Marketing your business is no easy task, especially with the countless number of marketing activities that exist today. So, how do you know which are the right ones for your business? It depends on your marketing strategy.

What exactly is a marketing strategy? Simply put, it’s a marketing plan of action. A well thought-out marketing strategy is key to helping your business achieve its goals while staying within your budget and timelines.

Creating a marketing strategy from scratch may seem daunting, but it can save you from lots of headaches down the road. Here are some steps to make the process a little easier:

1. Clearly identify your business goals

Reaching any goal requires you to know exactly what you’re trying to achieve. Are you trying to boost sales? Improve customer experience? Drive website traffic? Depending on your objective, some marketing activities will be more effective than others. For example, to boost sales, a new social media approach could increase website traffic, but do little to increase conversion rates. However, sending an email containing a customer discount may have a larger impact on converting page visitors into sales.

Knowing what you’re trying to achieve is half the battle. Just because a marketing activity exists, doesn’t mean it will help you reach your business goals. Some businesses may never need to send direct mail, and others may get by with little social media presence and still be successful. If you can clearly state your business goals, you’ll be one step closer to building a strong marketing strategy.

 2. Know your market – this includes your target AND competitive markets

Once you’ve identified your objectives, think about the marketing activities that make the most sense to achieve them. To do that, knowing your target and competitive markets is critical. As you brainstorm ideas, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Will this reach my target market and cause them to take a desired action?
  • Is this a cost- and time- efficient way for me to achieve my goal?
  • What are my competitors doing and what is their presence in the market?

If you really understand your target market, you’ll be able to identify a potential short list of marketing activities that make sense for your specific goals.

For example, if your business provides a service for senior citizens, and your business goal is to increase sales, social media marketing activities may not be an efficient way to reach that goal. Knowing this demographic spends little time online, no matter how much advertising you do on Facebook, they may never even see your campaign. On the other hand, they are likely reading the newspaper on a daily basis, so a local print campaign may make more sense.

Competition can play an important role as well. If you’re competition is fierce, you may need to be a bit more creative to stand out.

3. Anticipate potential challenges and opportunities

As you develop your marketing strategy, be sure to consider potential challenges and opportunities. Do you have a plan if your website doesn’t immediately make the first page on Google? On the flip side, what if you’ve allotted only a small amount of money to a referral campaign that’s proving to be the #1 driver of business?

Don’t be afraid to experiment and change. Spend a month or two optimizing your website for search, or invest more money into your successful referral program (assuming the ROI still makes sense). Don’t worry if your original plan gets driven off course – a well-documented marketing strategy allows you to circle back to your original objectives and reassess the marketing activities that work best.

As you execute your strategy, you’ll learn that some actions (like creating a Twitter account) don’t pay off immediately, but rather, require long-term commitment to be successful. Alternatively, you might find some seemingly smaller actions lead to big results. One thing is certain: when you consciously understand and reflect on the actions you take, you’ll learn what works best for your business, your team, and your customers. And, you’ll be all the more likely to achieve your business goals.

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