7 Ways a Marketing Strategy Will Grow Your Business

“What is the best money I can spend in marketing to grow my business?” Without a doubt, this is the question I’m most frequently asked by small business owners. It may seem like a question that is promptly followed by an “it depends” type of answer, however, it’s actually quite easy to pinpoint one tool that is relatively inexpensive, delivers a high ROI and, sadly, is not commonly found in a small businesses’ toolbox. It’s a marketing strategy.

Why is a marketing strategy the most powerful tool for growing business? The straight-forward answer is that a solid marketing strategy will address current challenges and map out paths by which a business can grow in the future. It will audit a business’s brand and message, but isn’t limited to branding alone. Rather, a marketing strategy is a combination of big picture and detail analysis that incorporates a wide range of marketing channels tailored for that business’s industry, market, and budget. The majority of marketing strategies I write for small businesses include a high number of items that can be performed for free by current in-house staff, resulting in a plan that won’t lead to a fortune spent. In fact, a good marketing strategy is an investment in saving money because it targets a business’s efforts and helps avoid waste.

At this point I need to qualify my earlier statement; the best money spent in marketing is a smart marketing strategy written by an experienced marketer on behalf of a specific business, not something sketched out by a rep at a service shop (think printer or web firm) or from a generic, ‘small business strategy’ check list. For a marketing strategy to be truly effective, it needs to be a customized effort involving research, analysis and a careful matching of opportunities with the business’s resources and budget. This can never be a quick or off the shelf effort – a smart marketing strategy takes some time to develop properly. My own typically take less than a month and are generally under $2,000.

It’s important to keep in mind that while a smart marketing strategy won’t force a business beyond its means, it will present a mix of opportunities that meet immediate goals and show paths for growth. A marketing strategy’s advantage is that it paints a picture of a business, highlights who that business is targeting, focuses its marketing budget, and develops a schedule for reaching out to buyers. It accomplishes this in 7 key ways:

1. Develops Brand & Message

A brand is simply a business’s public look and message. Businesses all have the beginning of a brand – an official name – and some have taken steps to identify a logo, tagline, and possibly a general color scheme or style guide. In small businesses, these are often a reflection of the owner’s personal taste rather than an evaluation of the market and targeted buyers (years ago I had a client who chose her corporation’s color scheme from her kitchen wall’s paint chip). They may be a result of a family brainstorming effort or an owner’s flash of inspiration. Sometimes they are geographically influenced or an attempt at gimmickry. The point is that while it’s rare to find a small business that developed its name, logo, and message as the result of true market research, it’s a universal rule that, for good or bad, small businesses will refer to these items as their business’s brand.

And this is where a marketing strategy steps in. A smart marketing strategy will thoroughly evaluate a business’s brand through experienced and unbiased eyes. The marketer is not (hopefully) a member of the family and most likely hasn’t seen the kitchen’s walls. Instead, an experienced marketer will audit the brand as both a buyer and a marketer, and evaluate its ability to quickly convey the business’s story, whether or not it targets the appropriate buyer, and if it is unique enough within the marketplace to set the business apart from the competition. The marketing strategy will highlight any brand challenges, inconsistencies, or weaknesses before suggesting modifications and improvements.

Unfortunately, ‘brand’ seems to be a point at which many small businesses abandon their strategic efforts. A business’s brand is essential and well worth a hefty effort, but ‘branding’ isn’t enough of an action item to grow a business and isn’t where a smart strategy ends…

2. Audits Current Program

Which segues nicely into the next stage of a strategy: auditing the current marketing program. This stage goes beyond branding to review all of the business’s marketing efforts and is an essential component to any smart strategy. It’s at this stage that wasted money or effort is discovered, missed opportunities highlighted, or where I find that a client had started down a positive path in the past but either abandoned it too early or was off in its message. Has the business’s marketing program been well thought out or has it been a shotgun approach through a series of one-off efforts spread over time? This is where we find out.
My audits look for strengths as well as holes and weaknesses in a business’s marketing program by dissecting the marketing channel mix, promotional locations (both online and traditional), frequency, and more, then matching the entire program to the targeted buyer profile. I spend quite a bit of time looking through the business’s marketing tools such as its web site, brochures, newsletters, and social media and evaluate the business’s staff resources, factoring any strengths into the final evaluation.

3. Profiles Buyers & Marketplace

It may be hard to fathom but there are small businesses that face each year without knowing much about their own marketplace and the very buyers upon which their livelihoods depend. As a marketer, it baffles me how any business can hang its shingle without taking the time to first evaluate who it will sell to and from whom it will grab market share. Questions such as, “how many buyers are out there?”, “how do they like to be reached?” and, “who am I competing against?” are all fundamental to business success because it’s only through this knowledge that a company can adapt and grow. The only way to create this profile is through research!

I start by pulling information directly from my clients through a combination of interviews and surveys filled with carefully crafted questions. I’ll ask then re-ask until I’ve developed a complete profile from my client’s perspective. My work then turns to generating a buyer profile from a marketing perspective that stems from my client’s high level buyer description. I’ll dig and research until my profile is complete, then compare my profile with that of my client’s. Hopefully we’re in synch, but if not, I’ll point out where we differ and evaluate where my client can hone his or her efforts.

At this point I’ll also want to look at the marketplace from my buyer profile’s point of view, and will “shop” the competition. I’ll look at the business’s geographic reach and investigate both demographic data and local economic growth plans. All of this data will play into the final evaluation of whether my client should continue in its current market or branch out into an area that’s buyer-rich.

4. Evaluates Competition

“Who is my competition and how do we differ?” That’s a question every business owner should be able to answer at any given time! Business owners should be aware of who is snagging market share from them and how each competitor compares in services, quality, customer service, messaging, and overall marketing efforts. It’s wonderful to be the best service provider available, but that won’t mean anything if the competition is signing more buyers!

For this stage of a marketing strategy, I like to shop the competition from a buyer’s perspective before comparing my findings to my own “client shop”. Since I’m an outside consultant, it’s fairly easy for me to assume an unbiased buyer’s approach to most shopping efforts, be it B to B or B to C, and I look for easy shopping situations, who could satisfy my buyer needs, would entice me to make a purchase or conversely would turn me off as a buyer. I use these results to suggest ways my client could improve his or own business’s message and to…

5. Determine Marketing Mix

This stage of a marketing strategy is a game of, ‘find the buyers’. After all, what is marketing if it isn’t an effort to communicate with buyers and lure them to a business? To me, this is the truly strategic stage of a strategy, but one that could not exist without all the previous steps. It is at this point that the strategy should answer questions such as, “should a business adopt the latest trends or stick to more traditional methods?” or, “what will provide the biggest bang for a limited budget?”

It’s also the stage where experience really pays off as there are many, many ways to spend money in marketing and only so many options that will reach the right buyers. I enjoy this stage the most and spend time looking under rocks to discover new options and find cost effective solutions. No two strategies should be ever be the same at this stage, making this the most custom portion of the entire process. A good strategy will look beyond paid search and Facebook ads and find new ways to present the business – within budget.

This is also the most flexible portion of a smart marketing strategy. I like to include a variety of options that range from ‘incorporate immediately’ to more longer term efforts that make sense once the business has grown or has put other marketing tools in place. A good mix will pull in multiple marketing channels and allow a business to reach buyers on many levels.

6. Finds Internal & Low Cost Options

Many businesses have low cost and free marketing options already at their disposal and may not realize it. A good marketing strategy reviews a business’s internal options, evaluates the business as a whole, and discover resources that can be used in the marketing plan. I like to empower my clients and give them the chance to save their budget for bigger ticket items down the road.

7. Designs 1 – 5 Years Marketing Plan

I wrap up every marketing strategy with a 1 year, month by month, marketing plan. This marketing plan lists carefully selected marketing efforts determined in the strategy and provide a schedule for when they should be launched and evaluated. For smaller businesses, I try to stick to the low cost options that can be maintained internally with optional efforts that may cost more money or should happen after an early goal has been achieved. More expensive or involved opportunities are generally reserved for a 2-5 year plan and are contingent upon achieving goals.

By incorporating the above 7 stages into a thoroughly researched and carefully crafted strategy, a small business will have a map by which it can achieve its goals and grow its business. It’s money well spent and something a business really shouldn’t exist without!

How To Make Your Marketing Strategy Work

1). Make the purpose clear
37Signals has made the art of simple in software, simple in pricing, simple in use, simple in hiring and the clear purpose the business exists. Take this extract from their stated values “Useful is forever – Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does. We build useful software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.”

2). Define the Marketing strategy, Work with it and don’t just state it
The first step in bringing your strategy to work is to figure out what it really means to you. Many people would look at 37Signals software maker and discover that their marketing strategy is to develop functional software with low cost and deliver in several versions with a 30-day free trial. A quicker check would show their actual marketing strategy is simplicity in everything.

3). Turn it into a mantra question
So, if you’ve developed a marketing strategy and now realize you can bring it to life by way of a defining characteristic, you might be wondering how to drive it deeper into the organization.

The only way for your real business strategy to flourish is to make it an integral aspect of everything you do. The simplest way to do this is to use it as the leading question for every service, product, staff, customer, marketing decision and process. The questions you must ask are: Does this product inspire? Does this decision keep fun alive? Is this process simple? Does this new hire value community? Is this pricing convenient?

4). Produce strategy scorecards
In addition to creating the key word question, teaching how to think with strategy and using strategy filters for decision making, you have to find ways to keep real strategy working in day to day activities of your business.

One of the best ways to do this is to turn strategy thinking into a game. Create scorecards that reward people for thinking, employing and acting with marketing strategy. If, in the case of a company where entertainment and surprise are the major characteristics of market strategy, bonus points could be awarded for taking action that exceeded a customer’s expectations, or for chairing a meeting that was both fun and productive.

5). Build strategy filters
In order for your marketing strategy to reach full potential, it must be the filter your entire staff uses for their work with each other, advisers, suppliers and clients. It is good to build a process that staff members can use when planning a project or even action step. This simple process lets them to view anything they choose in the light of strategy impact and either change course or know for certain that they are taking real strategy action.

Lots of start-up tries to decide the perfect business strategy to use to market only to discover that the market does not require the model they are about to use. Any business plan for that matter, is little more than a guess and I believe that your best chance for getting that guess right is to build your business model.

This assumes the role a fully developed market actually should play in determining the direction of an organization. The fact is, most people, if they consider marketing strategy at all, stop at a core message, identity elements and perhaps a sales proposition and call it a strategy.

A marketing strategy is how you plan to use the resources available to you to build an ongoing case that your business, products and services are the obvious choice for a narrowly defined ideal customer. If you accept this expanded view of marketing strategy, then I would suggest you answer the following questions in an attempt to measure where your strategy stands today, and where it could go if you understood and integrated it fully as your business model.

Marketing With a Blended Marketing Strategy For Maximum Visibility

Marketing in general is a vast and complex beast which requires knowledge and effort to truly master and leverage it to its full potential to grow your brand, let alone your business. Any good internet marketing strategy can effectively help you build your business online. However, as many internet entrepreneurs look to expand their online presence and grow their businesses further, I find that many of them fail to create a complete marketing and business development strategy, focusing the majority of their efforts online. Sadly, this is a HUGE mistake on their part.

Over the course of my career as an entrepreneur, business owner and web designer, I’ve conducted business with many individuals and businesses all wanting to increase their reach, develop a stronger brand awareness and build a strong internet presence. Yet through all their questions, two common fears continually rang through during my discussions with many of them. They either feared the idea of taking on a major internet campaign or they felt that internet marketing would replace their tried and true traditional marketing methods. Both these fears have their roots in the fact that the vast majority of them simply lacked the proper knowledge necessary to see that both an internet marketing and traditional marketing strategy should compliment each other providing reciprocal support of their various strengths. I like to refer to this more complete picture of a marketing strategy as “blended marketing”.

Why Do I Need to Do Marketing

If you plan to generate any kind of income online you need to gain an understanding that your blog or website is simply and extension of your true business. You must develop your business model first before you can properly identify how to apply your blog/website as a useful tool in your overall marketing and business development strategy. Any successful business has a marketing strategy to grow their business. You can’t simply set up a blog or website and expect the business to come rushing in. You must have a strategy in place to help bring in the interested buyers you desire.

Gain a Little Perspective

As a successful internet entrepreneur and internet marketing expert myself, I’ve been using a blended marketing strategy for well over a decade to maximize my reach, increase my exposure and better market to my target audience to grow my online business. I’d like to share with you how a blended marketing strategy can benefit you and provide you with some techniques I use when constructing your blended marketing plan.

To help you gain a better perspective on the concept of blended marketing I suggest you have a quick read of Rena Bernstein’s post over at Social Media Today entitled “Integrating Social Media with Traditional Advertising to Gain Higher Returns”. It is a great read and provides valuable insight into the benefits as well as examples on how effective it can be if done correctly.

What is Blended Marketing

Blended marketing is essentially a mix of both internet marketing and traditional offline marketing methods to create a more complete, overall marketing and business development strategy. Many businesses fail to integrate both internet marketing and traditional marketing strategies together. By taking advantage of the strengths of both an internet marketing and traditional marketing strategy, you will better position yourself and/or your business for greater success.

The idea of a blended marketing strategy is to create a complete marketing strategy which takes advantage of the various strengths of both an internet marketing strategy and a traditional marketing strategy where you work to increase your search engine rankings and internet exposure, while at the same time increasing your reach and exposure offline as well.

Different aspects of a blended marketing strategy can be for example, utilizing an email marketing campaign in conjunction with a direct mail campaign to provide a specific promotion to a select group of recipients. Some email marketing systems provide a service where they will also send a direct mail piece to your email list provided you have addresses for each recipient in your list. This is just a high level example of how a blended marketing strategy can work to ensure broader reach from multiple fronts.

Benefits of a Blended Marketing

The benefits of a blended marketing strategy are vast allowing you truly grow your business at a much more rapid pace than if you didn’t have one. A blended marketing strategy allows you to:

  1. Gain Greater Exposure
  2. Market to the Same Audience Through Multiple Online and Offline Marketing Efforts
  3. Track the Effectiveness of Various Campaign Efforts
  4. Identify the Strengths of both Online and Offline Marketing Strategies
  5. Create Multiple Promotions for Various Marketing Strategies
  6. Generate Multiple Sources to Feed Your Sales Funnel
  7. Create Brand Awareness Online and Offline
  8. Market Products/Services Both Online and Offline
  9. Present Yourself as a Strong, Stable Business
  10. Increase Sales

These are just a few of the many benefits in which a blended marketing strategy can provide.

Creating a Blended Marketing Strategy

Creating a blended marketing strategy isn’t all that difficult if you know your target audience and have identified how to reach them. From that point, you can craft a marketing strategy that will allow you to reach your target audience through multiple fronts to ensure your message is heard.

The first step is to conduct market research (yes you have to do this and you cannot skip this step). When conducting market research you need to identify:

  1. Who Your Target Audience Is
  2. Where They Hang Out
  3. How to Reach Them
  4. What are Their Needs
  5. How You Can Fill Their Need
  6. Will They Buy

Identifying a market for whatever you are offering is essential to the success of any business whether online or off.

The second step is to begin crafting your blended marketing strategy to incorporate the various resources available to reach your market. This is where the fun begins! Be creative with this and make sure you explore all possible options to get your message out to market. For example, you may want to include the various resources to syndicate your content not just for online purposes but also for offline purposes, such as industry magazines and journals. If you are creating an email marketing campaign, how will you mirror this effort offline through direct mail pieces? If you are going to utilize the Third Tribe concept for your online marketing, what real-world business networking and industry convention events are you going to attend to create brand awareness? Consider how you are going to integrate social media into your blended marketing and how can you drive people to follow you from your offline efforts?

The best way to create a blended marketing strategy is to mirror your online marketing efforts with potential real-world offline efforts that my accomplish the same if not similar task as your online efforts. Simply ask yourself: “Self, what offline marketing effort would be similar to this online marketing effort” then make a list of all related marketing strategies and decide which to integrate into your complete blended marketing strategy. Dedicate a lot of quality time to this process, because the more time you spend on market research and development to create your blended marketing strategy, the more effective your blended marketing strategy will be.

I hope you found this information useful and will apply what you’ve learned to create your own blended marketing strategy for whatever your business maybe.

To Your Success!