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Successful Marketing Requires Careful Planning
By Lee Amon

Small companies and independent consultants rarely have marketing at the top of their list of priorities. In fact, it often isn't even on the list. Yet our experience has shown us that consistent, well-executed marketing can help any size business increase profits and withstand downturns or changes in market conditions. Effective marketing increases awareness of your offerings, leading to new customers and more business from existing customers.

How does a small business or independent consultant with limited resources and time manage a marketing effort? The answer is twofold: planning and perseverance. Think Before You Market You decide to start a marketing campaign, perhaps with a new brochure, an advertisement, a newsletter, or even a Web site. What's the first thing you do? If your answer is sit down at the computer and start to write, think again. Even seasoned marketing professionals often plunge into creating content and design-they know their business and the technology and mistakenly think that all that's left is writing it down clearly. But without planning, campaign messages won't capture customers' attention.

You're investing time and money creating and executing your campaign. Planning will help you ensure you get a return on that investment. In fact, we tell our clients that 80% of successful marketing occurs at the planning stage. This doesn't mean producing an entire marketing plan like you might see in a large organization. It does mean following six steps that will help you develop targeted messages for your campaign.

1) Identify the target market and profile the customer 

2) Define the problem from the customer's point of view 

3) Define the benefits of your product or service 

4) Build the message and plan the campaign 

5) Select the media and execute 

6) Evaluate and repeat

Step 1: Identify the target market 

A target market is a group of people or businesses with a similar compelling need and the resources to do something about it. The compelling need is the key factor in identifying the target market. Business buyers need to justify their purchases in terms of reduced costs, faster time to market, improved quality, or increased market share. The first step in creating your message is to identify which of these goals is driving your customers and to determine what stands in the way of them meeting this goal. As you identify the target market, pay particular attention to those people who have the authority to sign the contract. You may have convinced an entire department that they need your service, but if you haven't convinced the decision maker who controls the budget, you won't get the contract. 

Step 2: Define the problem from the customer's point of view.

  This is the most crucial step in the entire process, and one that even experienced marketers will often overlook. If you can articulate the issues that your customers have to contend with, you will gain instant attention and credibility. Have you seen the IBM ad where a meeting has been conferred to discuss a company's e-commerce Web site being down? The chair of the meeting asks everyone for a status report, and everyone mentions a different vendor who is passing the buck. The chair asks who is in charge of making sure every-thing works together. The response? "That would be you." The ad ends with a close-up of the chair, looking horrified. Why is this ad effective? First, it makes its target audience ask "what if" about a scenario that they may, eventually, have to face. Second, it's targeted directly at the person in charge-a person who does not want to be in the same position as the woman at this meeting.

Step 3: Define the benefits of your product or service. 

Steps 1 and 2 have helped you define the problem. Now, how do you help your customer solve it? All too often, technical marketing materials focus on the features of the product, leaving it to customers to translate the features into benefits. No wonder so many marketing materials wind up in the wastebasket, unread. To go from feature to benefit, go back to the customer problem defined in step 2 and describe how your product or service helps the customer solve it. To see the difference between features and benefits, let's look at some examples from consumer products:

Product Automobile

Problem After my wife drives our car, I have to readjust the seat, the steering wheel and all the mirrors

Feature Dual Memory Settings -

Benefit The driver's seat, steering wheel and mirrors adjust to you. Set them once, and a click resets your seat whenever it is changed

Product VCR Problem The clock on my VCR is never right. I forget to reset it for daylight savings time, and I miss programs I wanted to record.

Feature Auto Setup

Benefit This VCR sets its own clock, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Product Camera Problem By the time I focus, my child has moved. I either don't get the picture, or it is blurry.

Feature Auto Focus . Benefit Perfect pictures, every time.

Notice how much more compelling the benefit statements are. In each case, they appeal directly to the customers and describe how the product will make their lives better. "Auto Focus" is a cool sounding feature, but "Perfect Pictures" are what I want. 

Step 4: Build your message  

Once you have defined the benefits, the hard work is done. Now, you can sharpen the message. Focus on the benefits that you have defined and keep the message simple and clear. 

Step 5: Select the media and execute  

Advertisements, brochures, Web sites, newsletters, direct mail, and email can all be valuable places to deliver your message. The one you choose depends on the message you want to convey, how frequently the message changes, your budget, and the nature of the target market. The medium you choose should be the one that will reach your target most effectively. 

Step 6: Evaluate and repeat 

Many small companies look at marketing as a one-time event. They do an ad, send out a brochure, create a newsletter, or build a Web site. Then they stop, response or no response. Our experience has shown that effective marketing is a continuous process, analogous to dollar cost averaging in investing. A small, consistent effort will be far more effective over time than a much larger campaign done once and forgotten.

Well-planned and executed marketing campaigns can help any size business to increase sales and profits. Effective marketing requires that you do your homework and maintain a consistent effort, but the results are worth it.

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Lee Amon is principal consultant for MarketQwest Associates, a bay area marketing communications firm specializing in marketing for technology and scientific companies. Lee has over 20 years of marketing experience, holding positions with companies such as GE/Calma, Chips and Technologies, and MDL Information Systems. MarketQwest helps clients of all sizes to create effective marketing plans and to turn those plans into compelling marketing materials. To find out more, contact me at 510-796-9820 or lee@marketqwest.com

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