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Business history is filled with companies that had superior products but ultimately lost out to firms with poorer ones. One common denominator of a successful business is an effective marketing plan. Marketing is not limited to advertising; it includes your product, your location, your logo, your business hours, your dress code, how you answer the phone, prices, promotions… the list is endless and specific to your business.
Creating a marketing plan is a deceptively difficult task but is a significant factor in your firm’s long-term success.
Define your ideal customer. Think of your best customers. They deal with you regularly, pay you promptly and rarely cause you problems. Describe the common characteristics of these customers. If your customers are individuals, descriptors might include income, education, gender, number of children, or any characteristic they have in common. If your customers are other businesses, consider the size of firm, their level of technological competence, their geographic location, whether they are well-established or new, or whatever you determine is significantly common about them. Once you clearly define your “ideal customer” you can gear your marketing to appeal to them.
Define your market. What is your market area? Do you have a storefront that serves a mainly local client base, or do you sell over the Internet to customers worldwide? How many ideal customers exist in your market area? Do some market research: Look at your existing customer database, talk to your staff, review Statistics Canada data. If you prefer, you can hire professionals to do this research for you. Either way, you need to know specifically who your target customer is and where to find them.
Decide what you want to achieve. Are you looking to attract new customers who have never dealt with you before, introduce existing customers to products or services they have never used, or encourage increased repeat business for the same products and services? While a hair salon might focus on introducing haircut clients to their hair colouring services, a gas station would be more interested in a loyalty program to ensure their customers return to them for every fill. Your marketing strategy must be tailored to the results you want.
Think from your customers’ perspective. What does your best customer really want from you? It is critical to consider what they actually want, not what you want them to want. Just because you can get a great deal on widgets does not mean your customers will want to buy them. Your marketing must make it easy for the customer to see “what’s in it for them.”
Differentiate yourself from your competition. We all tend to think we are different, and usually better, than our competition. But our customers may not see the difference. If you do not want to compete on price, then you need your customers to see the added value in the products or services you provide. Determine your strengths and make sure your marketing centers around them.
Create a coordinated plan and stick to it. To be coordinated, your plan must be well-thought out and consistently keep your target market in mind. Consider your product, location, logo, business hours, dress code, how you answer the phone, prices, promotions – every aspect of your business. Each must work together to achieve your marketing goal.
Be patient. Marketing is generally not effective overnight. It takes time to see the results. If your plan is sound and you are making a consistent effort, it is important to have the patience and commitment to wait for the results.
Measure your results. To get the most for your marketing dollar, it is important to track the results of your efforts. How many haircuts returned for a colour? How frequently do gas customers use their “points” cards when they fill up? With which customers was the promotion most successful? Over time, you will create a record of which promotions work and which do not.
Follow up. Marketing does not end with the sale. Your most profitable customer is a loyal customer. Ensure your existing customers are treated well and new customers want to come back. Creating a database of customers and noting their preferences could allow you to give them better service.
In short, your marketing must be part of an integrated plan that promotes your strengths to the customers you want to have. When taking care of business, marketing is everything!
By Wendy Lewis, CA. Published in the Comox-Valley Record. For more information, please contact your local MNP advisor or Wendy at 250.338.5464.
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