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

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Getting To Know Your Competitors

Competition in Business

Getting to know your competitors is essential for any business – whether big or small, an established brand or new start-up. Love your competition because not only does it keep you on your toes and motivate you, but knowledge is power and understanding your competition provides you with lots of interesting information that can be used to mould your business and shape your marketing strategy.

I have always loved the competitive forces in this business. You know I certainly have meeting where I spur people on by saying “Hey, we can do better than this. How come we are not out ahead on that?” That’s what keeps my job one of the most interesting in the world. Bill Gates

Competitor Analysis

Competitor analysis is simply the process of monitoring and reviewing your competition, the products and services they offer and their adoption by their customers. Through this gathering of ‘competitor intelligence’ you can gain real insight that can be used to feed into your business strategy and marketing plans.

When undertaking competitor analysis keep in mind that your overall goal is to collate useful information that puts your business in a better position and gives you a competitive advantage over other companies in your industry.

The competitor landscape

There are a number of questions you should think about being able to answer from the competitor research you undertake. Beginning with a good understanding of who your competitors are.  Your competitor landscape is made up of both direct and indirect competitors. For example in the world of film magazines, Empire probably considers Total Film its most direct competitor, however its competitor landscape would include film bloggers, Guardian film online and even other interest magazines that may get chosen by a potential customer as an alternative reading choice that day.

Identify who your key competitors are but keep in mind the wider competitive environment and don’t forget to include international competitors if they are relevant. Remember if your selection of competitors to research is too narrow or excessively large you will struggle to get meaningful results.

Competitor SWOTCompetitor SWOT analysis

Carry out a competitor SWOT analysis on each of your chosen key competitors. What are their strengths and weaknesses – what do they excel at and what could they improve on? Are they doing anything that could be a threat to you?  For example have they just launched special price promotion,  new product or brand extension? What are they not doing (or doing) that provides a potential opportunity for your business?

When researching and comparing your competition,here are some questions you might find useful to think about including in your analysis:

  1. Where are you in position to your competitors? Who are the major players and who is the market leader. Where does your business fit in? Are you competitors growing  or shrinking?
  2. The four P’s. How do your basic four P’s (product, place, price and promotion) compare to those of your competitors.
  3. What are they doing well and what could they improve? How do your products or services compare with those of your key competitors – for example on quality, price and customer service.
  4. What is your USP and your competitors USP? What might make a customer choose your product or service over your competitors’ offerings?
  5. What partners and affiliations do they have? Are there opportunities here for you to develop similar affiliations with suppliers or associations?
  6. Brand and reputation. How strong is their brand? What is their brand image? What is their reputation within the industry (both with consumers and trade)? How successfully are they promoting their brand?
  7. Trends. What market trends do your competitors appear to be following (or not following)?

Start by researching online

A great starting point for small business is to do some website analysis by looking at your competitor’s websites. Creating a simple comparison table and undertaking an online competitor benchmarking exercise is a good way to get the ball rolling. Think about and compare competitor websites.  From this you can get a great overview of your competitors’ online presence and start  identifying potential gaps, opportunities and areas in which you could improve your own site.

And don’t forget, any kind of  competitor analysis should be continuously reviewed and monitored at regular intervals. Enjoy getting to know your competitors, and remember the better armed you are with valuable information the stronger position you are in for being both reactive and proactive in your business planning.