Mastermind your marketing plan

By Rob Gilland, SVP, Chief Marketing Officer

Learn how developing a marketing plan can set your small business apart from the competition.

With all the demands on a new entrepreneur’s time, marketing can sometimes slip to the back burner. But, the truth is your customers are your most important asset. A targeted marketing plan, which adds new customers and keeps current ones coming back for more of your product or service, is key to the long-term success of your business.

Know Your Customers

To launch a marketing plan that conveys your business brand, begin by researching your market and identifying those target customer segments which would most benefit from your product or service. Concentrate your resources on a few key market segments which will give the most bang for your buck. The Small Business Administration offers a number of tips for market research techniques on their website. A good marketing plan outlines how you will differentiate your products from the competition in the marketplace as well as the marketing methods you will use to promote your business.

Tools to Reach Your Audience

There are a variety of marketing tools that you can use to build your business, from face-to-face sales calls to using print and online options. Here are three methods you may want to include in your marketing mix:

Social Media

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are among the mainstays of social media, but new platforms are developing all the time. The marketing channels you choose should offer the best potential for reaching your target audience. In 2015, the Pew Research Center completed a demographic survey of social media platforms which may be useful in creating your social media marketing plan.

Connect with your customers often and use your social media posts or blog entries to share content that is of value to your target customers. Social media allows business owners the unique opportunity to directly engage with their customers. Build a community with your followers by liking, commenting on or retweeting their posts. Finally, measure the success of your social media efforts, either by using analytics built into the various platforms or by monitoring sales increases after launching a social media campaign.

Search Engine Marketing

According to Mintel’s American Lifestyles 2015 report, Americans not only use the Internet to stay connected to work, family and friends, 69 percent seek out advice and opinions on goods and services before purchasing. A business must have a strong Internet presence so that it will always be a click away when customers are ready to buy.

Search engine marketing (SEM) allows your business to receive maximum visibility and increase your share of paid and/or other traffic referrals from search engines. SEM includes search engine optimization (SEO), keyword research, competitive analysis, paid listings and other services that will increase search traffic to your website.

For example, since most consumers do research online before making a purchase, it only makes sense to invest the time to make sure your company pops up on the first page of search listings with search engine optimization. SEO refers to the techniques used to increase website visitors by obtaining a high-ranking placement in search results. To learn some of these techniques, Google provides a search engine optimization starter guide which outlines the best practices for search engines to crawl web pages, index and understand your content.

Make a Connection with Networking

While you can connect with potential customers through social media, you can also build strong customer relationships using old-fashioned face-to-face networking. Whether it’s an industry conference, chamber of commerce or professional association meeting, leverage the opportunity to spread the word about your business capabilities. People want to do business with others that they like and trust so focus on how you might be able to serve your new contact, rather than on making the sale. Finally, be sure to follow up by phone or email within 48 hours to keep your name and that of your business top-of-mind.

Regardless of which marketing method you choose, set goals for your marketing campaigns. Review your marketing plan at least quarterly to see if your methods are having a positive impact on your business results. By continually tweaking your marketing plan, you can enhance your connection with your customers – and your sales results.