Effective Steps to a Small Business Marketing Plan
A marketing plan is to a business what a dictionary is to a writer. Without it, your business lacks a purpose.
For small businesses, a marketing plan is the starting point that determines the future of their business. It builds their brand, gives them an identity, and defines what they stand for.
A good marketing plan is a guiding light that takes businesses to the peak of success. If you don’t have one, don’t fret. Here are five key questions that you need to ask to make your marketing plan legendary.
What Does Your Customer Look Like?
Who you serve makes you who you are. And that definition lays the foundation of your marketing plan. The ultimate goal of your marketing plan is to reach your customers and tailor your marketing activities to fulfil their needs. This includes defining age, gender, geography, culture, and background, among other things.
You’d be surprised at how understanding customers and being sensitive to their needs can actually benefit you. Take for instance how a shampoo company in Malaysia—a predominantly Islamic country where women practice hijab and showing hair isn’t part of the culture—depicted models with the hijab. This resonated with consumers, and as a result, the company was able to increase its market share by 9% .
Knowing your customer determines how you market your product or service to them. It’s imperative that this definition doesn’t change frequently—because if it does, it gives the impression to the market that you are a confused organisation that doesn’t know what it wants.
Quick Tip: Create a fictional profile of your customer and describe in detail a day in the life of your customer. Refer to it every time you launch a new product or service.
Going Niche or Mass?
One size doesn’t fit all. You are not a departmental store or a multi-cuisine restaurant that serves everything to everyone—unless you want to be.
Your marketing plan must define if your product or service is designed to cater to a niche audience or to the masses. There are pros and cons to both approaches. For example, taking the niche route will ensure that you save costs and avoid competition—since you are only present in a limited market—but finding your niche could be a problem.
If your business wants to focus on a mass audience, then the world is your oyster. Anyone could be your customer but bear in mind that you will face stiff competition and steep marketing costs.
A good example of a company that balanced niche and mass marketing is Airwalk, a skate shoe company. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, illustrates how Airwalk started as a niche company and turned it into a mass market powerhouse. This company started off by catering to the needs of skaters in Southern California. Once the niche was successful, it spread its wings to become a mass product.
This is why it’s important that your marketing plan carves out which segment of the audience it would like to cater to. For most small businesses, starting with a niche and then spreading to the masses is a good option.
Quick Tip: Ensure that your marketing plan defines how you plan to deal with each set of your audience and whether you want to segment them at all.
Who is Your Competition?
Let’s admit it: There’s no such thing as healthy competition. It’s a rat race and in many cases the top two players take all. Whether you like it or not, your competition is watching you and eyeing your customers.
Your marketing plan must contain profiles of your competition. This is something that small businesses seldom like spending time on. You need to prepare to know them, figure what their competitive advantage is, and how they will likely respond to your marketing strategies.
Companies that focus on creating clear differentiators stand out. Customers remember brands that have a unique identity that tells them who you are and how you are different. Studying your competition in detail will help you spot holes in your competitors’ marketing strategies. And sometimes, capitalizing on those gaps could create a differentiator for you.
Quick Tip: Do a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis of your competition in your marketing plan and keep updating this with new competitors and changing market dynamics. This will help you create a marketing strategy that beats your competition.
What’s Your Budget?
Your marketing plan isn’t a marketing plan if it doesn’t have budget as a line item. It needs to include a section that dedicates budgets to each planned marketing activity. Sticking to this requires some amount of discipline.
You need to jot down your annual budget and figure out how you will separate it quarterly because some quarters call for more investment than others. This is important because knowing what you are spending on helps you determine ROI more effectively.
Quick Tip: For things with which you have no budget experience, add 25% to your best estimate, according to The Small Business Encyclopedia and Knock-Out Marketing.
Where to Market?
Follow the money. You need to go where your customers are. And where are they? As much as two-thirds of the Malaysian population is on the Internet.
According to estimates from Facebook's Audience Insights, there are around 17.5 million Malaysians on the platform, which is 85% of the Malaysian Internet population.
That’s something your marketing plan can’t afford to ignore. Social media and mobile marketing are the most powerful platforms for today’s businesses who want to turn window shoppers into hot leads. And more importantly, spread the word about your brand.
Your marketing plan must include a section on strategies to market on social media and mobiles with budgets allocated for them and a means to monitor them on a regular basis.
Quick Tip: Before jumping on the social media bandwagon, analyze which social platform your customers spend the most time on. Segregate which marketing campaigns you will run on which social media platform. Not all platforms are suitable for all marketing activities.
There you have it. Add these ingredients in your marketing plan and make a big difference to your small business.
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