Three important steps to creating your marketing plan

Have you ever tried to assemble something without first reading the directions? Hit or miss, right? Sometimes we get lucky, and sometimes we end up with way too many extra-parts and have to start all over. Directions are important. They have been tested and evaluated to determine the absolute best way for you to assemble the item. This same philosophy can be applied to marketing your business. If you just jump in to different marketing tactics, like social media, or starting a blog, you are taking a hit-or-miss risk. More than likely, you will miss and end up disappointed.

This is a three-part blog to share a strategy I follow to help small business owners find BIG success. I’m a pay-it-forward type of person. I only have a handful of things I’m good at but I will share my skills with anyone who needs the help. Today, you only get part-one, though. Why? Because I’m teaching you the power of creating customer suspense with your marketing… Think of when Apple announces an upcoming product. We all get a little frenzied.

We’ll begin with Research & Planning, and in a few days move to Employee Value and Engagement, and wrap it up by Charting the Course. When I work with my clients, I create a plan using integrated marketing communications. Basically, we look at every way the company communicates and unify the process so that all communications are working together. I call it communications forensics. It is important because in today’s social environment, how you operate your business is your word-of-mouth brand, and every department can have a direct impact on your brand.

Research & Planning

The majority of the time I spend with clients focuses on research and planning. Following a plan puts you in the driver’s seat with a clear set of directions so that you get exactly where you want to go. If you get lost, or veer off course, pick up your plan and get yourself back on track. When new ideas are presented to you, pick up your plan to see if the new idea will help you meet any of the goals you set. If not, stick to the plan. Your plan is carefully researched and results in a deliberate course of action with measurable goals and objectives. From these, you will develop strategies and tactics that are continuously evaluated and tweaked as necessary. Throughout the planning process, you will gain a better understanding of the influences affecting your business and learn how to use them to your benefit.

The most important aspect of planning is understanding that it is ongoing and requires frequent evaluation. While earlier I likened planning to driving, it’s really much more. You can’t pass the planning test and then never look at it again. Planning is more like an education; you need continuing education to stay up-to-date on your industry, and the critical issues affecting your success.

Building Industry Knowledge

To begin the planning process, I immerse myself in research. Knowledge is power. I always begin with the tried and true SWOT analysis, which is reviewing the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. As the business owner, partner with a marketing professional to help you with this process. You know your business inside and out, and a marketing professional can give a layman’s perspective and look at things objectively. Both can see things the other doesn’t and add value to the process. If your research partner isn’t a marketing guru, find someone, a trusted colleague or contact. It must be someone who will be honest with you and share perceptions, good and bad. As the business owner, you have to agree to hear it and understand that this will help you.

After the SWOT analysis, I move to an environmental scan to help both of us gain a clear understanding of the business and current market picture. From an internal perspective, we look at every aspect of the business, and depending on the type and size of the business, this may include a review of many different areas like leadership, staff, experience, production processes, operations, a cost analysis, financial statements, and a review of the company’s business plan and crisis plan.

We review the current standing of the business with respect to the size of the customer base, the current annual revenue, sales and lead generation processes, customer service practices, marketing communications and product quality. I also turn to outside sources to gain a perspective of the company’s reputation among its external audiences. These audiences may include customers, partners, vendors, or investors.

When we review our external environment, we look at competitor benchmarking, issues facing the industry, and external influences that may impact internal costs like the rise of fuel prices, or high inventory costs. How do these business functions affect marketing? They are all indirectly related to your marketing messages. High operating costs may mean your product is priced out of range, which affects its value to consumers. Benchmarking your competitors provides you with a tremendous opportunity to learn what is working and what isn’t with messaging strategies. The experience of your team and how well they are trained will affect customer service, which is a large component of the company brand.

Getting Everyone Involved

Most importantly, I involve the client’s entire team in the research process. For a business that is a sole proprietorship, it’s just the owner and me working together, but in any situation where the business has more than one employee, I involve the team. I have served in many different capacities throughout my career, beginning as a receptionist at a family owned catering company and progressing to the role of chief communications officer for a large non-profit. In every role I have served, I had a unique perspective of the business and its operations. I was privy to different information as a receptionist than I was as the office manager. Every position was extremely valuable to me and, in the end, helped me to understand the complexities of operating a business. Your team serves as a focus group, a sounding board, and research partners. They have a different perspective of the business than you do.

I’ll delve more into Employee Value in part-two. Earlier, I mentioned the power of customer suspense. Here’s the second part to that concept: If I promise you something, I MUST deliver. So while I prepare to deliver part-two, begin your research process. Immerse yourself in this time of learning. Here’s a link to questions I generally ask during this time of discovery about a company and its operating environment. Even if you are just collecting the information and don’t understand what you will be doing with it, that’s OK, I’ll show you. If you have any questions, respond here so that others can help and learn too.

Go on to Part II: The Importance of Employee Development