A guest blog by marketing consultant Sarah Orchard – Orchard Marketing Associates

I love this quote by presidential speechwriter Ben Stein: “Somewhere, there is a map of how it can be done.”

As a marketing consultant I meet so many clients who are desperately searching for that map to give direction to their marketing. Unfortunately, there is no simple off-the-shelf solution. It’s something you have to create for yourself because every business is different and has unique aspects – when it comes to marketing, one size does not fit all.

The advice I always give is to write your own marketing plan, working with a marketing expert if need be to develop it. It’s your business, so you need to be secure in your understanding of how that plan is working – it’s a living, breathing part of your business. Yes, a quick trawl of the internet will throw up copious amounts of free marketing tips and even ready-made marketing plans, but they may not be right for your business.

Your marketing plan has to take into account your target audience, competitors, market conditions, strengths and weakenesses. Mapping out a plan with those key considerations in mind – rather than dipping in and out as you try different marketing ideas on an ad hoc basis – is far more likely to achieve positive results.

It’s not rocket science and I find that a simple five-step marketing approach is really effective.

1. Assess your current situation

Critical to any marketing plan is understanding where your business is (or will be when you launch it). Think about:

  • Your market sector – its size, capacity for growth, stability, future potential.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses.
  • The competition – identify the top five competitors (at least) and compare them in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. How is your business different? How can you further differentiate it and create a strong proposition that will have greater appeal to your target audience?
  • External factors – will developments in technology, legislation or social trends impact on your business? What might you need to do in order to continue operate and survive?
  • Opportunities and threats – what might happen if a copycat competitor entered the market?

2. Know your customers

  • Who are they? Imagine your ideal customer. Define their age, gender, life stage (married, single etc), income level, favourite shops, right down to the car they drive. If you operate in a B2B market, do the same for your ideal business client – size of company, culture, typical budget available.
  • Where are they based?
  • When do they need your product or service? Are you selling something that is an everyday requirement or is it specific eg for a wedding, office relocation, system upgrade etc?
  • Why do they need your product or service? Identify their need, problem, pain point or desire and how you can resolve it.
  • How do they acquire your product or service? Do they research online and then go to a shop? Do they respond better to face-to-face meetings? Do they trust personal recommendations?

3. Set clear objectives

Make sure you can measure what you’ve achieved through your marketing activity and be specific. Your main aim is most likely to improve turnover and profit, so set yourself a target to achieve X% within a certain time.

4. Decide what you want your customers to think and/or do

Maybe you need to make them aware that your business exists or you want existing customers to think differently about your offer – it’s all about brand awareness and there are various ways you can do this.

  • Buy more of product X – getting new customers is a greater, and more expensive, challenge than working on your existing customers. So, regardless of how big or small your customer base may be always look to build relationships and encourage repeat purchases.
  • New business – how many new leads do you want, by when and how can you get them? Think about how you can encourage new customers to try you out – would a first-time trial, free offer or introductory offer be attractive?

5. Select the right marketing tools

They are vast and diverse and it’s important to make the right choices in order to convey your message effectively. Typically, you might consider:

  • Website – your own and backlinks on partner sites
  • Social media – blogs, forums, Twitter and so on
  • Email marketing
  • Pay per click / online advertising
  • Search engines (organic – free listing)
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Publicity & PR
  • Advertising
  • Networking
  • Recommendation/Referral eg ‘refer a friend’ with rewards
  • Loyalty schemes
  • Introductory sales letter with follow-up phone call
  • Direct marketing eg mailers
  • Demo, free sample
  • Testimonials
  • Partnerships – complimentary businesses to provide leads and referrals
  • Exhibitions, seminars and events

But, of course, those five steps are not the end of your marketing plan. Once you’ve defined your plan and implemented it, it’s important to review and learn from each initiative. What worked? What didn’t? Why? In reviewing your marketing activity you can then evolve the plan and fine tune your approach.

As I said at the beginning of this article, every business is different – what works for one may not work for another. Through experience you will learn what’s right for your business, you will create your own marketing map!