Marketing Strategy and Planning: The Road Map

Many small to medium sized businesses face a common struggle; a balancing act of plans, strategies, departments and decisions. All of the elements are present, all of the gears in working condition, but business isn’t exactly booming at the pace it had anticipated or forecasted for. What exactly does this growth and sustainability require? In a turbulent economy teeming with congested airwaves and aggressive business practices, it’s about standing out from the crowd. And surprisingly, your marketing strategy has a lot more to do with it than you might realize.

Conflicted business owners can overcome the masses and draw the customers that are right for their product by executing a stellar marketing strategy, not by yelling louder than their competitors or using neon banners on their storefront (or banner ads on your website). My point is, you don’t have to be throwing yourself out there with a bunch of noise all the time. What you need to do is paint a vision for your business, your employees, and your customers. Make promises that nobody but you can keep, and then blow them away with your admirable businesses practices and superhuman skills.

Take a moment to consider this: marketing strategy is the single most important factor in determining the prosperity or deterioration of a business. That’s a pretty substantial claim and I’m willing to prove its legitimacy. Marketing strategy distributes itself throughout all the facets of a business, whether intended by its creator or not. This is possible because the strategy is created and defined by the overall objectives of a specific business, and integrates these objectives with a company’s unique vision and mission. Put simply, every level of a business should be oozing marketing strategy. Really!

Marketing Strategy

Does it seem far-fetched? Let’s examine the relationship between marketing strategy and four key aspects of any business: market research, the marketing plan, corporate identity, and the economy. First, let’s get the formalities out of the way and set forth a definitive explanation of what marketing strategy actually is. After scouring several websites for the official definition, I settled on a less-official but more effective description of marketing strategy:

Marketing Strategy:
A strategy that integrates an organization’s marketing goals into a cohesive whole. Ideally drawn from market research, it focuses on the ideal product mix to achieve maximum profit potential. The marketing strategy is set out in a marketing plan.

While your marketing strategy is, essentially, a document; its purpose is far more load bearing. Included in the strategy should be your mission statement and business goals, an exhaustive list of your products and services, a characterization or description of your target clients, and a clear definition of how you integrate into the competitive landscape of your industry.

Marketing Strategy v. Market Research

This relationship establishes an order of operations: the first phase in any marketing or branding initiative is research. (See our white paper on this subject: Market Research for SMB’s). No matter the scope of your research, whether it is a broad canvassing of your current client list or unveiling specific, detailed findings about your target market, the outcome will have a direct effect on your marketing strategy. It’s imperative to find out everything about whom you are trying to reach. What generation are they in? How big are their families? Where do they live, eat, and hang out? How do they spend their free time and money? All of this information will influence and alter your marketing strategy.

Research alone will not benefit your business without a solid marketing strategy. Often, business owners narrowly define market research as the collection and organization of data for business purposes. And while that is technically an accurate definition, the emphasis lies not on the process of research itself, but the impact it commands on future decisions regarding all levels of a company. Every business decision presents different, unique needs for information, and this information then shapes a suitable and applicable marketing strategy.

Research can be a grueling, confusing, and tedious process. From establishing or cleaning out a database to creating surveys and conducting interviews, you can receive a lot of information about your clients and potential clients and wonder what to do next. Before beginning to formulate a strategy, the information and data collected must be organized, processed, analyzed, and stored. Rest assured, with a little creativity and a lot of effort, this will all be molded into a structured, effective, and easily adaptable marketing strategy. Furthermore, continuous and updated research will ensure your strategy is a current and relevant reflection of your target market, marketing goals, and future business endeavors.

Marketing Strategy v. Marketing Plan

In this relationship, the marketing strategy is essentially a guide to judge the performance and efficiency of a specific marketing plan. In simple terms, a marketing strategy is a summary of what you offer and how you are positioned in the market (in relation to competitors’ products and services), and your marketing plan is an organized list of actions that you will enforce to achieve the goals outlined in your strategy. The plan will encompass the steps to a real-life application of a marketing strategy, bringing life to your mission and vision. It’s your time to show and sell your products and services so that your target market can experience them in the presence that you truly imagined.

Often, businesses lack a balance of creative personality and logic personality. While a business owner might have the creativity to dream up a stellar product, business model, and brand, they may lack the entrepreneurship and discipline to bring it all to life through research, planning and execution.

Marketing Strategy v. Corporate Identity

It’s no surprise that some of the most successful and recognizable companies in the world are those who establish distinguished, one-of-a-kind cultures that permeate through every channel of a business and reach customers on a human level. The culture of a corporation, its psychology, attitude, approaches to business, values and beliefs, lays the groundwork for a unique and compelling corporate identity. There is a powerful and undeniable connection between the health of these companies and the identities that their culture has provided.

These companies have discovered the delicate balance between a brand and a strategy, and how this symbiotic connection encourages visibility and growth. The relationship is simple: the marketing strategy represents where a company wants to go, and the culture determines how (and sometimes if) it will get there. Think of a corporate identity – the style, words, images, and colors – as the personification of your marketing strategy. The corporate identity is extended and applied in every phase of the marketing strategy, and plays a stylistic role in its execution.

Let’s look at an example. Starbucks, until recently, didn’t really have a marketing or advertising budget, per se. Starbucks started advertising in the New York Times and on TV in 2009, and very gingerly at that. Once a week it would print full-page ads in the Times, and on select channels it would air brief, lighthearted commercials. Prior to, the company was able to very successfully promote itself and its products through word of mouth and slapping the 25-year-old logo on every cup its baristas cranked out, proving that even something as simple as a logo can deeply resonate with consumers. But it was the Starbucks’ identity that its millions of customers were happily waiting fifteen minutes in line for. The infamous Starbucks cup rapidly became associated with wealth, leisure, high standards, and urbanites. From college freshman to corporate CEO’s, people couldn’t get enough.

Starbucks enforced its marketing strategy through clever, catchy campaigns, a genuine and human “front line” at the store level, and for the most part, acknowledging any mistakes or shortfalls that it might’ve run into. All of these actions are traits, portraying a deeply rooted culture that is exuded from top to bottom of the Starbucks hierarchy. And, love ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying their great success, even in a strained economy.

Marketing Strategy v. The Economy

The economy is an incredibly sensitive subject around the globe. What we’ve also noticed is that a lot of companies and business owners are using a depressed economic state as a reason (and in some cases, an excuse) for the shortcomings in their business.

For example, a big trend recently has been layoffs. Larger corporations are using weak economies as a reason to purge its staff and cut positions, when it knows just as well that that’s exactly the opposite of what needs to happen. Or does it? It’s become hard to tell. Is surviving a “depression” really as simple as, say, reassessing your marketing strategy? While an unstable economy is troubling, risky, and unpredictable, it’s also an excellent test of the flexibility of your marketing strategy. Your strategy isn’t set in stone…the whole purpose of designing a strategy in the first place is for smooth navigation through any given circumstance, whether good or bad. Unfortunately, many CEOs and CFOs target their marketing departments first in lean times, while the reality is that it should be investing in these areas so that its marketing managers can adjust their strategy to survive-maybe even prosper, through tough times. An excerpt from the blog of R. Bruer, the owner and head of a strategic communications firm in Portland, Oregon, lays it all out:

“Most businesses treat marketing as a discretionary expense, making it an easy target for budget cutters. It’s as if marketing is a luxury afforded only when times are flush. Less customer demand, less we can afford marketing, or so conventional thinking goes.

But really, can we ever afford not to market?

It’s natural to want to preserve cash during a downturn. I was an employer for nearly 14 years, so I’m sympathetic. But the tendency is to make deep cuts in marketing when sales head south. Companies often start by reducing or eliminating outside expenses, such as advertising, events, sponsorships, research. And when that’s not enough, they lay off marketing employees, sometimes the entire department.

The net effect of gutting marketing is to stifle generation of customer awareness, demand and retention just when these things are needed most. It’s a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.”

Your Marketing Strategy

While marketing strategy isn’t tangible, its role in business is just as dire as the product or service being offered. It’s contribution bears significance through every phase of a business plan, from conception to execution and far beyond these four aspects of research, planning, identity and economy.

Marketing strategy will continue to fold itself into business plans as long as it is created and executed properly. Research on your industry and competitors will enable you to develop and formulate a proper, pliable strategy. From here, your marketing plan will act as a guide that will bring your strategy to life, attaining and exceeding the goals outlined, all while establishing your corporate culture and identity. Remember, the culture piece works two ways. Your culture helps to form the strategy, and following that strategy will reinforce your culture. Lastly, your strategy must be both strong and flexible enough to withstand the most difficult or unpredictable of circumstances, such as an economic depression, new trends or competitors in your industry.

Strategy is a small piece of a much larger picture. It can all be overwhelming at times, sure, but it’s part of the adventure. With dedication, organization, and a champion marketing team (ahem! B&A), the pieces will come together with ease, allowing for the truly awesome personality of your business to shine, and profits to follow shortly thereafter.

Choose Better Internet Marketing Services for Better Profits

Marketing over the internet needs constant updating about business events, evaluation of marketed products, and regular interaction with customers. Today internet marketing services have become a quintessential part of online marketing. Even though most companies do know that such services play an important role in the development of their company, they are still unaware about how to get in touch with them, or what are the services which these companies provide. Most of them are still in the dark as to what are the uses of these agencies, except that they are employed to turn a visitor of their website to a potential customer.

So, the basic step is to know what internet marketing services are and what services they provide. Calculate what information you want to put on your website, how interestingly it can be put on the website, in an easy and understanding manner for the average person. While it is a fact that marketing services are important for your business, it is equally important not to be nonchalant while choosing an internet marketing company. There are companies that promise fancy service options to woo you into signing a deal with them. Hence, people need to be cautious and need to select just the right company for your online business to run smoothly.

A website which talks loads about your business needs to concentrate on the particular product. It should provide keywords that are relevant to the product and must keep updating so that browsers follow it on a daily basis. Since search engines are looking for keywords, it is absolutely necessary to project relevant keywords. However, you must constantly keep a check on this and make sure that the particular service provider is not stuffing your website with keywords. This will make your website awkward and dry. Subsequently, make your website interesting, so that customers keep coming back to it.

Business marketing with the help of social networking websites is the norm of twentieth century. While choosing internet marketing services make sure that the company which you select enables you to keep in touch with your customers through social networking websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace. The interesting aspect with social networking is that it helps with quick access to the public. It is the best form of word-of-mouth publicity which your product can get. It is a kind of add-on which enables you to market your product even without moving away from your desk.

Select from a list of internet marketing services and choose one which suits best for your website. Always remember to choose a service which helps you to keep in touch with your customers and provides interesting free stuff for them. Ask your service provider to provide newsletters for this purpose. These are effective ways to promote your product without much effort. The main purpose of a newsletter is to build a relationship between you and the customer over a period of time.

Key Benefits Of Affiliate Marketing

Since I decided to take the plunge 5 years ago and start working for myself as an online marketer, affiliate marketing has been the best thing I ever got involved in and is now part of my daily schedule.

It is without doubt something that all people who are interested in starting an online business or those who already have an online business, should investigate and take up.

If you are undecided or have little knowledge about affiliate marketing then I hope that you find the below information helpful and that it will clear up any doubts that you have over what the key benefits of affiliate marketing are.

1. Commission basis

For the affiliate marketer this is a key advantage as every time that somebody makes a purchase, the affiliate receives a set commission of the profit.

For the affiliate merchant this is an advantage as they only pay the marketer when they make a sale, so no money is wasted on marketing spend.

2. Huge audience

For the affiliate marketer – having built up various marketing lists or websites, they can make use of their huge audience base and ensure that the traffic they send over to the merchant is qualified and that sales are made, making the affiliate more money.

For the affiliate merchant – they receive access to a wider audience base than they may have had before, creating more interest in their products, resulting in more sales and all without investing any more money or time.

3. Ease

For the affiliate marketer – once they have set up their additional sites and links across to the merchant, it is very simple to manage and often affiliates will continue to make money from sales without having done anything for months.

For the affiliate merchant – they do not have to invest time and money writing content or creating expensive images in order to promote their services/ products. Instead affiliates will apply to be a part of their programme and all the merchant need do is have many affiliates all working towards promoting their products/ services and wait for the sales to flood in.

4. Steady cost

For the affiliate marketer – building on the last point, an affiliate can keep receiving commission from sales of a product or service for years, despite not doing a lot of work to promote it. You do need to invest time at the start but then you have a regular source of income coming in for the market life of the service/ product.

For the affiliate merchant – they set up all the costs so the chance to make a huge profit on sales without having spent much on marketing, is very likely. They do not have to pay their affiliates much per sale to make the business relationship worthwhile, as it tends to work best on a quantity basis so everyone is happy with the set amounts.

5. Brand Visibility

For the affiliate – there is a lot to be gained reputation wise from working with a range of brands and you will find that you get a lot more work should you be able to prove that you have succeeded with others in the past.

For the affiliate merchant – they receive free brand exposure on a continual basis, which is never a bad thing. If you have many affiliates working on promoting your brand, you’ll soon see a boost in search engine rankings and online sales; Amazon.com is an excellent example of where this has worked in the past.

6. Outsourced expertise

For the affiliate marketer – they get the continued experience to improve and work on their methods of online marketing, investing only their time, not money.

For the affiliate merchant – they will be able to utilise all kinds of affiliates who are experts in SEM (search engine marketing) and SEO (search engine optimisation) without investing a lot of money, yet still manage to get to the top of Google rankings.

7. Transparency

For the affiliate marketer – through the various affiliate programmes, it is possible to see exactly when sales are made and payment is automatic, so you do not have to worry about chasing merchants for payments.

For the affiliate merchant – they can see and manage their R.O.I (return on investment) extremely easily and do not have to worry about tracking the origin of each sale.

8. Online market

For the affiliate marketer – there are an endless number of affiliate programmes out there and the demand for online shopping is not going to decrease, so the earning potential for affiliates is huge. You can access any number of markets with your affiliate work, whether you choose jewellery, hygiene, pet insurance or food.

Use long tail pro to find targeted long tail keywords with low competition, ensuring maximum affiliate sale for you.

For the affiliate merchant – as previously mentioned, online demand is not going away any time soon, therefore merchants are able to continue to expand product ranges to meet a range of online markets with the knowledge that they have a number of affiliates on hand to promote quickly and at a low cost.

9. Home-based work (aimed at affiliate marketer)

If you become successful in the world of affiliate marketing then it is entirely possible to create a long term Passive Income from it and a huge bonus to this is that you can work cheaply from home and be your own boss. You don’t have to pay to sign up to affiliate programmes and there are a huge number to choose from, all from the comfort of your own home.

10. Overcoming tradition (aimed at affiliate merchant)

Using affiliates to promote your products and services will guarantee that you receive a lot more exposure than you would by using more pricey traditional marketing methods. Having a number of affiliates promoting what you are selling and only being paid when a sale is made, is one of the most cost effective marketing methods ever as well as being incredibly successful.