Marketing communications – what’s the plan?

When small business owners and managers start thinking about how they need to communicate with customers, often the most important part of the process is the one that’s given little thought – planning.

Without a plan it’s possible, if not likely, a business’ marketing communications will end up being haphazard, more expensive than necessary and unsuccessful. So what do you include in a plan? Virtually everything you can think of that will help you determine the best way forward. It’s also wise to ask other people, including, if possible, some of your customers or potential customers. Sometimes you can be too close to the business to know all the answers.

What do you want to achieve through your marketing communications?

It’s always good to have something to aim at. Be specific, be measurable, be achievable and don’t be too conservative. For example, to increase my customer base by 25% in the next financial year is specific, and easy to measure and most likely achievable with a bit of a stretch. You may find you’ll have several aims – list all of them.

Who is your target customer?

Who is your ideal customer? Who is likely to want to purchase your products or services?

Try to add as much detail as possible. For example, you might decide lawyers are one of your target customers, but add to this by listing where they are located, whether you’re targeting small, medium or large firms, and whether they specialise in any particular field. Then think about who makes the decisions in your target firms or households: owners or managers, sex, age, ethnicity, etc.

This work isn’t meant to limit who you would take on as a customer. The details will simply help later when you’re developing your plan, your messages and where and how you deploy them.

What are your products or services?

This might seem obvious, but surprisingly a lot of business owners/managers don’t necessarily know much about their products and services and can’t describe them in a way that most people can understand. If there are too many to list, just list the major categories.

Why should people buy your products or use your services rather than your competitor’s (your key selling points)?

Are you the cheapest or are your products or services premium quality? Is your service exceptional? Do you have the biggest range? Do you have free delivery? Do you make a coffee for your customers while they wait? There are too many possibilities to list here but it’s a good idea to list everything that is relevant to your business.

These points are often called your unique selling proposition but I believe you don’t have to be unique to succeed in business. You just need to do what you do well, and promote yourself just as well.

Does your business have a key message (e.g. McDonalds – I’m lovin’ it)?

Personally, I like these key messages. They succinctly tell something about your business; something that the customer can expect when they walk through your door (or your virtual door, as is often the case these days.) The key message should go hand in hand with ‘why should people use you’. For example, many businesses have a key message indicating they have the lowest prices, because that is one of their key selling points.

What image is your business trying to portray?

This is another question that goes hand in hand with your key selling points and key message. Do you want to be seen as professional, stylish, cheap, glamorous, etc.? Remember, it’s no point simply trying to portray an image in words; you have to live it. In my experience, customers don’t like businesses who can’t deliver what they say they can.

What is your budget for marketing communications?

You don’t need to spend a fortune and, if you’re like most small businesses, you may want to do thing a bit at a time. Get your business cards now, then a few months later a website. Next year, invest in a flyer and start an email marketing campaign. However, don’t be stingy; not spending enough money on marketing communications can hurt your business.

What skills do you have in your small business? Can anyone write, take photos or design a website.

Ask your staff – if you have any staff – as you may be surprised.

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