All business owners are engaged in marketing, whether they like it or not, but not all of them put a lot of thought into it, says Byron Jeacocks, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited. The difference between having a thoughtful marketing strategy on the one hand, and simply rushing headlong into the market on the other is often the difference between business success and failure, growth and stagnation, and longevity and a flash in the pan, says Byron.
Byron offers the following checklist for business owners to make sure that they think carefully about their marketing strategy:
Define your target market:
If strategy is a game plan, you need to start by asking in which game you want to play. Are you selling directly to the end consumer, or are you selling to other businesses? Surprisingly few business owners actually give this key question the serious thought that it requires. If you decide to sell to both on-sellers and end users, make very sure that you do not undercut your business clients by selling directly to their customers at the same time.
Narrow it down further:
Once you’ve answered the first question, narrow down your target market further. If you sell directly to customers, for example, who are they? Young or old? Male or female? High- or low-income? Local, regional, national or international? If your answer is “anybody”, you have not given it enough thought. A niche allows you to focus your efforts and avoid the risk of trying to be everything to everybody. The business world is littered with the remains of companies that have tried to branch out to different sectors of the market without adjusting their pricing, offering and messaging. Your business does not have to remain in one niche forever, but expanding it requires very careful thought.
Scout the market:
Many business owners simply put their head down and focus on producing the best product or service. Such a strong operational focus is necessary at times, but it is not sufficient to survive in the market. You have to be aware of what your competitors are producing, whom they serve and what they are telling their – and your – customers.
Identify what makes you different:
Awareness of what your competitors are doing gives you the opportunity to think carefully about what makes your business different, and to hone your answer to any customer who might ask you: “Why should I buy from you and not from someone else?” Nowadays, good service and quality is not enough to differentiate your business from your competitors; these are prerequisites. Your unique selling point will have to be something specific that goes beyond just good service and quality.
Set your prices with the market in mind:
When thinking about your pricing, start with the prices for similar products or services in the market, and work out if you can produce the same or better while maintaining a sustainable gross profit margin. Even if your product or service is truly unique, don’t just work out your cost and slap a mark-up on it without thinking about what the market will bear.
Only once you’ve thought about your niche, what your competitors are doing, your pricing and what makes you different, can you come up with effective campaigns to promote your business. The number of channels and methods of promotion is at an all-time high, ranging from traditional methods such as signage, flyers, posters, cold calling and networking, to the latest internet search and social media marketing. But it remains expensive and requires careful thought. When testing a new marketing method, try small, experimental campaigns first to see what works best.
Don’t just have a website:
Internet marketing requires lots of work. Just having a website is like printing thousands of flyers and not handing them out. You need to do “search engine optimisation” to ensure that your site comes up first when a potential client searches for a product or service like yours. It is a constantly changing art and science that business owners need to become familiar with.
Your clients are a gold mine:
It is much easier to sell more or new products to your existing clients than to finding new clients. It is like a gold mine – quicker and cheaper to find gold in a shaft that you have already sunk, than to start digging a new one. Make sure that your marketing strategy includes a client-retention component, such as a frequency discount. Also, a referral incentive for anyone who sends new clients your way can work very well.
Marketing is a cycle:
There is no such thing as a once-off marketing strategy. Every time you implement a part of your marketing plan, you learn something new. The market, your competitors and the needs and preferences of your clients are never static. You have to make sure that you marketing strategy stays abreast of these changes by doing regular reviews of your marketing plan and campaigns.