Small business guide to marketing planning part 3: Objectives and strategy

world map and compassTo give your business direction and enable it to move forward, you need to have a clear idea of your goals, objectives and strategy . You may have a general idea of where you’d like your business to be in one, two or five years time, but without setting specific targets you may find you lose track of where you’re going and have no way to measure the success of what you are doing.

So, welcome to part 3 of our small business guide to marketing planning. In Part 1, we  looked at the importance of marketing planning and how using a framework such as SOSTAC can help you build your small business marketing plan. Part 2 discussed the first step in marketing planning – situational analysis and examined the question ‘Where are you now?’ This post looks at the importance of  setting objectives and how to formulate your strategy by thinking about ‘Where do you want to be?’ and ‘How do you want to you get there?’

Where do you want to be?

Having undertaken your situational analysis you should have a pretty solid idea about where your business currently stands. You’ll have a good understanding of your customers, the marketplace and your competitors.  You’ll also be aware of  your business’ strengths and weaknesses, alongside any opportunities or threats that may be on the horizon. All this analysis will help you mould your goals and objectives. These may include wider, long-term goals such as your business mission and vision as well as more specific short to medium term objectives.

So for example; say your situational analysis has identified that one of your weaknesses is that you have only a small database of prospective clients,  one of your goals over the year is likely to be to grow your database. Put into a specific short-term objective that you can focus your strategy and tactics around, your objective could be something along the lines of:

  • To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014.

SMART objectives

To make you your objectives both useful and relevant, you need to make them SMART. This way it is clear to everybody what the target you are progressing towards is.

  • Specific – objectives should be detailed and specific to a particular area – not vague or wishy-washy as that will make them impossible to measure.
  • Measurable – the objective should be able to be quantified.
  • Achievable – is the objective likely to be achieved or have you overestimated targets?
  • Realistic – do you have the resources, time, budget to make the objective happen?
  • Timely – you need to have a specific target time frame to work to.

How do you get there?

Now you know ‘where you want to be’ through setting clear goals and objectives, you need to think about how you’re going to get there. Strategy is driven by your situational analysis and is essentially about how you intend to go about meeting the objectives you’ve set.  So in our example our objective was to increase the number of contacts on our database. Therefore we are likely to want to drive more traffic to our website, which may well mean improving our search engine visibility and ranking. Our strategy will be thinking about the best ways to do this. This may include looking at:

  • Customer segmentation and target marketing strategy. Probably the key element when formulating your strategy is your customers and segmenting them into clearly defined customer groups by identifying the different behaviour and needs of each group. You will have looked at segmenting your customers as part of your situational analysis, so your strategy should then focus on how you intend to target your marketing to each customer segment.
  • Your positioning and OVP ( Online Value proposition): Where is your business positioned within the market and what is it that makes your e-commerce offering stand out from your competitors? How can you exploit this to your advantage?
  • Content strategy:  So if your strategy is to drive traffic to your website,  you will want to improve your search engine ranking and therefore you will need to look at SEO (search engine optimisation) . Content is absolutely central to SEO And so you will need to think about ways to improve your online content.

Your strategy is all about what actions are you going to undertake to ensure you achieve you objectives.  Your next step will be defining the tactics you are going to use (the tactics element of the SOSTAC framework will be part 4 of our marketing planning guide).

So, how does all this fit into the SOSTAC framework?

Going back to our earlier example objective of growing our prospective database, lets look at it in the context of the SOSTAC  framework :

Situational Analysis

1. Where are you now?

SWOT analysis  identified that the current prospects database was poor

Objectives

2. Where do you want to be?

SMART objective: To increase ‘prospects database’ contacts by 25% by 30th June 2014

Strategy

3. How do we get there?

 Strategy: To drive traffic to our website in order to data capture new names and achieve our objective of growing our prospects database by 25%.

Tactics

4. How exactly do we get there?

What marketing tactics will we use in order to drive traffic to our website and data capture new names for our database?

Actions

5. What is our plan – who is going to do what and when?

Who is taking responsibility for our tactics. What is the schedule and timeframe required in order to meet our objective’s deadline? What is the budget? What resources do we have?

Control

6. How are we going to measure our success?

We need to be able to measure our performance through analysis such as, KPI, web analytics, conversion rates in order to be able clearly measure whether we have met our objectives.

Part 4 of our Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning will be looking at marketing tactics.

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

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The benefits video marketing can bring to small businesses

videos computer keyVideo looks set to continue in popularity, as consumers increasingly engage with brands visually – think the meteoric rise of Pinterest and YouTube. So what benefits can video offer you as a small business? We take a look at how you can successfully add it into your online presence and make it an important part of  your content marketing strategy.

“We’ve seen a consistent trend in 2013 toward sharing through image and video, rather than text-based content. Visual content will increasingly become a critical piece of any solid content strategy” Forbes – The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014

The growth of video as a marketing tool

We only have to see the massive impact a successful online video can have to realise how video is becoming a more and more important channel for communication. Take for example John Lewis’ Christmas 2013 Bear and Hare video. in its first week it shot to the top of the Viral Video chart with 155,106 shares in just seven days. And, within just one month of going live, it can boast over 9, 787, 194 views on YouTube.  Of course, John Lewis had a multi-million pound budget and the help of a top advertising agency, but it clearly demonstrates how brands are increasingly realising the importance of video marketing.

Benefits video can bring to small businesses

Research shows that a customer who watches a video is 85% more likely to make a purchase . Getting on board with video marketing brings a number of benefits to your small business.

1. Content

Having relevant video content on your website can be an essential part of your content marketing mix.  Creating fresh, relevant content helps with SEO, since search engines consistently rank websites with videocontent higher in page rankings than websites without.  Indeed,  research shows that a website with video content is 53 times more likely to appear in page 1 of Google

2. Cost

Video marketing doesn’t have to cost the world.  You don’t need to rely on a production company to produce a good video – there are lots of DIY options out there. You can make your own video with the use of a decent camera and video editing software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. There are also plenty of online video creation tools available  such as Animoto or WeVideo.

3. Educate and explain

Video can be a great way to convey potentially complex information to customers. For example demonstrating to customers how to use a product visually can be far more effective than to try to explain it by written word alone.

4. Brand personality

Using video is a great way to bring personality to your brand. People like doing business with people so using video is a great way to get your brand personality across. For example showcasing your staff or your premises can help customers feel that there is a real person behind the face of the business.

5. Increase Customer Engagement

Video helps increase customer engagement since video is one of the most popular forms of media content that people share. According to a report by Zuum, video is the most shared content type on Facebook.

Use video across all your online marketing channels

You Tube on ipadThe great thing about video is that it can be effective across all your media channels. It should be up on your website but is also really effective on your social media platforms, your blog, in email communication and, of course on YouTube.

Remember YouTube can boast –

Examples of using video effectively

In order for video marketing to be effective, you need to create content that adds value and enhances your customers’ shopping experience.  For example value added content could include, product demonstrations, video tutorials, customer testimonials, instructions and how to guides. We’ve highlighted below a few examples of how different businesses have used video to generate relevant, useful content for customers.

Useful resources

So now you’ve seen the importance part video has to play in generating quality content, we’ve found some useful links to help get you going.

How to make a video

Tips on using a video camera

Online video production tools

What makes good content for a video

Uploading your video to you tube

Videos Computer Key image courtesy of Stuart Miles at Freedigitalphotos.net

YouTube on Tablet image courtesy of Winnond at Freedigitalphotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Content is still King

Content ImageEngaging, high quality content is central to successful marketing and key to attracting and retaining customers. The phrase ‘content is king’ has been heralded in digital marketing circles for a good few years now. But what exactly does it mean and why is it so important for online businesses?

Content and content marketing

From an online perspective, content is essentially all the information you communicate to your customers and prospects. For example in terms of a web page content is the text, design and images used to convey information. If your content is interesting and engaging you are more likely to attract and retain customers, hopefully achieving repeat visits.

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audiencewith the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Content Marketing Institute

In the past marketing messages were primarily ‘pushed‘ out to customers through traditional media channels such as print, TV, radio and direct mail . The onset of new media has enabled businesses to interact directly with their customers, creating what is essentially a two-way dialogue. It is now primarily customers who are in control, since they actively seek out information on the web and are often the first to initiate contact. Visibility and interaction are key as online businesses need to find ways to ‘pull-in’ customers to their web presence. Content is an integral element of any online marketing. Whatever marketing tactic you are using, be it SEO (search engine optimisation), branding, PR, social media, inbound marketing or email, content is central to its effectiveness.

Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide

How to improve content –  where do you start?

A good place to begin is to spend some time looking at your current offering. This would mean evaluating all the elements that make up your content – from web text and graphics to sales, product and marketing copy.  Is your content:

  • Useful and informative to your customers?
  • Up-to-date, relevant and accurate?
  • Professional, with no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?
  • Interacting  and engaging with your customers?

Since content is central to pretty much everything you do online, it is worth looking at your content as a whole rather than as lots of separate bits and pieces of information. That way you have a complete picture and can formulate a strategy for your content. And remember, content needs to be reviewed and managed on a regular, on-going basis.

What makes good quality content

Although link building and keyword optimisation still important for SEO purposes, the days of keyword stuffing your content have well and truly passed.  It is quality content that determines how a website is ranked by the likes of Google.

 interesting sites will increase their recognition on their own” Google Search Engine Optimisation Guide

When creating content always keep your existing and prospective customers in mind. If you are generating content for them you are likely to be ticking the ranking criteria for search engines. Good content is essentially about engaging your customers and encouraging them to share. You can do this through keeping your content informative, engaging, easy to digest,  fresh, interesting, interactive, relevant, original and useful. There is a great infographic from Skyword that summarises the essentials of good content as the ‘Three S’s of successful content: Searchable, Snackable and Shareable’. Essentially this means content should be optimised for relevant keywords and phrases (again, this does not mean keyword stuffing!), it should be catchy and bite sized so it meets the demand for ‘on-the-go’ information and compelling enough for readers to want to share.

Ideas for creating quality, engaging content

There are lots of  ways  you can generate quality content for your customers. SmartInsights have created a ‘Content Marketing Matrix’ that is packed full of content ideas to help “Entertain, Inspire, Convince and Educate” customers. It has lots of excellent ideas so is well worth a look. Outlined below are a few ideas to get you thinking about how your business can create fresh, engaging and interesting content that is relevant to your customers and prospects.

  • Engaging in interactive social media such as Facebook or  Google+
  • Creating a blog that contains interesting, digestible information that is appropriate  to your market
  • Publishing market research findings such as trend reports and providing downloadable whitepapers 
  • Regular, informative email newsletters informing customers of your latest news, offers, products or services
  • Entertain customers by running competitions or quizzes
  • Online press-releases  to keep your customers, potential customers and industry contacts informed of developments within your business
  • Creating interesting infographics and visuals
  • Producing online videos such as useful tutorials or demonstrations
  • Introducing an online community discussion forum

Content looks set to remain a key factor for any business looking to succeed online, so spending  time making it as engaging as you possibly can, is time very well spent.

 

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Marketing for small businesses: how to write a successful online news release

online press releaseThe benefits of writing online news releases

Written and distributed correctly, online news releases can be an effective marketing tool for your business. News releases can:

  • Keep your customers, potential customers and industry contacts informed of developments within your business
  • help drive traffic to your site, since fresh, relevant, quality content improves SEO
  • build credibility and awareness of your brand.

When to use news releases and what to write about

Traditionally press releases were sent or faxed to key media contacts and fingers crossed, they would be picked up by a journalist and published through traditional media channels. The web has changed all that by providing businesses with the opportunity to widen their news release audience – enabling their releases to directly reach customers, prospective customers, news sites, bloggers and search engines as well as journalists.

In ‘New Rules of Marketing and PR’ (Scott,D.M 2010) Scott suggests that businesses should:

  • Send news releases frequently – not only when there is really big news
  • Create releases that appeal directly to buyers – not just a small group of journalists
  • Write releases using copy that is rich in keywords and phrases
  • Optimise news release delivery for searching and browsing

So what should you proactively be writing about? For a press release to be newsworthy, the ‘news’ doesn’t always need to be huge. For example you could write a timely news release on:

  • the launch of a new product, feature or service
  • an upgrade to a feature, product or service
  • a new business partnership or affiliation
  • market research findings
  • a new employee announcement
  • company news such as expansion, a special event, a move to new premises, the receipt of an award or anniversary
  • community involvement such as working alongside the community or a charity.

Standard news release format

The format for a news release is fairly standard. Press release distribution agencies may vary the format slightly, but the key elements remain the same. Make sure you follow a standardised format as it will give your release credibility and increase the chances of getting it picked up and published. A typical format would include:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  These words should appear in the top left hand corner of your release

Headline:  This needs to grab readers attention so make it  strong and engaging – but try to keep it short (remember search engines have limits to the number of characters they display in a headline)

Dateline:  For example: Bristol, UK, 1st October 2013

Body:

Opening paragraph. This should be a short, lead paragraph that captures your reader’s attention and  tells the reader succinctly what your news is – remember the who, what, when, where, why rules.

Centre paragraphs. This is where you tell your news release story. Use statistics and resources here to support your release.

Final Paragraph – This is a summary paragraph where you restate the key points of your overall press release. You can also provide an opportunity for the reader to obtain more information.

Boiler Plate:  This contains the background information about the companies or organisations featured in the press release

Contact information: This should include contact person, company name, phone, fax, email and actual address

### or ENDS:  This indicates that it is the end of the release

Do’s and Don’ts when writing a press release

Do keep it in third person and write objectively

Do keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Remember your press release should be between 300-800 words – no longer

Do use headings and sub headings

Do proofread your release. Check and double-check for grammar and spelling mistakes

Do keep it professional –  a news release is not the place for informal communication

Do include supporting resources –  such as relevant statistics, quotes, infographics and links to source materials

Do use images, graphics, and bullet points to break up text

Do use keywords and phrases that are relevant to your topic area

Don’t  use the words ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ unless it’s within a quotation – remember you are not writing sales or marketing copy.

Don’t use  a news release as an advertisement  tool

Don’t  keyword stuff  or use excessive links (search engines will pick up on this as spam)

Don’t include any information that isn’t timely or accurate

Don’t use excessive technical or industry jargon (if you do remember you are writing for a broad audience so explain jargon where necessary)

Don’t put email addresses in the body of the press release (search engines will pick up on this as spam)

Don’t use all CAPITAL letters, exclamation points or deliberately exaggerated words (such as ‘amazing’ or ‘astonishing’)  to emphasise anything

Distributing your online news release

You can distribute your own press releases by building up a database of relevant industry contacts. Alternatively you could use a press release distribution company, such as PRWEB, Businesswire or  Online PR Media. They will distribute your news release to their large networks of news sites and search engines on your behalf.

You should also make sure you have a news or press release area on your website. This is where you put your releases, ideally in date order with latest news at the top. Then proactively promote your news release to your customers. For example put a link to the latest news on your news page in your email newsletter and on your social media sites.

Content, Content, Content…

Essentially a successful press release comes down to quality content. It is only through providing newsworthy, relevant and engaging content that your release will get found, read, posted on Facebook, retweeted and blogged about.

 

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

SEO Basics for Beginners – Part 2

SEO for beginners

Simply put, the more visitors you have on your website, the more opportunities you will have to make a sale. SEO is about increasing the number of visitors to your website.

SEO Basics for Beginners Part 1 of this blog looked at what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is and why it is essential in helping drive quality traffic to your website.

Part 2 looks at how to get started and the key marketing tools to use.

Where is a good place to start SEO?

We probably need to start by pointing out that there is no quick fix to SEO.  It requires time and effort and needs to be looked at as an on-going, longterm marketing activity. However, “marketers who commit to the effort required in creating quality content can improve their SEO positions” (Kaci Bower, www.sherpablog.marketingsherpa.com)

We mentioned in Part 1 that successful  SEO centres around creating fresh, relevant and authoritative content.  So how do we go about ensuring our content is exactly that?

There are three key areas to focus on when starting Search Engine Optimisation.

  1. Keyphrase Analysis
  2. On-page optimisation
  3. Link building

1. Keyphrase analysis

Before spending time optimising your website for the keywords you think people will find your site with, find out what they are actually looking for instead.

It’s straightforward enough to find out what the most number of people type in and search for in relation to your types of products and services. This allows you to optimise your website for the best keywords that will result in the most visitors.

Ensuring all your content is relevant and customer focused is integral to achieving good search engine ranking. Key phrases are the words that users type in to the search engine query box when performing a search, therefore achieving keyphrase relevancy  is essential as this is what the search engine is looking for.

The first step is being able to identify the keyphrases your customers are likely to type in the search engine when looking for a product or service. Spending time researching your customers and competitors is important. There a number of great tools available to help with this. For example Google Adwords offers Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator, these tools are free , you just need to set up a free Google Adwords account.

Without having to spend any money on a Google ad campaign you can use the Google Adword Keyword Tool to show you how popular a keyword or keyphrase is to estimate how many are searching for those terms. Utilising these research tools can help you make more informed choices when look at creating relevant and authoritative content.

Google keywords search tool

When you are in the Google keyword search tool, start by typing in the keywords you are thinking of using or phrases about the products and services you are selling. When you click the Search button for those keyword phrases, Google will then give you the number of monthly searches for a whole bunch of related phrases and keywords.

You will then be able to determine the keywords and phrases which receive the most searches each month which will help you optimise your website to attract the largest reaching audience.

Find google keywords with the most visitors

2. On-Page Optimization

On-page optimisation is the process of ensuring that the content on your website matches the key phrase queries searched for by your customers and is central in achieving search engine relevancy. Essentially it involves making many small adjustments to areas of your website that make it easier for search engines to crawl through and understand the content of your web pages.

“Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes may seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” (Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide)

The free SEO guides we’ve listed at the end of this blog will really help you in this area since, as we’ve mentioned, on-page optimisation means making lots of little tweaks to your web pages such as title tags, alt tags, meta tag,  URL and so on.

3. Link building

So we know content needs to be relevant but search engines are also looking for authority. A key factor in search engines determining whether a website can be considered authoritative is how many external / inbound links it has (these are links into your site from another third party site). Remember though links  need to be high quality and relevant.

Creating valuable content helps generate inbound links from quality sources. You should look at becoming a bit of an ‘expert’ in your area of business you could for example think about creating a business blog writing posts relevant to the products and services you are selling or the audience you are trying to attract.  Two great free hosted blogging tools which are easy to set-up and use are WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger. You can then link to your blog from your website and link to your website from your blog.

You can also proactively build inbound links by identifying and linking up with partner sites such as trade associations, suppliers, relevant media sites, press release distribution sites and social networks. Finding other peoples blogs and news sites and offering to guest post an article will also allow you to write useful and helpful content which also builds backlinks to your website.

Content, content, content!

SEO is about creating quality content that is customer focused, relevant and authoritative. Increased search engine visibility really will help drive traffic to your website, but don’t forget SEO should be looked at long term and as an ongoing marketing commitment. There is no quick fix SEO but it is low cost and investing some time and effort in on-page optimisation, keyphrase relevancy,  customer focused content and increasing inbound links can see real and sustained results over time.

Want to find out more?

Hopefully Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog has given you a better understanding of SEO. If you are interested in exploring this area in more detail below we’ve listed below some excellent free resources that will help get you started.

Free search engine optimisation guides:

MOZ Beginners guide to SEO:  http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/

Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide:  http://www.google.co.uk/…/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf

Tools for help with keyword analysis

Google Adwords  – Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator (once you’ve signed in to adwords just click on Tools and Analysis then Keyword Tool or Traffic Estimator):

http://www.adwords.google.com

Search engine guidelines (how to ensure you are using white hat techniques!)

Google Webmaster Guidelines (especially Quality Guidelines section)

http://support.google.com/webmasters

  1. Keyphrase analysis

SEO Basics for Beginners – Part 1

SEO for beginnersIf you have heard of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) but are not quite sure what it involves and what exactly it means for your online business, then we hope this quick guide outlining the basics of SEO will help get you started.

Having, at the very least, a basic understanding and working knowledge of SEO is essential for any online business, since fundamentally the process of improving your ranking and visibility in search engines will result in more ‘quality’ visitors to your website.

In Part 1 we’ll look at what SEO actually is and why you should be building it into your marketing strategy and in Part 2 we’ll examine some tools to help get you started.

What is SEO ?

Definition

So what exactly is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?  In a nutshell SEO is the process of improving the position of your businesses ‘natural’ listing in the search engine results pages (SERPS). Basically put:

  1. The search engine user  (potentially your customer) enters a keyword or keyphrase into a search engine (e.g. Google, Yahoo)
  2. The search engine results pages (SERPS) lists the results in order of relevancy to the keyword/keyphrase query entered by the search engine user. The most relevant and closest match will appear at the top of the ranking.
  3. SEO can help your business improve its natural ranking position on the search engine results pages.

Natural and PPC listings

Okay, so I mentioned ‘natural’ listings, these listings are also referred to as ‘organic’ or ‘unpaid’. They are arguably the most important listings to appear on the search engine results pages as they are the listings the majority of users click on. Natural listings are the ones you can improve by putting some time and effort into SEO activities – essentially what we’ll be looking at in Part 2 of this blog.

Before we go further with SEO, it is also important to mention the listings you usually see directly above and to the right hand side of the natural listings on the search engine results pages.  These are paid or sponsored listings and are known as ‘PPC’ (Pay Per Click) or ‘paid search marketing’. When a specific keyword or keyphrase is typed into a search engine then a pertinent PPC advertisement appears on the SERPS – a fee is paid to the search engine for each click through to the advertisement.

The general rule of thumb is that about that about two-thirds of search engine users click on the natural listings – so you can see why it really is important to put time and effort into SEO to improve your SERPS positioning. However, bear in mind that if two-thirds of users are clicking on the natural listings, this means that a third of searchers are still clicking through via the ‘paid’ advertisments. Ignoring PPC completely could mean you miss out on a significant proportion of potential visitors. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches and so in order to maximise visitor traffic you may want to consider a mixture of both paid and non-paid search engine marketing.

What is in it for my business?

Right, back to Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is an essential process for driving good quality visitors to your business. Higher visibility on SERPS will drive more traffic to your website therefore, working towards getting your website on the first page of listings for search queries related to your area of business should be a priority. When you put a query into a search engine,  how often do you trawl through all the results pages the search engine lists? In all likelihood probably not very often. The majority of users look at the first search engine results page only before going back to try an alternative keyphrase search.

SEO does require time and effort but the good news is if you do the groundwork you are more likely to sustain your position long term. Once you have reached a good ranking page through SEO work with an on-going commitment it is then easier to maintain your position.

What is the search engine looking for?

So, what exactly is the criteria the search engine looking for when a user types in a search query? It actually considers numerous factors but the most important thing to the search engine is who can provide the closest, most relevant match from the most authoritative source. So essentially those websites considered authoritative with closest matching relevant content are going to score higher with search engines.

In days gone by websites could improve their SERPS rankings by simply packing their websites full of relevant keywords and sometimes involved manipulative practices now considered black hat such as keyword stuffing and cloaking. These days search engines are a lot more clued up and penalise business that don’t follow their recommended guidelines.

A good solid principle to follow to ensure you don’t fall foul of search engine criteria is quite simply to ensure you create fresh, relevant and authoritative content. We’ll be looking at ways to do this in part 2 of this blog.