Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning Part 4: Tactics

Soccer tactics on chalkboardOur Small Business Guide to Marketing Planning has been looking at how using a simple marketing framework like SOSTAC can help guide you through all the elements needed to make a marketing plan a useful and relevant tool for your business.

  • Part 1 discussed the value of marketing planning for small businesses and looked at SOSTAC as a planning system.
  • Part 2 examined situational analysis and the importance of understanding where your business currently stands.
  • Part 3 talked about how to write SMART objectives and formulate your marketing strategy.

In Part 4 of our marketing planning guide we look at tactics and the communication tools we can use to achieve the targets we have set our business for the year ahead.

Tactics: How EXACTLY are you going to get there?

So, the market analysis you’ve undertaken means you know where your business currently stands and consequently, you have formulated your goals and objectives. You should have good idea of where it is you want to be. Your strategy has looked at how you are going to achieve your objectives. So the next step is tactics – how exactly are you going to get there? What digital communication tools are you going to use to support your strategy in order to achieve your objectives? The tactics element of your marketing plan is really the detail of your strategy;  it is here you outline the tools you are going to use.

Benefits of digital marketing tools

Digital marketing has brought with it a number of benefits for small online businesses, making it possible (with a bit of investment in both time and effort) to market on a more level playing field with some of the bigger competitors. Digital marketing offers SME’s the benefit of:

  • Lower costs: there are a number of digital tools that small online businesses can utilise without the cost associated with some of the more traditional marketing methods. For example social media, SEO and email  are all tools that smaller business can use without having to incur high marketing costs.
  • Creativity: digital marketing has made it easy to be creative with your marketing – social media, video, games etc. can all be used to pull in potential customers through engaging online content.
  • Interaction with customers: the interactive nature of the web has provided an excellent environment for developing customer relationships. For example, blogs, discussion forums and customer reviews have all made two-way dialogue with customers far easier. Rather than just throwing out messages,  digital tools enable you to pull customers into your site and engage in more meaningful communications.
  • Easier measurement: the digital environment has meant the introduction of online tools like web analytics that can help you measure your performance with more accuracy. Web analytics are simply the tools we can use to measure, collect and  analyse data to better understand our online presence. By using metrics such as traffic source, conversions, bounce rates and so on, small business can more effectively measure the performance of their marketing activity.
  • Immediacy: if you’ve got something exciting to say, you don’t have to wait to shout about it to your customers. Email and social media can be instantaneous. For example if you have something that is time sensitive sending an email promotion to a customer is far quicker (and lower cost), then its offline direct mail counterpart.

Digital Marketing Tools

Obviously the digital communication tools you decide to use will depend on your objectives and strategy alongside available budget and resources. But as a small online business, the key digital tools you may want to consider are likely to include:

  1. Search Engine Marketing (SEM):  the process you go through to increase your page ranking on search engines in order for you to increase you business’ visibility and drive traffic to your site. SEM essentially divides into two,  increasing your ranking through SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and through paid advertising (PPC). Search engine optimisation requires time, effort and commitment but is an essential part of building your business’ presence online.
  2. Online PR: sending out press releases to relevant media can be a great way not only to promote your latest news and developments, but also keeps fresh content coming into your website for SEO purposes, increases inbound links to and builds brand awareness.
  3. Online advertising: interactive online advertising essentially means you advertise your business on a third-party site through a banner ad. Although there are likely to be costs associated with online display advertising, it can be a useful way to increase awareness of your brand and generate direct response from potential customers.
  4. Email Marketing: email is an essential channel for both acquiring new customers and retaining existing customers. Despite worries over the increase in spam, email remains an effective marketing tool. The costs are low (in comparison to direct mail), response can be immediate, it can be quick to deploy, and can be tailored to specific customer segments easily.
  5. Social Media: Engaging with your customers though social media is a great way to give your business and brand a personality. Used thoughtfully, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media sites can help promote your products, help you gain valuable customer insight and help drive new traffic and increase inbound links to your site.
  6. Online sales promotion: Online vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons can be a great sales promotion tool. They can help increase sales, drive traffic and reward customer loyalty.
  7. Content Marketing:  We’ve mentioned it over and over again in previous blogs, but content is the cornerstone of online marketing – it is absolutely central to everything you do. Think about ways to keep content on your site fresh, up-to-date, relevant and interesting. Perhaps look at ways you can increase your content such as through blogging, video demonstrations, customer reviews and competitions. For ideas, I suggest you take a look at a The Content Marketing Matrix from Smart Insights.
  8. Online partnerships: Identifying ways in which you can work in partnership with a third-party to promote your online services can pay dividends by opening your business up to a stream of new and relevant customers. This could be with affiliates, suppliers or complementary businesses and associations.

The final part of our marketing planning guide will be looking at Actions and Control the final two elements of the SOSTAC marketing planning framework.

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

Soccer Game Strategy image by Kromkrathog at FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Small business guide to marketing planning part 2: situational analysis

SWOT signpostIn Part 1 of our guide to successful marketing planning we discussed the importance of putting time aside to plan your marketing for the year ahead.  We looked at the SOSTAC model as a simple and effective framework to follow when creating a marketing plan for your online business.  Part 2 of our guide looks at situational analysis in more detail. Situational analysis is the  first step in putting together a useful and relevant marketing plan.

Situational Analysis : Where are you now?

Before you rush headlong into creating your marketing plan for the year ahead, you need first to have a thorough understanding of where your business currently stands. Without this knowledge you are unlikely to be able to formulate a successful marketing strategy or steer your marketing activity in the direction it needs to go in order to support your overall business goals. Carrying out a situational analysis will provide you with a solid base from which to build the rest of your plan around.

Situational analysis essentially involves reviewing your internal and external environment through carrying out various useful analysis exercises. Including:

  • Customer Insight
  • SWOT
  • PESTEL
  • Competitor Analysis

Customer Insight

Customers should be the central focus of any marketing. Understanding your customer’s characteristics, behaviours and needs is fundamental to whether your business succeeds or fails long-term. Only through having a thorough understanding of your customers can you deliver what they want and achieve customer satisfaction.

Gathering as much data as you can about your customers is important. This could be through quantitative data such as demographics from registration forms, online behaviour from web analytics or more qualitative research such as feedback from social media interactions or lifestyle questionnaires. The more information you have the more you will be able to segment your customers into target markets with shared characteristics and offer more relevant and personalised communications, which in turn is more likely to lead to a higher conversion rates.

SWOT

A SWOT analysis involves looking at your internal environment by  identifying your businesses strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats provided by your external environment. A simple SWOT matrix like the image below  is a useful way to list them : 

SWOT matrix

Performing a SWOT enables you to identify and compare your key strengths and weaknesses alongside opportunities and threats from the external environment. This way you can ascertain the areas you are strong, the areas you can potentially improve, opportunities to exploit and threats you need to manage. Essentially it is about taking advantage of the strengths and opportunities which are going to help you achieve your objectives and identifying and managing any weaknesses or threats that may hinder you achieving your objectives.

PESTEL

A PESTEL analysis looks in more detail at the influences of the surrounding external environment and is a great exercise to get you thinking about external factors you may not have previously considered. PESTEL stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal – obviously some factors will have more of an impact than others:

  • Political – monitoring legislations from national and international governments is important. For example Government’s approaches to the Internet and its use could have a huge bearing on how online businesses operate.
  • Economic – economic factors from different countries can have a wide-reaching impact on the spending power of both individual consumers and organisations – for example what effect might a steep rise in interest rates or changes in exchange rates have on you or your customers?
  • Social – What social trends are occurring? For example the last few years have seen a significant growth in the older generation going online – what opportunities might that offer your business?
  • Technological – changes in the technological environment are often rapid and can have a knock on effect on your business. For example the massive rise in m-commerce has made it imperative that online business are multi-device friendly.
  • Environmental – Ecological and environmental factors may affect how a company operates. For example consumer pressure for fairtrade, sustainable and ethically produced goods may offer opportunities but could also drive up costs?
  • Legal – changes in law can effect how  your  company has to operate. For example how would changes to the data-protection act change how you collect and store customer information?

Once you have brainstormed all the relevant external factors, you can then classify them as high, medium or low impact and identify whether they are a potential opportunity or threat that needs to be managed.

Competitor Analysis

Keeping abreast of what your competitors are doing is of paramount importance as it enables you to gain competitor intelligence that can be fed into your strategy and planning. Competitor analysis is simply the  process of monitoring assessing your competition. We’ve examined competitor analysis in detail in our posts Getting To Know Your Competitors and Competitor Benchmarking – How to Compare Competitors Online, so take a moment to look at these posts as they’ll help you identify your competitor landscape and show you how to gain competitor insight through digital analysis.

Spending some time thinking about and indeed, carrying out some of the analysis we’ve discussed will help ensure that the foundation of any strategy or planning you are undertaking is an accurate reflection of you businesses current situation. It will make certain that your marketing objectives and strategy  are all pointing in the right direction to grow your business and support your business goals. In Part 3 of marketing planning we’ll be looking at  SMART objectives and formulating a marketing strategy.

SWOT signpost image courtesy of Scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

How Cost Cutting Can Propel Your Business into 2014

Guest Author: Edward Hallinan

This article was written by Edward Hallinan on behalf of employee-benefits specialists, Unum. Edward is passionate about start-ups, having set up his own e-commerce music site and experience working for a digital marketing consultancy from the first day of its inception.

Scissors cutting costs

Infographic: Cutting Costs for Business

Good news! The latest research from Barclays and the Business Growth Fund has found that ‘one in five British companies can now be defined as ‘high-growth’’*. More specifically, the report also showed a 3.4% rise in the number of active registered companies in the first half of 2013 – glad tidings indeed for start-ups and SMEs.

But despite a clear bucking of the economic trend that’s blighted businesses for the last decade, now is not the time to act rashly. Indeed, the slump itself was caused by untamed growth, coupled with companies over-borrowing and over-spending. Indeed, that’s why the folks at Unum have collaborated with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks to create the following infographic.

Entitled ‘Cutting Costs for Business’, it goes on to detail just how flippant companies have got with their spending. It found that over 50% of SMEs will go at least 6 months before reviewing costs, with a shocking 14% never reviewing their spending at all! Just in the way you wouldn’t accept a new car insurance quote without consulting a Russian meerkat first, the same applies for businesses – well, perhaps without the meerkat.

As small businesses and start-ups are building from modest foundations, it’s even more pertinent to make sure your company is working at 100% efficiency. For instance, did you know that not only are 75% of all water charges wrong, but also those failing to switch gas and electricity providers could be paying up to 61% too much?

These alarming findings are detailed in the infographic, coupled with strategies to make your business more cost-effective. And while this gives a great insight into the best ways to cut costs, it is by no means a complete list. Just take social media as a prime example. Instead of spending thousands on double page spreads in newspapers which are then thrown away, why not immortalise your marketing and advertising efforts via the world wide web? By utilising Twitter and Facebook, not only can you reach millions in one click (according to Statistic Brain, there were 554,750,000 active registered Twitter users as of July, 2013) but these interfaces are completely free to use!

By employing savvy techniques and updating marketing strategies in this way, coupled with adopting basic cost-cutting principles, you have every chance of rocketing your business into the New Year. Not only that, but keeping stock of spending will allow for steady growth which can be maintained beyond 2014.

Cutting costs for business infographic

References:

* http://startups.co.uk/fast-growing-firms-on-the-rise-in-uk/

Scissors ‘cutting costs’ image courtesy of Patpitchaya at Freedigitalphotos.net

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

Monster mistakes small businesses need to avoid

Frankenstein's monster

Monster Mistakes Small Businesses Should Avoid

Running a successful business is exciting, challenging and can be hugely rewarding. But a sad fact is that a high proportion of SME’s fail within their first few years, many from mistakes that could easily have been avoided.

All businesses are different and there is no one magic formula that will determine whether a business fails or succeeds.  However, avoiding some of the common mistakes made by small businesses and start-ups could make all the difference to long-term success and profitability.

Six common mistakes small businesses make

1. Lack of research

Launching a new business without undertaking  adequate market research is a surprisingly common mistake new businesses make. Often enthusiasm, coupled with a resolute belief in the viability of a particular product or service can mean the important area of research is overlooked. However, before you embark on any business venture it is essential that you have fully researched your market, your customers and your competitors. You must be able to answer questions like; where does your product or service fit into the current market? Who are your target market and what needs do they have? Who are your competitors and what are their strategies? You cannot make informed business decisions without a solid understanding of your market and insight into your customers and competitors.

2. Poor planning

It may not always be everybody’s favourite area of business management, but I can’t stress the importance of proper planning enough. Every business should have at the very minimum a business plan, financial plan and marketing plan. You cannot successfully move your business forward without proper planning in each of these key areas. There are plenty of free resources available (I’ve listed some below) that provide guides on how to put together useful and relevant planning documents for your business.

3. No clear goals

A number of SME’S find themselves floundering because they don’t really have a long-term goal for their business. Every business needs to have a clear vision of what they are working towards and what it is they want to achieve. Without this your business is likely to lack the direction it needs to enable it to move forward. Setting realistic long, medium and short-term goals and objectives will help you focus your precious time and effort into the important areas of the business. Of course goals and objectives are only useful if they  are realistic. So when setting them use the SMART acronym and make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

4. Poor understanding of finance and how it works

Many successful and profitable businesses have failed because they haven’t fully understood the financial elements of their business. You need to be able to manage and monitor business finance closely as it is all too easy lose track of where you are financially. Getting to grips with the monetary aspects of your business such as cash flow, contingency planning, budgeting, forecasting, invoicing and tax is essential. Either spend time learning about these elements yourself or call in some expert help. Either way finance not an area to be left to chance.

5. Overlooking marketing

Ignore marketing at your peril. A surprising number businesses make the mistake of assuming that their product is so amazing that it will sell itself and customers will simply come to them. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. You need to raise the visibility of your business in order to drive traffic and sales.  It is essential that you put time and resources into marketing strategy, planning and implementation. No matter how small your budget, with time and planning there are plenty of low-cost inbound marketing tactics you can undertake to help drive traffic and increase sales. Have a read of the attached blog from SmartInsights for a few helpful tips to get you started. http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-platforms/business-blogging/inbound-marketing-small-businesses-and-start-ups/

6. Trying to wear too many hats

As a small business owner it is tempting to try to do everything yourself which means you can end up putting all your time energy into areas that don’t warrant it. Don’t be afraid to outsource where you can. That way you can actually focus on the business  areas that you need to in order to move your business forward, rather than being bogged down in issues that someone else could quite easily manage.

Useful resources

There are plenty of free resources out there that can help you get started and equipped with the knowledge you need to avoid some of the common pitfalls that we’ve outlined above.

http://www.gov.uk/starting-up-a-business

http://www.gov.uk/business-finance-explained

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/startingup/index.htm

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk/starting-a-business/small-business-advice/2388358/planning-for-your-first-year-in-business.thtml

http://www.startupdonut.co.uk

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk

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