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A guide to marketing strategy and strategic planning

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A company’s marketing strategy is so fundamental to its success it should be formulated before the business is even founded.

Why is this the case? A good marketing strategy positions a company within the wider market, justifies its existence and provides a clear direction of travel. Without a marketing strategy, the business is left to flounder, reacting rather than proacting.

So how are marketing strategies formulated? And how can small businesses successfully implement their own marketing plan?

Marketing strategy

There are two sides to your business marketing strategy: your place in the market and your approach to promotion.

To define your place in the market, you should start by thinking about your unique selling proposition (USP). Ask yourself this: what makes your business different from your competitors? Once you’ve answered this question, market research should help you identify who your target market is.

As soon as you understand how your company fits in, you can start to build a solid promotional plan based on the four Ps of marketing:

  • Product – What are you selling? How is it different from other products on the market? What benefits does your product offer your customers?
  • Price – How much will you sell for? Do your profit margins allow for undercutting? Or should you attach a premium price to a premium product?
  • Place – Where will your product be available? How will it get there?
  • Promotion – How will you tell people about your product? What tactics are open to you?

Taken together, these considerations will give you an overall game plan not just for your marketing your business but running it on a day-to-day basis and informing everything from product development to hiring.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning makes your marketing strategy more concrete, so it becomes easier to implement. It is an exercise in assessing where you are you now, where you want to go and how you’ll get there.

Strategic plans can encompass the entire company, individual units, or even individuals. The end-goal of strategic planning is to make the business an exercise in strategic implementation. Every element of the organisation has a strategy, it’s simply a case of executing it.

Example of a strategic planning process

There are four broad elements that should be considered in the strategic planning process:

1. What are your long-term goals?

An honest assessment of your current position, both internally and externally. A good starting point is a SWOT analysis.

2. What are your long-term goals?

Clearly define your priorities. What are the overall objectives of your business?

3. How will you achieve those goals?

What are the concrete steps that will put you on the path to achieving your long-term goals? What action plans can be put in place?

4. Who is going to do what?

This is crucial. Who is responsible for what? If no one is accountable, nothing will get done.

The final element is establishing a continuous review process. Small business owners should identify key performance indicators (KPIs) and assess them on an ongoing basis. These KPIs will form the foundation of next year’s assessment of where business is at that point in time.

How to write an effective marketing plan

Your marketing plan should be an actionable document. A design for achieving concrete goals over a clearly defined period. For example, to support your market penetration strategy, your marketing plan should:

1. Define the goal(s)

What concrete objectives serve the wider goal? Increasing your mailing list subscribers by 1,000? Doubling your online sales?

2. Define the target audience

Are there particular segments of your customer base you should target? If you’re lowering prices, perhaps you should target lower income customers than usual?

3. Define the tactics

What methods will you use to get the word out? Will you run a social media campaign? Will it feed into your mailing list?

4. Define the cost

How much will those tactics cost to executive effectively? The goal is worth nothing if it costs too much to get there.

5. Define the execution

Who is responsible for what? Do you need to hire a production company? A social media agency? What exactly are they doing by when? How will you measure success?

A good business marketing plan should be detailed enough that you can say “go” and everyone involved will get to it. However, it should still be flexible enough that you can change the plan when required.

How to use marketing as a sales strategy

Marketing is the art of selling to an audience. Sales is the art of selling to individuals. One can serve the other.

For example, when PropertyGuru ran an online content marketing campaign educating Malaysian consumers about their options for financing a home, they produce videos which gave tangible advice to different segments of their potential customer base. Interested consumers could click-through to a mortgage “pre-qualification” page on their website. This provided PropertyGuru with valuable customer data that they could enter into a CRM system before contacting these potential customers directly.

With this campaign, PropertyGuru cleverly took its consumers through a typical four-step sales funnel – from awareness to purchase – using marketing tactics to take its customers through the first three steps, before handing to sales for the last all important stage.

What are online marketing strategies?

Many SMEs are discovering the power of online marketing strategies. Broadly speaking, these are methods of using the internet to attract and retain customers across email, social media and search engines. The primary advantages of online marketing are that it is relatively inexpensive and often easier to measure the success of an online campaign compared to offline marketing.

To use Pay-Per-Click (PPC) as an example: by tapping into Google and Facebook’s wealth of data, you can exclusively target people that fit your target market, so they see your advertisements in the online spaces that they inhabit. Where this gets cost-efficient is that you only pay when someone clicks on your advert.

This kind of highly-targeted, data-driven marketing is only possible online – and it only really works if you have a detailed view of your business and its customers.

Keep your strategic planning on track

Your business’ marketing strategies should continuously be updated and in sync with your larger business aims, to create and maintain steady growth. To create this synergy and help leverage marketing efforts from your own data, consider an integrated suite of ERP and CRM solutions.