Start Off The New Year With A Fresh Marketing Plan - Here's A Helping Hand

So we've come to the end of another year and we're all looking forward to starting the New Year off with a fresh, successful marketing plan in place. I thought it would be a good idea to write a post that will give you a bit of a head start in terms of some of the things you should aim to have covered as you go about putting together your overall marketing strategy.

This isn't going to be a post that highlights new fads you should try - instead it's about implementing basic, yet very powerful processes, that I know work well from dozens of recent marketing plans I have designed. Maybe none of it will be new or exciting, but they are all almost guaranteed to deliver great returns for your small business.

Let's get going then.

Have Clear Goals, But Keep The Strategy 'Agile'

The first thing I want to talk about is the way in which you put your marketing plan together in the first place. I'd suggest that you break away from the standard way of designing a marketing strategy, which looks something like this:

  • Takes months to design
  • Even longer to implement
  • Is fixed for 12 months or longer
  • Is reviewed on a quarterly basis

Nowadays, this type of strategy is bad. The modern market place shifts too quickly for this to be successful any more - successful platforms and techniques come and go quickly, and buyer behaviour changes at pace. Just think about how many times Google changes its search algorithm - around 500 times each year. The days of us being able to write a plan with the 'set it and forget it' approach in mind are gone. forever.

Now, we have to build our plans with an Agile process in mind. This method allows us to be nimble and successful - we can adapt our strategies quickly when needed and it forces us to have a keen sense of what is happening in our markets at all times. We do this be regularly measuring feedback and reports, making changes where necessary until we are delivering the best marketing campaigns we possible can - at all time. 

You can read more about how agile marketing strategies differ from traditional marketing plans here.

Understand What It Is That Makes Your Business Different From The Expanding Crowd

I think that this is one of the most important things to bear in mind as we move into the New Year. Just about every business sector is becoming more competitive nowadays (in my view anyway). It's much, much easier to set up a business these days, although I'd say that it's infinitely harder to make one succeed - the ease of setting up a business means that there is simply way more competition to deal with. Granted, a lot of this new competition will be low quality - a lot of it will be good quality on the other hand.

More densely crowded market places mean that you really have to make your business stand apart from the crowd. One effective way you can do this is to make sure you understand what makes you different and that you can convey this to your target audience in an easy to understand manner.

Here is a post that you might find useful - it's about how to work out your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and give your target audience exactly what they want.

Think About How Your Business Is Approaching The Market

Another key area to consider as you move forward into next year is how your business is approaching its market. Are you still telling your prospects and audience what they need? Or are you following a more consultative approach? Essentially, I'd say that if you are still of the 'telling' variety, you should probably stop this now.

All of our markets have matured now - in fact, before a prospect even gets in touch with you these days they know exactly what they need and they have a rough idea of who they'd like to solve the problem for them. The web changed everything - businesses, marketing departments and salespeople are no longer in complete control. We need to adapt our message to be one of 'we understand your problems, where you are in the purchasing cycle and this is how we'd like to help you.'.

For interest, I wrote another post about how the modern web is bringing us back to person-to-person - you can get to that here.

Think About How Your Business Is Perceived By The Market

This is slightly related to the point above in that how you approach your market will of course impact on how your business is perceived. However, it is also a bit more nuanced in that you also have to consider points such as the following:

  • What is social engagement about your business like? It is positive, negative or non existent? 
  • What about online reviews/other user generated content (UGC)? What do they say about your business?
  • Your website/overall business branding - how do they compare to your competitors? Do you look more professional and trustworthy, or less?
  • What about your pricing levels? Do they price you out of the market? Are you too 'cheap' looking? Do your prices reflect the value you offer your customers?

What I am trying to get at here is that there are a lot of signals that - taken together - can form an image of your business and it's reputation. To a certain extent you can control most things - it's worth having a look at your online profile and seeing how your business looks from an outside point of view.

Here are a few posts that might help you with some of the points raised above:

  • How to handle a negative online review: go here
  • Pricing strategy: go here
  • Should you make your own website, or outsource it?: go here

Forget About Trying To Game The Search Engines And Don't Put All Of Your Eggs In This Basket

I'd say that for your average small business owner, this is a tip that is very worthwhile taking heed of. While it's easy to read up on SEO forums and think that you've found the next big 'trick' that will help you get to spot one, there are a few things you should think of before you go ahead and try it:

  • Most tips and tricks you read about are tried by people who make money from building low-value sites designed to generate money from advertising clicks. These sites are easy to put up and when they are 'busted', it's easy to put up another one. This is not the same as normal business - you cannot afford to take risks with your real world business site. 
  • While good search rankings are definitely worth the effort, it's also worth nothing that this should be part of your medium-long term strategy - there are many other ways in which you can build up your initial customer base.
  • Good search rankings aren't a 'right' - there is absolutely no guarantee that you will ever get them. And, even if you do, there is no guarantee that you will keep them long term. So, don't have this as your only source of web traffic/business

Here is a post that you might find useful in terms of things you can do to win customers that don't involve search rankings:

  • An example B2B marketing strategy: go here

Don't Forget About The Real World - It's Still There You Know :-)

I guess this follows on from the point above. Although it's tempting to only focus on achieving great search rankings, this shouldn't be to the detriment of other marketing methods involving the 'real world'. Although it might be unfashionable to talk about things such as telemarketing and trade-shows, the fact is that they work - there is no disputing that. Clearly, nowadays you have to be a lot more intelligent about how you approach your prospects through direct marketing, although it still works. And while you're waiting for your digital presence to build up, it's probably a great idea to get going with a more direct line to your audience.

Here are a few posts that might help you on your way with this:

  • Generating leads at trade-shows and exhibitions: go here
  • A telemarketing campaign checklist: go here
  • Owning the SERPS by hacking the real world: go here

Be Integrated - Through-the-Line All The Way

So you might have guessed from the above few points that I think it's crucial that you adopt an integrated marketing process going forward. Going a bit further with this, I also think that you'll be best served by designing a marketing campaign that is 'TTL' (Through-the-Line) in nature. What do I mean by this? Here is a quick overview.

A TTL marketing campaign embodies the best of both ATL (Above-the-Line) and BTL (Below-the-Line) campaigns. Essentially, it allows you to target a large audience with the brand-building/awareness kind message, while making sure that you are also relevantly targeting individuals with more of a response driven approach too. Big brands use this type of campaign - the great news is that it's now very practical for a small business to adopt the same methodology (with all the digital marketing platforms we now have available to us).

If that description is a bit confusing, I've written a separate article that talks about the above terms in more detail. You can get to that here.

Get Systems Doing As Much Of The Legwork As You Can

Another important tip for the coming year (although this has been true for a few years already) is that it's a very good idea to implement as many quality automated processes into your marketing as you practically can. I've emphasised the word 'quality' because I don't mean that you should automate everything - I only mean processes that can add value both to you and your customers. Auto-scheduling all of your social media posts 30 days in advance doesn't fit this definition ;-)

What do I mean then? We'll email marketing and lead nurturing would be a great place to start. Having a lead nurturing process working away in the background warming up your leads would fit my definition above - it saves you time and it also makes sure that your prospects receive timely, useful and relevant communications and information.

For more on this area, please see this post on getting marketing automation started in your small business.

Get On Social, Although You Don't Have To Be 'All-in'

While I don't think that every business should be crazy-active on every network, I do think that social platforms are too great for any business to pass up. Here are a few examples of the ways in which you could use various social media platforms (over and above the standard communication concept):

  • You could use it simply to monitor what is being said about your business, industry or competitors
  • You could use it to analyse trends and/or to conduct market research
  • You could use it identify key players in your industry and/or target market
  • You could use it to help with highly targeted, intelligence based direct sales efforts

The possibilities are almost endless. Social media platforms are clearly designed to facilitate excellent 2 way conversation, although because of that they are also a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. They are a goldmine of information that you could put to great use in your own business.

I guess the point here is that you don't have to be tweeting and chattering every half an hour on social networks for them to be useful. There are many ways in which they can help you - the important thing is that you just have to use them somehow. 

Mobile - No Option With This One Any More, Plus It's Plain Rude Not To

Nowadays - and probably even more so next year - it's very important to make sure that you're taking care of your mobile audience. While you might not think that a mobile website is worth it, the huge number of people who surf the web on their smartphones most definitely do - it's maybe even rude not to serve them properly with a well-optimised mobile experience. In fact, some common advice these days is that you should build your site for mobile first, desktop second.

It really shouldn't be too much of a problem to sort out a mobile compatible site at all - most website platforms will offer a free (or very low cost) mobile template that you simply have to activate. Then, you'll be covering off an extremely important part of your overall digital marketing strategy.

For more on the power of local search, please see this post.

Local Search - It's Free, Easy To Set Up And Very Powerful 

If you aren't taking advantage of the power of localised search, then now is the time to do so. Something like 75% of all searches performed on a mobile device are local in nature - that's people in your area, on the move and looking for people to help with a problem.

You can (and should) optimise your main website for good local search presence, although perhaps the best way is to set up a Google Places account for your small business. Google Places listings are the ones that are shown above the standard organic listings when you perform a search - try it by searching for a pizza in your local town and you'll see what I mean.

If you need a hand with setting up your local listing, here is a post written especially with that in mind. Also, the post I mentioned in the 'mobile' section above is relevant here too.

In Sum - Takeaway Points

So, here are my suggestions as to what you should bear in mind as you go about designing your marketing plan for the New Year. It's not a complete list, although it will certainly help you get the basics covered:

  • Keep your marketing strategy Agile
  • Understand what makes you different (your USP) and exactly how you can convey it
  • Think about how you are approaching your target audience
  • Think about how this approach is perceived by your target audience 
  • Don't try and game the search engines and don't put all of your eggs in this basket
  • Don't forget about the real world and direct marketing
  • Shoot for an integrated, TTL (Through-the-Line) approach
  • Get automated systems doing as much of the work,  as far as is beneficial to you and your target market
  • Utilise social media - you don't have to be an incessant Tweeter though
  • Go mobile - there isn't really an option here
  • Focus on local search - why wouldn't you? It's free and powerful

I hope this gives you some food for thought for the coming year in terms of your marketing strategy. If you'd like a more in-depth look at how you can design your plan, here is a longer guide to help.

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall

Got a nagging marketing question? Ask me here.

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Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.