When someone starts a small business, one of the first things they should do is create a business plan. The second? A marketing strategy. Why? Because marketing is one of the best ways you can invest in your own company, and a marketing strategy will help you understand where you should market, who you should market to, where those people are, and what you should say to get them interested in your company. Need a marketing strategy but not yet ready to hire a strategic marketing services company? Start with these five things to start building out your marketing plan.

Who is your target audience?

This is a harder question than you think. No, EVERYONE can’t be your target audience, even if you sell water for a living. If you had limited time, resources and money, what audience would you spend your time marketing to? Who would be your best client? Really take a moment to think about this one. It’s not to say you can’t go after people outside this group, but understanding your target audience will go a long way in focusing your marketing efforts on the right thing.  Here’s a true story:  a small start-up travel company wanted to market themselves. Who travels? Well, everyone technically, but this company focused on beach destinations and sports, so with a little research, they decided that while anyone could use their services, their target audience was the 25 to 50-year-old crowd who travel frequently and have sufficient money to spend on a tropical vacation. It helped them to focus their efforts.

Who is your ideal client?

This is pretty much taking your target audience and really defining them. Some people envision their ideal client by building out personas. Here’s what we did for the travel company. After looking at what they offered, and understanding that their target audience was the 25 to 50 crowd, they took the next step and described their ideal client. Their ideal client was the young professional couple, 30 – 40, no kids, fairly athletic and adventurous, college educated, traveled at least three times a year, and had a combined household income of $100,000+. Are you starting to envision these people? Can you see how understanding an ideal client can help with marketing? Read on…

Where do these people get their information from?

You’ve got a good idea of your target market and even your ideal client. So where do these people hang out online?  How do they consume their information? Let’s go back to our travel company. This demographic was definitely on Facebook, and likely on YouTube as well. They possibly read travel magazines (print and online), were very tuned in to online reviews, and likely did not read a print newspaper or ever pulled out the Yellow Pages to look up anything. This starts to give you a good idea of where you should put your marketing dollars, and where perhaps you should not. But let’s drill even deeper now.

Who is your competition?

Who are you competing against? And don’t say, “well, there’s no company out there quite like mine” because while that may be true, you’re still competing against someone for people’s attention and dollars. So who do you compete with online? What are they doing right that seems to really resonate with the people you want as a client? What are they doing not so right that you can surpass them at? In the case of our travel company, it was all local tour guides and activities companies. Most offered what they could offer, but their marketing was weak and inconsistent, and not visually appealing. Guess what? Once they understood that about their competition, they were able to craft social messages and videos that greatly surpassed the competition. They also saw what terms their competitors focused on to attract traffic to their site, and they were able to ascertain where their offerings were better than their competitors, and where they were at a disadvantage. Also valuable to really understand where you’re at, how you stack up, and where you want to go in the future.

What’s your unique value proposition?

What makes you so special?  If a potential client were to ask, “Why should I do business with you?” would you be able to clearly articulate why your company is different, superior, or a better value?  Really take the time to look at your competition and understand what makes you different, what makes you unique. If you don’t get a handle on that, you’ll find yourself selling on price, and that is a losing proposition for a long-term strategy. Our travel company?  Every tour guide was a local, born and raised in the location they offered activities at, so they were able to thread in a lot of local information, fun facts, and unique perspectives as compared to their competitors, some whom were local branches of national companies with little local expertise and background.

A true in-depth marketing plan takes a lot of researc and entails much more than just the five items above, but if you’re a small business that needs the foundation of a basic marketing plan, these five areas are a good place to start. A marketing strategy is critical to your long-term success so if you don’t feel you can effectively build one, call in a marketing strategy specialist to build one for you.

And that travel company that we talked about?  They’re dominating their marketing while enjoying their awesome beach weather. How’s that for a happy story?

Patty Hughes
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