Creating a Unified Marketing Plan¹
A business without customers is not a business, at least not for long. Effective marketing is the key to getting new customers. Reaching those customers may require using a variety of marketing strategies: traditional advertising, public relations, promotions, community involvement, partnerships, etc.
In this article we will focus on three basic activities: advertising, public relations, and in-store promotions. To determine the best ways to reach potential customers, and develop an overall marketing plan that blends those methods, start by assessing your company first.
Ask yourself these questions; the answers will form the basis of determining how to position your business in the minds of potential customers:
- What are my core products and services? What are my core capabilities? What is the mission of my business?
- How do we differ from our competitors? What makes us stand out? Where do we excel? Where do we fall short?
- What are our pricing strategies? Are we the low-cost provider? Do we charge a premium in return for premium goods or services?
Then focus on your customers:
- What is my geographic area? Do I only sell locally? Do I serve national or international markets?
- Who is my typical customer (age, income, basic demographics)? Do I intend to focus on my current customer profile, or do I wish to broaden my marketing to other demographics?
- Where do my customers receive information? Where do they frequent? What media do they consume? How can I best reach them?
- What do current customers like about my products and services? How can I leverage that success?
- What is most important to my customers? Is it price, service, delivery, quality, or a combination?
- What needs or interests does my company meet? What benefits do my customers receive?
When you've answered these questions, you may find that not only do you have a start on developing a marketing plan, but you've also learned ways you can better serve your customers. (It's easy to fall into the trap of focusing on how you do business instead of focusing on how you can improve the experiences of your customers.)
Answers in hand, it's time to consider which types of marketing are most effective for your business and your customers. Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of the basic forms of marketing.
Advertising includes any paid method of spreading the word about your company: Print ads, television ads, radio spots, web advertising, direct mail, etc.
- You control the message. Unlike some other forms of marketing, you directly control the message you send to potential customers. You create the ads. You write the words, choose the visuals, determine how and when the advertisements will be delivered, etc. With advertising, you are in charge.
- You control the cost. Advertising campaigns create, by definition, spending limits. You spend what you choose to spend. You can then evaluate that spending against the return on your advertising to determine whether the expenditure made good business sense.
- You create calls to action. Good advertising creates a call to action, incenting customers to make a purchase.
- Advertising can be expensive. While you control the cost, in some cases the cost may be prohibitive. Television advertising is relatively expensive; so are some forms of print advertising.
- You may miss your audience. Not all advertising is highly-targeted; a newspaper print ad may be seen by few of the people in your demographic. If your customer base is national or international, reaching that audience may be incredibly expensive.
Public relations includes issuing press releases, getting media attention, participating in charitable or community efforts, etc. Some public relations efforts are relatively low-cost or even free; for example, if you are interviewed by a local television station, the exposure you receive is free.
- Credibility. Third-party mentions of your company are inherently more credible than advertisements. After all, you are expected to say great things about your company; if another person says positive things it carries a lot more weight.
- Relatively low cost. Advertising is relatively expensive; grass roots public relations efforts can be much less costly.
- You can do great things for others. Participating in community efforts may create a relatively intangible benefit for your company, but at the same time you and your employees will feel good about helping others in need.
- You lose some control of the message. If a third party endorses your company, that's great but you cannot control everything that person says. The same is true if you are interviewed by a local reporter; you will not be able to choose which quotes run in the newspaper.
- Your target demographic may not notice. A feature about your company on the local television station may seem great but not if your target demographic rarely watches that station.
While most marketing efforts are intended to attract customers to your business, don't forget that marketing does not stop at the entrance. In-store sales, loyalty programs, and promotions can generate additional revenue and turn casual customers into long- term customers.
- Customers are already interested in what you provide. By definition a customer who has entered your premises is pre- disposed towards making a purchase.
- You control the message. Similar to advertising, you can decide exactly how you want to incent customers.
- The cost is low (at least in terms of advertising). While the cost of providing discounts or other promotions should be factored in, the cost of signage and other promotional displays within your store is low.
- Customers must be present. In-store promotions are not seen by anyone other than patrons who enter your premises.
- Promotions must be tied to other efforts. Customers do not want to feel they were denied opportunities taken advantage of by other customers; make sure your in-store promotions complement and support other sales, discounts programs, and loyalty programs.
Take a look at each basic area and create an overall plan that meets the needs of your customers and reaches those customers. For example, external advertising should focus on creating customer awareness and calls to action. In-store promotions should generate additional purchases, incent customers to try new products or services, and build long-term loyalty. Public relations efforts should complement advertising by reaching customers who at least partly ignore traditional advertising. Taken as a whole, each area should play a part in driving business and revenue while enhancing the image and brand of your business.