So, why does your small business need a marketing plan? Because you are a business! Just as you need a balance sheet to know what’s going on financially in your company, you need a plan and an analysis of what’s going on in other areas of your company. Having “the general idea” in your head only takes you so far a well thought-out, written plan can help take you to the next level.
What is marketing? As some of you may remember from a college course way (way!) back, a basic explanation is to go through the 4 P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Place, Promotion. What is your product, how is it priced (comparatively in the market), where do you sell it, and how do you promote it? It’s the process that moves the product to the consumer. Marketing is creating a customer, getting someone interested in your product. Sales is actually selling them something!
What is a marketing strategy? A tool to accomplish your objectives. You want to be the most successful art gallery in town how will you accomplish that? By offering what everyone else has, but at the lowest price? By offering something that no other gallery has? By selling online only? It’s your plan, you decide.
How do you come up with a marketing plan? There are four major elements to start with:
Industry Analysis: What’s happening in the industry, trends, what’s on the cutting edge. Then, where do you fit in with that? Where would you LIKE to fit in with that?
The Competition: Who are your competitors, where are they, how big or small, what are their strengths and weaknesses. This is a huge category spend some time thinking about this. Your competitor is not just the other art gallery down the street, it’s anyone who sells anything that a consumer can perceive as decorative, and that includes brick and mortar stores, the internet, catalogues, sidewalk art shows, you name it.
Your competitive advantage: What sets you apart from these competitors? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Sometimes, the perceived strengths and weaknesses are just as, if not more important, than the real ones. Does your company have a reputation for a certain characteristic? Is this one you want to foster or get rid of?
Your positioning: What image does the public have of you? You can use market research, formal or informal to determine this. What image do you want them to have of you? You use marketing to accomplish this.
Once you have done this self and market examination, you can determine your objectives, goals, and strategies. One objective might be to increase sales. The goal in helping accomplish that would be to see an increase of 10% by the end of the year. One strategy would be to increase your product line.
The more information you can gather, the better your marketing plan will be. Just because you determine you want to sell 1000 posters this year does not mean there are 1000 customers who will line up to buy them. Research, research, research.
- Visit your local library to research your industry/business. Read trade magazines, talk to vendors. Join trade organizations.
- Talk to competitors without identifying your intentions and learn about their business and products. (Send your sister in law to shop their gallery! Arm her with a specific list of things to ask about and scope out). You may be able to talk candidly with competitors outside of your geographic area, but as consumers get more savvy and shop around, geographic areas cease to have any meaning.
- Conduct a marketing survey and poll customers/potential customers about their likes/dislikes to evaluate where you stand in their minds.
At the end of this process, or at least along the way, you should be able to answer these questions:
- Who are your customers?
- Where are they located?
- What are their needs and resources?
- Where can you create a demand for your service or product?
- What areas of within your market are growing or declining?
Then you can use the information you have gathered, along with your objectives an goals to create a marketing plan. What do customers want, how am I going to deliver it to them better than anyone else, and where is this going to get me? It may seem after the fact to do this kind of analysis when you have already been in business for many years, but the fact is the world and people’s tastes change continually; self evaluation and an honest look at where you fit into your market are the only way to keep changing along with it.