 90 days? Or does this specific plan focus on a product launch or event? Identifying your timeline helps you know if this is a quick-turnaround or if you have time to really flesh out the campaign. If you decide today to launch a social media campaign that needs to start tomorrow, can you and your team pull that off? How long does it take to create and print 1,000 brochures? Your timeline will help you know what things can be done and what things you need to save for another opportunity.
Goals. Next, identify what you want to accomplish. Do you want to sell a certain quantity of your new product? Get more people through the door? Sign up more subscribers? Goals are important, as they help us quantify what it is we're trying to accomplish.
But goals need to be specific in order to be helpful. Avoid using words like "some" and "more," as I did above. A good rule of thumb is to use SMART goals; goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals can feel scary—what if you don't 100% reach your goal? It's okay. (No, really!) When you have a specific goal, you will likely achieve your goal or get close to it. And if you don't hit it on the nose, you will learn from it and adapt your next round of goals accordingly.
Budget. Most marketing strategies have a cost attached to them. Think about the pieces you'll create. Will you need to hire a copywriter, designer, web developer, or videographer? What about the cost of the piece itself? Will it be printed? Do you need to purchase ad space? All of these things need to be considered in your budget. Identifying your budget up front helps you know where to allocate your dollars during the process. And it helps you get a handle on things early on, so your marketing budget doesn't eat all your profits.
Team. Your team is a mix of your employed team and contractors. Some businesses have people currently employed who will execute different parts of the strategy. You may find out you have things that need to be done, but you don't have anyone to do them. Identifying your team tells you up front what seats you need to fill (either through hiring or contracting), and it gives you the opportunity to know who's responsible for each piece, and you can see who's maxed out in their capacity. A big morale crusher is when people have more assignments than they can reasonably accomplish in a work week. This can help you manage expectations and quickly spot when teams start to struggle with the work load.
Why is a marketing strategy important?
1. It aligns your marketing/communications efforts with your goals.
Without a marketing strategy, businesses often create lots of promotions—emails, social media, brochures—without knowing if any of these efforts will help them achieve the results they want. Business owners often describe this feeling as if they're spinning in circles. These pieces can be beautiful and engaging, but if you don't have a clear end goal for each piece, you will never reach your business dreams, and you will be continually frustrated.
A good marketing strategy will be informed by your short-term and your long-term goals. Every brochure, social media post, email, or event you participate in works towards reaching those goals in one way or another.
2. It helps you clarify your message.
Let's be honest—we are all influenced by those around us, whether in person or what we follow on social media. And often we pattern our own marketing efforts after these. If you don't take the time to ask yourself questions like, "Does this align with my goals?" "Does this 'feel' like my company?" you may end up sending mixed messages and not clearly communicating who you are, what you do, and how you help your customers.
A good marketing strategy will help craft language, imagery, and call to actions (CTAs) to keep every message laser-focused and on point.
3. It helps you identify your target audience.
Do you know who your target audience is? When you think about your target audience, does a particular customer come to mind?
I encourage clients to create a customer profile for their target audience. Is it a male or a female? How old is he or she? Do they have a family? Pets? What are their hobbies? (You see where I'm going.) When you start, your profile may only be a short paragraph. But the more you learn about them—their buying habits, their hobbies, etc.—you can develop this profile into something that almost looks like a story. (Some companies I've worked with have an entire page and use stock photos to visualize their customers.)
Why is this helpful? This profile helps you know where your customer is. If she's a young grandma around 55, you're wasting your time on TikTok. It helps you write ads, create promotions, and choose products that will grab attention and generate sales. You may find you need a couple of these. But above all else, you should know thy audience.
4. It helps identify opportunities.
How many opportunities have slipped past you because you didn't know about them until it was too late or you didn't have money in the budget? A good marketing strategy will look for opportunities throughout your year (or whatever time frame you're looking at) to see what's available. What happened this time last year that you missed? Where does your target audience spend their time (in person or online), and what are they reading (blogs, magazines, newspapers, etc.)?
It also helps you identify what opportunities you say no to. We often don't say no enough. Some opportunities may be really exciting, but if it doesn't help you reach your goals, why spend the time, energy, and money there? It's important to remember that every time we say yes to something, we say no to something else. And that "something else" may be the very thing that helps us achieve our goals.
5. It helps keep your team on the same page.
If you have a team, it can sometimes be difficult to keep everyone on the same page on the details of your business. Let alone with what promotions or ad campaigns you're running. A good marketing strategy is a document that everyone has access to, so they see the big picture for what's happening and can champion these campaigns and reflect the feel of them in their communications with your customers.
Has a customer ever asked about a promotion you're running on Facebook, but your sales team had no idea what they were talking about? A marketing strategy, when used as a tool for team communication, can help prevent that.
6. It helps allocate resources.
A good marketing strategy considers your budget and your team's time. If wishes were dishes, we'd all have fine china. When you have a good marketing strategy, you look across all your opportunities and align them with your budget and capacity. Does it make sense to spend $5,000 on that TV ad at 10:00 p.m.? What about that last-minute opportunity to sponsor a local fun run? Your marketing strategy will help you make an informed decision you'll feel great about.
Marketing strategies take time, effort, and planning. But this investment will help you focus your marketing and communication efforts so they align with your goals. Your marketing dollars will be well-spent, and you will know that what you're doing really does make a difference.