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Shooting in the Dark is *NOT* a Strategy; Why You Need a Marketing Campaign Plan

marketing-campaign-planAs entrepreneurs, we spend a lot of time reading about and implementing tactics that we hope will bring us loads of new email subscribers/new customers/mega awesome sales.

Tactics are wonderful, but without a clearly defined niche marketing strategy (and some well-thought out goals) to guide them, they are unlikely to be effective.

So I’m compelled to tell you how to plan a marketing campaign.

Or… perhaps it would be more fun to tell you how NOT to plan it.

We’ve worked with lots of clients who want to try every marketing tactic they can think of hoping one of them will stick. They don’t develop a strategy, which should be part of a business plan that doesn’t suck;  they choose instead to throw darts randomly. It might sound something like this:

“I heard that Pinterest grew faster than any social networking site ever has before! Everyone’s on Pinterest. I better use it for my business so I can reach everyone.”

“I don’t want to limit myself to just one kind of customer because my market is everyone! I’m going to run a campaign on a group buying site because it’s all the rage, and that way more people will find out about my business.”

I know an entrepreneur is falling into the shot in the dark trap when I’m reviewing someone’s business plan and they’ve written in the marketing section “ABC Company will employ a full range of marketing activities including social media, web and print advertising, and word of mouth to gain loyal customers.”

Yeah…cuz that’ll work…since it’s so specific and all.

Without a “how” and a “why” to justify the way you’re spending your marketing budget, how will you get lenders, investors, or anyone who reads your plan to take you seriously?

This Post Isn’t about Defining your ONE Ideal Customer

But this one is. So if you haven’t yet figured out who you want to market to, go read that post and then make your way back here. 😉

But let’s say you do know exactly who you want to sell to. How can you use your business plan to inform the marketing strategy, and ultimately the tactics, that will get your perfect clients to buy, buy, buy?

Get Laser Focused on Product Benefits

Your ideal customer is super specific, so your marketing should be, too. The first thing to do when you’re planning to start marketing online is to define the unique benefits of your product and how they appeal to that specific customer. Don’t do what Absolut Vodka did. Stick to benefits that are not only politically appropriate, but based on thorough research of your ideal customer. You have to know exactly what that customer will want from your product and how they’re fulfilling that need right now. Once you know that, you’ll be able to explain how your product fulfils that need better. You’ll do that by describing benefits, not features. Here’s an example.

Daisy Chain Boot Company sells rubber gumboots that come in really neat designs and are guaranteed to stay waterproof for life. Their ONE ideal customer is 22 years old, about to finish university, still lives with her parents but has a part-time job (so she has some disposable income). She’s smart with her money (her parents taught her well) and buys things that last, because she’s concerned about her impact on the environment. She’s also very fashion-forward. Oh, and she happens to live in Seattle where it rains. A lot.

Daisy Chain’s boots have some features, and those features create benefits for our ideal customer. So all you have to do before you start marketing to this young woman is to turn all your features into benefits, and fortunately that’s easy. Just create a table with two columns and list all the features on the left, with the benefits of each feature on the right. Like this:

pic1_shooting_dark

Now when Daisy Chain goes to sell its rubber gumboots, it can implement a marketing campaign plan that will show its ideal customer exactly why she should buy their boots and not the ones at the local department store.

Got it? Good. Here’s the part where you go back to your business plan and enter all the benefits of your products in your Product Overview section so that anyone who reads your plan can tell right away what makes your product so compelling and unique. As long as you’re selling the same product, these benefits won’t really change. It’s good to make them part of your business plan so you can always refer to them when you’re planning any marketing or sales campaign.

Now let’s move on and talk about how to create a plan for marketing all the awesome benefits of the stuff you sell.

How to Market the Awesome Benefits of the Stuff You Sell

There are two approaches you can use, and the place where they converge is where you’re likely to get the most traction. The first approach you’ve probably heard before:

Find out where your ideal customers hang out. What do they read? Are they mobile, online or offline? Do they watch TV? Do they take public transit? Do they like games? Figure out what types of media they consume, and get yourself onto that media.

The second approach works with those benefits we talked about earlier.

Find out what marketing tactics let you most clearly communicate the benefits of your product. Can you explain at least one benefit in a 140-character tweet? If you have a very technical product, maybe not, but perhaps Daisy Chain could. And even though I poked a little fun at it earlier, Pinterest could be a great place to display all the cool benefits of our rubber gumboots, and there’s a good chance our ideal customer is hanging out there, too.

Once you brainstorm a bunch of places your ideal customers are hanging out, and a bunch of marketing tactics you could employ, look for the overlap. If your target customer (use the customer profile template if you need help identifying yours) spends a lot of time reading blogs, and you’re a strong writer (or you can hire one) who has a lot to say about your product and all its complementary products and services, then developing a blog and a newsletter list could be a really effective strategy for you. On the other hand, if your target customer travels a lot and reads mostly business publications, and you can explain your product’s benefits in just a few words, traditional print or online advertising and/or a Twitter campaign might work better.

Whenever you’re considering a certain marketing tactic, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Will my ideal customers even notice this tactic?
  • Is my ideal customer going to respond positively?
  • Can I clearly communicate the benefits of my product through this medium?

By the way, all of this takes research. A lot of relationship marketing strategies are implemented based on “gut feel”, instinct or just the influence of a trusted friend or colleague, and luck plays into those campaigns a lot. Do you want to rely on luck to make your business successful? Because if you do, you’re better off buying a lotto ticket – that takes way less work.

Planning it Out

The research you do on your customers’ preferences and potential marketing ideas will probably help you fill out other sections of your business plan too, but for now we’re just focusing on your marketing plan and creating a marketing plan outline. By now, you should have a list of core marketing concepts that each have a reasonable chance of succeeding. For bonus points, you can also put together your communications plan. You don’t have to implement them all, but in your business plan, you can discuss each one – and, you’ll have some justification for why you chose it. Lenders and investors will appreciate this. So will anyone else who reads your plan – including you, in case you need a little refresher when launching and growing your business gets overwhelming.

Having a plan’s starting to sound like a great idea by now, I hope.

What other marketing campaign planning tools have you tried? What has worked well, and what didn’t?

About Jessica Oman

Jessica's outside-the-box approach to business plan writing has helped her clients collectively raise almost $50 million in financing to start and grow new businesses. Sign up for her 5-part business plan training series for FREE here so you can get your business plan done and get your money sooner.

9 comments

  1. Amandah says:

    I downloaded a couple marketing strategy templates and use them. In fact, I just did this for my client and will be speaking with her tomorrow about how to market her eBook.

    Grab a yellow legal pad and brainstorm about ‘who’ your ideal client is. Who are they? What are their demographics? Where do they hang out? Are they purchasing from your competitors? If they are, look at them and see how they’re marketing to your ideal client. What works? What doesn’t work?

    It’s better to invest the time and energy in the beginning, instead of fumbling around in the dark later.

  2. Donna says:

    Thanks for writing this, Jessica! I know that so many small businesses put tactics before strategy, and it can be challenging to convince them that they need to determine objectives and strategy first. The other issue I run into in my work with small businesses, is they employ a tactic without predetermining what result they expect, in what time frame they expect to see they result, and how they will measure those results, so they don’t know how to tell what is and isn’t working.

    1. Jessica says:

      Yes! And while there’s something to be said for experimentation when it comes to marketing, you still need those metrics in place so you can clearly see the results of your experiments.

      It’s hard to determine what to measure, which is probably why people don’t consider what results to strive for. Because it takes planning. And planning takes time. And most of us feel like we already don’t have enough time!

      Planning isn’t sexy, but putting time in up front will save plenty later on. Thanks Donna!

  3. Jessica says:

    It is such a luxury to be able to be responsive, isn’t it? That’s definitely part of the fun of being a small business owner. The consequences of “getting it wrong” in a very small business are generally minor and in a worst case scenario, they’re simply ineffective, and you can try again. It’s definitely harder for larger companies, and even the most meticulous planning can have disastrous results.

  4. Roberta Budvietas says:

    Celeste, we have awards for best and worst ads here in NZ. It always amazes me how the same ad will sit in both categories. I remember working on a campaign for a large company and we had done all the research and identified our ideal client. Unfortunately, we got it wrong and it cost the company over $1m in advertising and product.
    One thing I love about being a small business is that I can be nimble and adjust what I say and do to meet client needs. I love the email Danny sent that linked to this post.
    Great message Debbie and Danny
    1. We ALWAYS put our customer’s needs before our own.
    2. We are not driven by money, but by serving people and doing what we love. (We know that the money will come as a result of that.)
    3. We take care of the people who take care of us: customers and employees alike.
    4. We set boundaries of mutual respect, and use negativity as a tool for change, and nothing else.
    5. We don’t waste time trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths, but instead, surround ourselves with people who’s strengths are our weaknesses.
    6. We don’t know what “failure” is because we inherently see it as a lesson learned.
    7. We look for guidance and learn from the people who are where we want to be because they’ve done what we have to do. (As opposed to those who are there because it was ‘given’ to them.)
    8. We know the difference between re-inventing the wheel and trying something new.
    9. One of our greatest strengths is being able to adapt and “turn around on a dime”.
    10. And most important, we never stop. We are ALWAYS listening, learning, looking around and planning ahead.

  5. Horace says:

    Sometimes when I work with the tech start-up, I just wish they can think it thoroughly before launching their product especially when the market is full of similar products.

    I had been in a networking event where I had 10 web design firms in the event. Even I try to probe on what do they do specifically, they still telling me the generic stuffs. I will just call the designer in my phone book. 🙂

    Just one point to add-on for start-up and independent consultant. Not only you need to find the marketing approach your ideal clients like, and the best marketing techniques to promote the benefits, you also need to find the marketing approach you felt comfortable with, and then blend them together along the way.

    Have fun!

    1. Jessica says:

      Thanks for your comment, Horace. We’ve noticed a lot of generic marketing talk among tech firms too. I think it’s because most tech firms are looking for a critical mass for their products, so their strategy is necessarily very broad, because they want to capture a large audience. Still, they would benefit from defining their different market segments so they can clearly articulate who they want using their products and services.

      And you’re absolutely right – as the business owner you do need to find a balance between what marketing tactics your audience will respond to and what activities you’re comfortable with. But that’s all part of the planning process.

  6. Celeste says:

    I am always stunned when companies (large and small, new or well established) fail to understand who their ideal customer is and go off offending them by trying to be humorous or cute in a marketing campaign. I think that one of the main mistakes is that they imagine their customer as being exactly like them and don’t have any demographic data to back up their hunches on who is really in the market for what they are selling. Do homework, get data, formulate a plan. If you do not, your “target marketing” could be a case of Ready, Fire, Aim.

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