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5 Reasons You Need to Rethink Your Marketing Plan

Marketing is an important part of growing a business. No matter how great your product or service, if no one knows you exist, especially your target audience, you may find it difficult to pay the bills. A good marketing strategy can put you on the right track to gain new and repeat customers. Unfortunately, many small business owners put marketing on the back burner, and by doing so, may be sending their potential customers to their competitors.

In fact, some experts recommend having a marketing plan even before opening the doors and starting a business (“Don’t start,” 2017). If cost is a concern, today’s technology makes marketing more affordable with the ability to reach customers through virtual means. So, maybe it’s time to implement a good plan or rethink your current strategy. Here are a few reasons why you should get started on a new or updated marketing plan.

1.   Expose your brand.
Even as individuals, we all have a “brand.” Remember your childhood when you and your friends would give each other nicknames? Sometimes that nickname matched a physical trait, a talent, or something a person was known for—think “Squints” or “Yeah-Yeah” in the movie classic, Sandlot. Whether you like it or not, your business also has a brand. But do you know what your brand is? More importantly, do your customers know your brand? Does your brand represent “the plumbing business down the street?” Or, “that bakery around the corner?” How you are perceived compared to your competitors is what makes your brand. And the good news is that you can manage your brand and decide how it should be positioned (“A Simple Definition,” 2016).

Building a brand is just as important to a small business or self-employed individual as it is to a large corporation. Your brand defines what you do. It tells the world what makes you different and why you are unique. Ask yourself, “What do customers think of when your product or service comes to mind?” Then, ask actual customers for their feedback. Does their description match how you want your business to be perceived? Once you’ve established what your brand represents, communicate it to your target audience as part of your marketing plan. It should also be expressed in your vision, mission, and tagline.

2.   Compete with your competition.
Knowing what competitors are doing can be critical to any business (Anon, 2018). Take the fictional story of a trio of pizza businesses who all three were next to each other in the same strip mall. The pizza store (#1) on the far left had a big sign “25% off today” while the pizza store (#3) on the far right posted a sign “30% off today.” But the clever pizza store (#2) in the middle ended up with the most sales for the day as it posted a huge sign that said, “ENTER HERE!” This simple story illustrates why you need to be aware of your competition. What do they offer that you don’t? More importantly, how are they are reaching out to their customers and potential customers?

Being aware of your competitors tells you what your business does better and what advantages you offer your customers. These advantages should be shouted out to your target audience! Take what you know gives you the edge and make it known every chance you get. Whether you express it in a brochure, website, or through social media, get it out there. If you have testimonials from some of your customers, add these to your marketing campaigns to confirm what makes your business a better choice.

3.   Connect with your audience.
Years ago, communicating with customers meant huge store front signs, direct mail, or flyers. Today, businesses can communicate real time with their customers online. Social media makes it possible and affordable to gauge customer satisfaction through feedback on various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others. You can post your latest promotions, connect links to your website, run contests, and more. Think of it as an ongoing networking opportunity with customers.

You can also learn how competitors are communicating with their customers by following them on social media. If you don’t have a social media account, start with one that your competitors seem to have success with noting their number of followers or likes. Develop a calendar as far in advance as possible to highlight dates or timeframes to post any events or special times of the year that draws in your customers (e.g. back to school). Sprinkle in dates with specials and offers to entice followers to buy your product or use your service. Then fill in the rest of the calendar with weekly or by weekly relevant posts that provide tips and useful information to your customers (e.g. how to turn off water heater safely). Ideally, these informative posts should link to your blog and/or website. Finally, find opportunities to gain insight on what’s trending by scanning comments from your customers and your competitors’ customers. Consider Google Trends to get a pulse on hot topics or to explore what topics are trending near you.

All that said, one of the top 10 business trends to drive success this year is a reminder that the best connections with customers are live, in-person interactions (Wallace, 2018). Think about sponsoring a community event or hosting a customer-appreciation day to invite them for a sweet treat and coffee.

4.   Check your online presence.
Gone are the days when most people used the phone book to find a product or service. Regardless of the type of business, customers now rely heavily on searching the internet to find what options are available. In addition, customers have come to expect an online presence and find legitimacy in businesses that have a website. If you don’t have a website, get started as soon as possible. You can find help at Inmotion Hosting or GoDaddy, or any number of other web hosting companies that feature easy-to-use site builders and hosting plans. Once your website is up and running, fill pages with well written content and keep it fresh with new information whenever possible. Consider seeking help to write your text to be sure it will be found by your customers when they are searching for your type of business (SEO friendly). In addition, add a blog to your website to help tell your story, provide useful information, and share news.

In addition to a website, look into listing your business on referral sites such as Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, NextBizThing and others to send visitors to your website.

5.   Don’t confuse advertising with marketing.
Advertising versus marketing has some entrepreneurs scratching their heads. Placing ads in a newspaper or putting a flyer on someone’s doorstep does not constitute a marketing plan (“The Difference,” 2017). Advertising should, however, be part of an overall integrated program to gain new business, increase sales through offers, and announce new products or services. Weave advertising into the marketing plan where it makes the most sense and adds information and value. Be sure to consider traditional and digital advertising options based on your objectives. You may find that doing both reinforces your campaign and yields the greatest success. Traditional advertising as well as digital advertising will draw people to your business and website if done well. They can work hand-in-hand to build your business. For example, advertise your website on a storefront window, service truck, business cards, customer bags, etc.

Ideally, your marketing plan should be reviewed and updated yearly and include your budget and objectives. For example, you may want to include efforts to reach a new market segment to increase your customer base and revenue. You may want to incorporate a new and upcoming product launch or have a portion of your plan coincide with new service improvements. Or, maybe next year is the year to celebrate a business or product anniversary. Once you’ve established what the marketing plan should achieve, outline what options are available to communicate this to your customers based on your budget. The time will be well spent as you explore what your business priorities are and how you plan to move forward in that direction. Otherwise, you may find yourself functioning day-by-day on survival mode, which may prove to be an ineffective roadmap to successfully growing your business.

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