marketing plan

A Strategy for a Blog? Really?

BloggingBusiness owners ask me all the time whether they should have a business blog. My answer is always the same, let’s explore why.

Starting a blog is serious business that requires a huge time commitment, particularly if you are writing it yourself, so unless it is spelled out in your marketing strategy, you’ll need to create a separate blog strategy to determine its purpose and destiny before you start writing. In some industries you are only as good as your last blog entry, so make sure you can “commit” to this long term marketing tool.

I understand that many may feel a strategy for a blog is a bit “over the top”, but in fact by writing down your plan, you are more likely to commit to it, but also to see its value in the growth of your brand.

With over five years of experience writing various blog strategies for my clients, I have outlined a few key tips to consider when creating a strategy for your blog:

  1. Create a goal for your blog.

In other words, why do you want to have a blog? Is it to position you or your brand within an industry? Is it to provide guidance to your audience, or insights into industry trends? Or is it simply to provide tips to show your knowledge. Make sure you are very clear about the “why”, as it will help you determine the outcomes and direction of your blog strategy.

  1. Decide who your audience is going to be.

Who do you want to engage with and speak to with your blog? Are you trying to target C-level individuals, front line staff, or middle management? The more narrowly you define your target audience, the easier it will be to identify those people, cater to their needs with your content, and reach them with your messages. This audience should tie in to your key audience for your brand, so look to your marketing or branding strategy to help you determine audience.

  1. Content is still king.

Your primary and ongoing goal should be to continuously develop innovative content and put a truly unique spin on whatever topic you’re blogging about. Make sure your blog highlights your unique knowledge, voice and personality. Having a unique voice is one of the easiest ways to set it apart from your competition. Try to incorporate proprietary information, facts or research. The more unique and innovative your content and the better you target your audience, the easier it will be to build a following.

  1. Create an editorial schedule, and stick to it.

To build and maintain a steady audience, you’ll need to commit to a regular schedule for your blog. It has to be frequent enough that your audience expects it yet is not overwhelmed by it, so knowing your audiences tolerance is key here. Make sure you don’t over promise and under deliver as your audience could simply move on.

  1. Track and measure your success.

Most blog sites have great analytics, so make sure that you are tracking which blogs are giving you the best engagement and maybe consider creating a few blogs on a similar topic, or a series on the same topic. Always try to give your audience what they want and one way of ensuring this is tracking your analytics.

Do you have a business blog? What is your blog doing or NOT doing for you that you wish it would? Have you ever considered writing a blog strategy? I look forward to your comments and discussion.

Would you play football without a strategy?

Marketing StrategyAs I watched my son’s football game this weekend, I was struck with how important it is to have a solid strategy to win the game.

I know many would debate whether the game is won by good defense or a strong offensive line, but these are mere executables – the game, very few can deny, is won on the best game strategy.

Imagine a game with no strategy, with players not knowing their position or their objective. I can’t imagine that game being very successful.

Growing your company requires having a winning marketing strategy, yet surprisingly not all companies have one. Instead, many have a list of tactics or “plays” they should have and then execute on them. Often through sheer luck, the “play” or marketing tactic is successful in the short term, but over the long term of a game or of a business quarter, the tactics run thin and the result is a loss.

To win the season, coaches will set a strategy, which will be tweaked depending upon the battle on the field. Similarly in business, if you want long-term gains, then creating a strategy is the only way to go.

Your marketing strategy should be to influence both existing and prospective customers that your business offers something unique or special – differentiating you from the crowd. If you fail to persuade people that your service is unique or offers “additional value”, then your customers’ buying decision may simply come down to price alone.

A focused marketing strategy depends on continually explaining and emphasizing how and why your business is not only reliable and represents good value, but is also different (read better) from the competition in subtle and genuine ways.

With a strategy in place, you could have a year like the Patriots did in Super Bowl XXXVIII! In business, your marketing strategy will lead you to create and implement marketing campaigns and tactics that stay focused on the needs of the target customer, with an emphasis on continuously communicating the benefits of your services over those available from the competition. Do I hear touchdown in your future?

What do you think? Do you have a professionally written marketing strategy that you follow in your business? If not, what’s stopping you from creating one? I look forward to your comments below.

Think Strategically for Proven Results

Want proven results from your marketing- who doesn’t? To really reap the benefits of your marketing activities, you’ll need to have both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan.

Strategic marketing

Marketing Plan

The marketing plan, also sometimes referred to as a tactical plan, comes as a result of having a clearly defined strategy. With your strategy in hand, you can then create a plan that targets your audience with activities that resonate with them. e.g. If you want to target teens, you wouldn’t place an ad in a print publication as this demographic is engaged through online media. The marketing plan outlines the details of the tactics (roads) you will take to attract new business. It is a practical application of your marketing strategy, which includes details of what marketing activities you need to implement (online, website, advertising, videos, radio, etc.) to support the strategy in getting your business where you want it to go.

Marketing Strategy

The marketing strategy is your road map – the holy grail, if you will. It is shaped by your overall business goals and strong market research and includes a definition of your business, a description of your products or services, a profile of your target audiences or clients, and a definition of your company’s role in relation to the competition. The marketing strategy is essentially a document that outlines who you are, why you are unique, and what value you bring to your targeted audience.

As a strategic marketing expert, I can assure you that creating a marketing strategy is essential if you want proven results. I’ve outlined below a few of the preliminary questions you need to consider when engaging a marketing expert/agency or working with your internal team.

  1. What do you think is your unique selling proposition versus the competition?
  2. Why is this unique selling proposition compelling to your audience?
  3. Who is your target audience?
  4. Have you done any client surveys?
  5. Who are your key competitors?
  6. Have you conducted any market or competitive research?
  7. Is your pricing inline with your competitors or at parity?
  8. What is the ROI for all of your marketing tactics to date?
  9. Is your business trying to lead or follow industry pricing?

If you are serious about your marketing and want proven results, then stop buying and implementing adhoc solutions that are not tied to a strategy.

What Do You Mean “It’s Not a Real Marketing Agency?”

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Is your marketing being created by a marketing professional or a company who is disguised as a marketing agency? It seems like a strange question coming from an owner of a marketing agency, but over the past few weeks, I have received an increase in clients coming to our agency after hiring another “marketing agency” and not being satisfied.

This is what happens when you have an unregulated industry – anyone, without any marketing training or expertise, can open up shop and offer marketing services. I am all for enterprising ideas, but the issue here is that it is often the SMB owners who suffer at the hands of these so called marketing agencies, and this undermines our industry and leads to a sentiment of discontent by many SMBs who feel marketing agencies don’t really help them grow their business.

As it stands, it seems to be an endless cycle of SMB owners digging deep into their pockets with little return. Often the cycle is a SMB feels they have a marketing problem but they are not exactly sure what the problem is. They consult a marketing agency; the agency creates an online marketing campaign or integrated solution and the SMB sees some results, but after a few months of continuous investment and no results, they become disillusioned with what marketing can do to increase sales.

How can we stop the cycle? Education. I’ve outlined some key lessons for SMB owners who are looking to hire a marketing agency:

1. The term marketing company has come to mean different things: everything from a company than sells mugs, pens, and other promotional trinkets to an online marketing company. A true marketing agency is one that offers strategic guidance for your company.

2. When you are reviewing marketing agency sites, spend the time to really read the words they’ve chosen. Although it may say “marketing,” are they referring to integrated marketing, online marketing, branding or websites? If they say terms like strategic marketing, do they show examples or feature client testimonials that highlight this expertise? What exactly are they offering?

3. A marketing agency should have an understanding, if not internal resources, to handle market research. Research is a fundamental of true marketing as it helps marketers establish consumer and client needs and experiences, benchmark results, test advertising direction, brand experience, as well as develop competitive analyses.

4. Marketing is not all “glam”. At its core it is all about planning and measuring results.  You have to have a strategic marketing plan in place. It will tell you who you are, why you are unique (USP), what the industry is doing, what your competition is doing and outline the steps to get you to where you want to go.  It is the “holy grail” for marketing success.

5. Unless you are looking for a quick fix or you already have a strategic plan, your marketing agency should not be focused on offering you integrated solutions without conducting any research, analysis or finding out more about who you are and what your goals are. They should be focused on connecting your business goals with a strategic marketing plan.

Like all unregulated services, the emphasis is on you to do your due diligence, learn all you can about the industry and potential agency and then take it from there. Remember it is your money, your brand, your company and any marketing agency worth their salt will work with you, make recommendations and only act once you’ve decided if what they are recommending is right for your business.

Have you hired a marketing agency that was not really offering true marketing services?  Were you disappointed with the results?  If so, why?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

5 Key Marketing Tips for New Business Owners

shutterstock_creativemarketingAlthough my blog is dedicated to providing interesting tips, insights and sharing my marketing expertise with SMBs, the recent influx of boomers wanting to start their own businesses has spurred this week’s blog topic. However,  SMB owners should note that many of these tips will also serve as a good refresher too.

One of the biggest mistakes new businesses often make is skipping the development of a documented marketing strategy because they simply underestimate its importance.  The best way to start planning your marketing activities is by creating a marketing strategy (a high-level overview of your marketing goals), then creating a marketing plan which outlines the specifics of which actions you’ll take to execute your marketing strategy.

I have a few tips I’d like to share with you on the most important marketing-related areas you’ll need to have in place before you launch your business:

  1. Create a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
    A USP is a summary of what makes your business unique and valuable to your target market. It answers the question: How does your business benefit your clients better than anyone else can?
  2. Set Your Target Audience
    Establishing your target audience(s) is one of the key elements to all successful marketing.  Be as specific as you can when identifying your target audience and remember your audience is NOT everyone who buys your product/service!
  3. Outline The Benefits Of Your Product/Service
    Be as specific as you can be here, as knowing how your service/products benefit a customer will help you identify your marketing tactics. There should be details of benefits for every service/product. e.g. Product A benefits Hispanic seniors because it improves their B by 90%.
  4. List How You Will Position Your Brand In The Market
    You’ll need to answer what values and perceptions you want your brand to stand for and more importantly, how do you want your customers/clients to perceive you?
  5. Outline Your Marketing Methods/Tactics
    What marketing tactics will you use to let your audience know you are open for business? Will you use online or offline marketing? You’ll need to know your audience and how they consume information, and then target them with your tactics. 

With these marketing fundamentals in place, you are ahead of the curve and the sky is the limit for your business.

If you need some expert marketing advice let me know how I can help. I am always interested in hearing from you.  Are you one of the boomers thinking about starting a business? If you’re a SMB owner was this a good refresher for you?  Let me know in the comments below.

Topsy Turvy Marketing

As we wrap up the first month of the year, many businesses are finalizing their marketing plans, and wrapping up their marketing budgets for the year. Not surprisingly, much has been written over the past few weeks regarding the best marketing practices in which to engage, in order to achieve and increase ROI throughout 2013.

As the owner of Creativeworks, a marketing agency dedicated to increasing marketing results for SMB owners, I have a few tips I’d like to share with my fellow SMBs. These tips will help you determine which marketing tactics might be worth investing in. But before I share my tips, I want to remind you that marketing activities or tactics must be aligned with your overall marketing strategy if you hope to generate leads and increase your sales.  In other words, you should think strategy first, then tactics, and never the other way around.  If you invest in tactics first, without a strategy, then you are shooting in the dark; throwing good money after bad, hoping that some tactic will eventually stick and give you the return you are looking for.

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To help you determine the best types of marketing tactics in which to invest this year, I have outlined my top four tips of what you might consider before setting any marketing plans in stone:

  1. Make sure your marketing shows prospective clients/customers how you are different from your competition.  Your company’s uniqueness should be reflected in your website, brochures, social media, video, but you might also want to ensure that it can be conveyed in a concise elevator speech, and all of your other marketing materials.
  2. Clearly define your target audience, paying careful attention to the demographics. You may find you have one service/product for one specific audience, and other products/services for a second audience. Identify them, including the type of media that this audience is engaged with. For example, although you may want to use social media in your marketing, Facebook may not be the best way to reach married men over 55.
  3. Make sure your marketing activities are tied to your strategy. Reactive and ad-hoc marketing simply does not ensure long-lasting ROI.
  4. Before you launch any tactic, make sure you have some ability to track the results in an actionable manner. For example, for your website, it’s important to make sure that you don’t only have Google Analytics for the sake of having it. You need to figure out how you can use this tool to track the success of your online campaigns or interactive solutions.

The world of marketing may seem topsy turvy to some, but with a solid strategy, aligned tactics and measured results, success is definitely achievable.

I am always interested in hearing from you. Have you thought about what marketing tactics you’re going to use this year? How is this year different from 2012? Or are you sticking with your tried-and-true marketing tactics from last year? Let me know in the comments below.

Do I Need A Marketing Strategy Or A Marketing Plan?

As a small or midsized business owner, you need to have both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan.  To truly understand why you need both, first you need to understand what the difference is between a marketing strategy and a plan.

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Marketing Strategy (the map)

A marketing strategy is your road map to help you get to where you want to be.  It is shaped by your overall business goals. It includes a definition of your business, a description of your products or services, a profile of your target audiences or clients, and defines your company’s role in relation to the competition. The marketing strategy is essentially a document that outlines a road map or summary that you can use to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of your specific marketing plans.

Marketing Plan (the road)

The marketing plan, also sometimes referred to as a tactical plan, outlines the details of the roads you will take to get you to where you want to be.  It is a practical application of your marketing strategy, which includes details of what marketing activities you need to implement (website, advertising, videos, radio, etc.) to support the strategy in getting your business where you want it to be.

Similar to road construction, if you don’t have a road map, you can’t build the roads that will lead you to your destination.

In outlining the differences between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan, it is clear to see that the answer to the original question is simply: you need both.

To get started in developing your marketing strategy, first you’ll need to do a little homework to prepare. Here are a questions you need to answer for yourself before an agency can help you develop a marketing strategy:

  1. How would you define the business?
  2. What are your key services or products?
  3. Who is your target audience for each of your services or products?
  4. Who are your key competitors in this market segment?
  5. Is your pricing inline with your competitors or at parity?
  6. Is your business trying to lead or follow industry pricing?
  7. What is the ROI for all of your marketing tactics to date?
  8. How have you measured the success of your marketing activities?
  9. What distribution channels do you use?
  10. What do you think is your unique selling proposition versus the competition?
  11. Why is this unique selling proposition compelling to your audience?
  12. Have you done any client and/or market research?
  13. What is the image or personality of your company and its products or services?
  14. What are the sales targets for this year? Next year? (be specific!)

Your marketing strategy and marketing plan have a symbiotic relationship, in which you need to have both working for you to get you where you need to be.  Before you start writing your own strategy, you might want to consult a marketing agency.  These are professionals, dedicated not only to the field of marketing, but to helping businesses realize their goals through the creation of successful marketing strategies.

Was this blog helpful?  Share your comments below, and let me know.