Having access to new and exciting marketing tools is one thing; knowing how to use them effectively in alignment with a plan, is yet another. Emerging companies can't afford to spend hours on the web trying to keep up with the latest and greatest marketing practices, nor can they afford to spend their limited human resources to orchestrate the activities of multiple creative agencies. As a result, many emerging companies default to the "shoot-then-aim" school of marketing. The boundless creative energy and tendency to act at lightning speed that characterizes the typical entrepreneur can come back to bite them, when it comes to marketing execution! The most brilliant, award-winning marketing campaign that happens to be off-strategy is as good as throwing money down the drain.
Analysis-Paralysis, which is anathema for most emerging companies, is not the answer. But there's a middle ground between lightning-fast execution and slow/deep scientific analysis. There are three important steps that I would recommend, to all companies before moving to execution of marketing campaigns:
STEP I: Perform MarketScape Analysis and Build "Top 3" Competitive Profiles
If you did your own informal poll among small and medium sized firms, you'll most likely find that a very small number of management team members or business owners can put a dollar figure on the addressable market that they target, or know the market share of their top three competitors (or their own market share for that matter). Why? Usually because there's a perception that acquiring and internalizing market and competitive intelligence, is costly, time consuming and reserved for larger companies.
Needless to say, that is not the case. We are fortunate enough to live in an age where information is practically surrounding us. Understanding both the market you operate in, as well as the competitors that you are battling against is not only easily achievable nowadays but a key and core ingredient of success. Following are some of the key elements that I would recommend in this step:
STEP II: Customer and Prospect Analytics - Tapping the Gold Mine
Most small companies hear the word "analytics" and they head for the exit. The word invokes visions of overpaid consultants taking 3 months to come back with PhD-level material on intricate econometric theory and colorful custom-code dashboards that has little utility for a small business. Reality is that most customers are only within a few hours of gaining undiscovered intelligence about their customers and prospects that can make the difference between break-even vs profitability, and surviving vs winning big.
Whether it's retail POS (point of sale) data, a massive excel database with customer contact records, or web traffic data via Google Analytics or StatCounter, data is our friend. Data, however, will never transform into actionable intelligence unless we mine it appropriately. Here's just a sampling of areas that you can start with:
STEP III: Constructing the Marketing Plan
A wise man once said, "if you don't know where you are going, any road will lead you there!" Operating without a marketing plan will take you to the same place: nowhere. A lot of smaller companies have a tendency to skip planning in the interest of quick execution, so they fast-forward straight to picking a marketing tactic of the month and doing a "spray and prey" routine: trying different tactics through the year to see what (if anything) will stick. Clearly, not the best approach. The reasons for why they do that are easy to understand. Small businesses think that marketing planning is a lengthy exercise using expensive consultants who deliver a beautifully bound 130-page word document, which collects dust on the shelf until the next planning cycle.
Having built a few marketing plans in my 19 years in marketing and planning roles, I can tell you it doesn't have to take months nor does it take a genius to develop one (and it definitely does not need to be 130 pages long! A marketing plan is simply clear, rational thinking at work. It's a declaration of what the company stands for, how it wants to be positioned in the marketplace, and what tactics it will need to execute so it can grow. Following are what I see as the key elements necessary for a solid marketing plan.
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