Where Do You Do Business? Developing a Marketing Plan

Where Do You Do Business? Developing a Marketing Plan

In the past several articles, we have discussed the steps to creating a marketing plan for your business and questions to ask: what problem you solve, what questions do you answer, and who are the people that you serve. In this article, I will cover the fourth question, and that is, “where do you do business?”

Where and how you operate is one of the key elements in creating a successful marketing strategy. Some refer to this stage as identifying the competition or developing a competitive analysis, but fully answering this question involves more than this.

Sales Channels

The first step in assessing where you do business is identifying your sales channels. A sales channel is:

“A way of bringing products or services to market so that they can be purchased by consumers. A sales channel can be direct if it involves a business selling directly to its customers, or it can be indirect if an intermediary such as a retailer or dealer is involved in selling the product to customers.[1]

Sales channels could include your brick and mortar store, your sales force, your website, resellers, or referral networks such as those that are common in the construction industry. A simple way of thinking about a sales channel is that it is the way your product or service gets to the buyer.

Let’s use an example with which many people are familiar . . . Girl Scout cookies. A Girl Scout troop and the individual Girl Scout has five sales channels to use in their promotional efforts: direct selling going door-to-door, selling through their social media profiles, selling through their online cookie sales page, and selling at cookie booths.

Looking at a restaurant as another example, the majority of their sales will very likely be through their brick and mortar location with customers walking in to dine. However, they might also have an online ordering and delivery service, which would be a second channel, and participate in services like GrubHub and UberEats as a third and fourth. Then they have a catering service promoted by a catering manager giving them a total of five channels.

Each of these sales channels may have different costs associated with them and the dynamics of the selling environment may be very different. Once you have identified the sales channels for each of your products and services, the next step is to analyze the sales environment for each of those sales channels.

Operating in Community

Every business operates in one or more communities. I like this definition of community, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.[2]” A community is not just a location, but a binding element among the group. Each of your sales channels will be operating within a unique community. For example, a brick and mortar store will be operating in a community defined by its physical location. A company that wholesales their product will be operating in a community defined by industry rather than solely geographic location (although location will likely also influence sales).

An online sales channel will operate in its own unique community . . . no one competes against the entirety of the internet. This community may be defined by a network of blogger or influencers. The online community in which a local business competes may be made up of feedback on online community forums for the local area, community websites, and reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook. When someone enters the digital counterpart to a geographic community, who are the players and where is the information found?

Competition

After you have identified each sales channel and defined each community for each channel, the next step is to identify and analyze the competition in each space. This may seem straightforward, but often competitors are overlooked.

Let’s look at a housecleaning service, which can’t be ordered online or fulfilled by a company out of the area. A housecleaner will be competing against other housecleaning businesses which will be listed in business directories, but they will also be competing against individuals who clean as a side gig, high school or college students cleaning houses as a summer job, and the largest group . . . homeowners who clean their homes themselves. When developing a marketing campaign, these different competitors require a different strategy.

When presenting the advantages of working with your business versus another housecleaning business, you might focus on your reputation, longevity in the community, and value (which is not always the same as price.) For those potential customers considering hiring a nonprofessional, you might stress your industry associations, experience, reliability ratings, as well as your bonding and insurance. A campaign targeted towards overwhelmed homeowners cleaning their own homes might focus on the ease and relief of hiring a professional.

Once you’ve identified your competition, look at their strengths and weaknesses. What is the makeup of the company, including its size, ownership, and management? What product or service do they offer and how does it compare to yours? What is the competitor’s reputation in the community and what partnerships or affiliations does that competitor have that affects the competitive space? Finally, what promotional strategies are they using and can you estimate their market share?

Identifying the opportunities

Now that you have thoroughly analyzed your sales channels, the community, and your competition, you should have both a feel for the competitive environment as well as some hard numbers. As you researched, what competitive opportunities surfaced? Is there a pocket of the market where you could focus? On the flip side, where are your own business’s areas of weakness and where do you need to improve?

This may seem like a lot of work to develop a marketing plan, but these are all questions that have to be answered to have an effective campaign. Do you begin to see how of these details play a role in developing a message that will speak to your potential customer or client? It does take time but it is important to go through.

If you would like to discuss implementing a marketing strategy for your business, schedule a free call online.


Notes

[1] “Sales Channel,” Business Dictionary, n.d., accessed February 18, 2019, http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/sales-channel.html.

[2] “Community,” Oxford Living Dictionaries, n.d., accessed February 18, 2019, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/community.

In the case of a competitive environment, the group is made up of entities and organizations.

Who are the People You Serve? Developing a Marketing Plan

Who are the People You Serve? Developing a Marketing Plan

One of the key elements in developing a marketing plan is identifying the people your business serves and using that to craft your content and marketing plan. Previously, we identified the problems that you solve and we looked at the different ways to identify the problem, or pain points, of your customers. What motivates them to buy your product or service.

Taking Example from Fiction

In the next step, we are going to identify your ideal customer or client, often this is described as a “buyer persona.”

When you write a novel, you develop characters and great characters are fully fleshed out, at least in the author’s mind even if all those details don’t immediately present themselves on the page. Good characters have a backstory, the author knows where they grew up, the composition of their family, their likes and dislikes, their career history, and how they interact with their friends. When an author has a fully fleshed out character, how they react to a particular situation has a ring of authenticity. When we read The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, we can anticipate how characters will react in a situation because he has painted such a clear picture of who they are. His world building was far more extensive than the novels themselves.

Buyer Persona Goals

You don’t have to go to Tolkien lengths in developing your buyer personas, but you do want to go into enough detail that those personas can serve as a guideline for creating your content and marketing strategies. The goal of the buyer persona is to help you create effective communication to that ideal buyer. Whatever you write or create should be developed with one of those personas in mind. For every product or service line that your business has, you have one or more types of buyers. There may be overlap between those types, but often the buyer groups can be extremely different.

Buyer Persona Templates

Creating a buyer persona template can help you work through and define the characteristics of each type of buyer.

 

Title the persona, begin to describe that person. Who are they? What is their background? In what demographic group do they fall? What are their core values and how do they think about things? What are their interests and affiliations, for example, are they a member of any professional organizations or do they come to you from a specific community or group? How do they like to communicate? Millennials and younger will prefer texts while Boomers will prefer a phone call, or better yet, a face-to-face contact.[1]

Next, consider what that buyer is looking for and what they will take into consideration when they make their buying decision. What challenges are they facing that is prompting them to buy? What obstacle might prohibit them from doing so? What are their main concerns and objections? What are their needs, and finally, what is their primary goal for this buying decision?

Once you’ve worked through these questions, identify the primary product or service you offer that they would be interested in. After you’ve “gotten into the head” of this buyer persona, you will probably also have a pretty good idea of what their primary motivation is in their purchasing decision.

Finally, articulate why this particular type of buyer will buy from you over a competitor.

Buyer Persona Matrix

Now that you have your clearly defined buyer personas, it’s time to distill that information down into a buyer persona matrix as an easily accessed reference. This will be used as you develop your marketing campaigns and individual promotional pieces.

Create a chart with the name of each of your buyer personas along the top. In each line, list the core characteristics to keep in mind.

If you are a B2B company, the items on the characteristics axis might include the position of the person, their background, their needs, goals, and main challenges. A business to consumer company might include gender, age, the product line, the social media network that persona prefers, “hot buttons,” and relevant hashtags.

There is no hard and fast rule on how a buyer persona matrix must be. It is a tool to keep your messaging on point.

 


Notes

[1] “The Evolution of Communication from Boomers to Gen Z | NDMU Online,” Notre Dame of Maryland University, last modified February 6, 2019, accessed February 10, 2019, https://online.ndm.edu/news/communication/evolution-of-communication/.

What Types of Questions Do You Answer: Developing a Marketing Plan

What Types of Questions Do You Answer: Developing a Marketing Plan

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve talked about creating a marketing strategy for your business.  So far I’ve covered 3 steps to creating a marketing plan and identifying what problem your business solves.

Today we are going to talk about what question your business answers.  This is related to the types of problems your business solves but it is broader and covers more of the educational aspects.

So, for example, if you have a plumbing business and you are trying to think of topics to include in your content strategy, you can talk about the types of services you offer, the problems that you solve.  This is all information that a potential customer might need to know to understand why your service is the best choice for them.

Speaking about plumbing, I was just reading about the situation in Flint, Michigan and their water supply.  I think almost everyone is aware that in 2014,[1] there were dangerous levels of lead[2] found in the tap water.  There were several things that played a role leading to this: the switching of the water source, the lack of treatment of the water, and the old lead pipes going to the homes themselves that the water leached from.  Part of the challenge for government officials was explaining the factors and the problems involved because citizens had to be part of the solution.

The more complex the product or service you offer, the more important it is to explain the issues related to your industry.

The choices are: explain what you do or be prepared to compete on price alone. There is no other alternative.  Fortunately, businesses are able to communicate this information easily through content marketing.  This includes articles, informative images, videos, and audio.

The more complex the product or service you offer, the more important it is to explain the issues related to your industry.

The choices are: explain what you do or be prepared to compete on price alone. There is no other alternative.  Fortunately, businesses are able to communicate this information easily through content marketing.  This includes articles, informative images, videos, and audio.

The best way to determine what those questions are is simply by paying attention to the questions you are asked. Keep a notebook of questions that come up during phone calls or conversations with customers.  What are the things that you tell people over and over again?

I have a lot of articles related to domain registrations, not because I focus on selling registrations, but because that is something that has come up frequently over the years: people forgetting to renew their registrations and losing them to a domain squatter, domains being held hostage by a sketchy domain or hosting provider, or being outright hijacked.

Even though the problem my business solves does not involve domain registration, since we develop, manage, and promote websites, having control and proper security on a business’s domain is a top priority. Website promotion doesn’t do any good if those urls are directed somewhere else.

So even if it isn’t something you specifically offer, if there is an issue that impacts what you do, then include that in your potential list of topics.

The second way to discover questions people are asking is to simply look at the questions people use to reach your web site.

This used to be one of the most valuable reports for content marketing. Server statistic programs such as AWstats and Google’s own Analytics service would display the search queries, the words a site visitor entered into the search bar, to reach your site.

However, several years ago, search engines began to encrypt those queries, blocking their display in site analytics, if the user was logged into that search engine. Now only a fraction of search keywords display in your site analytics . . . But use what you have.

The third way to discover the types of questions people are asking is by looking at the suggested search phrases that Google provides with almost every search. There are three places this can be easily found: the list of related searches that displays at the bottom of the search results pages, the related questions that sometimes appear in search results, and in suggested searches that display as you being to type your query into Google’s search bar.

The fourth way you can find the questions your potential customers are asking is by looking at comments and questions asked on forums and social media. Quora is a general question and answer site, but depending on your type of business and where you operate, this might be in topical or special interest forums, in the comments of a popular blog related to your industry, or in a Facebook or LinkedIn group.

This leads to the topic of next week’s article, which is identifying the people you serve. Stay tuned.

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Notes:

[1] Cedric Taylor, “Flint’s Water Is Now Safe to Drink – but the Crisis Has Corroded Residents’ Trust in Government,” CityMetric, last modified May 16, 2018, accessed January 9, 2019, https://www.citymetric.com/politics/flint-s-water-now-safe-drink-crisis-has-corroded-residents-trust-government-3895.

[2] Sara Ganim and Linh Tran, “How Flint, Michigan’s Tap Water Became Toxic – CNN,” CNN, last modified January 13, 2016, accessed January 9, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/index.html.

What Problem Does Your Business Solve?

What Problem Does Your Business Solve?

What is the first question that needs to be answered when creating a marketing plan for your business? I’ve talked a little bit about the “Four P’s” of marketing: place, price, product and promotion. These are all important, but there is something else that needs to be analyzed first.

Let’s go back to the definition of marketing, marketing is the process of identifying a need of a particular group of customers and explaining why your product or service is the best solution for that problem. Examining that definition gives us the very first thing we have to do . . . Define what problems your business solves.

Taking a Tip from “As Seen on TV”

Before the advent of the internet, Youtube, and other social media sites, promotion options for businesses were very different. If you were a local business, your advertising strategy likely consisted of ads in the newspaper and the Yellow pages, some occasional mailers, and maybe if you were a larger business local radio and TV spots. Chain stores relied heavily on mailers, and businesses that produced specialty items would advertise in interest magazines.

But what about those weird products that don’t relate to a specific interest such as fishing or cooking and that wouldn’t attract much attention if they were sitting on a shelf in a store? Many of those products found sales through “As Seen on TV,” an infomercial (what is now known as “news”) service that demonstrated the problem the product solved, otherwise known as the “Unique Selling Proposition.”

One of the most well-known items was “The Clapper” which not only convinced a large swath of Americans that it was simply too much effort to get up and turn off the light, paving the way for Alexa, but it also earned a place in American pop culture with references appearing in movies such as A Night at the Museum and in SNL skits.

The “pain” in these infomercials was often exaggerated, as was the relief at the solutions. Never the less, the ad effectively created the idea that this “problem” was something that could be solved and with just an easy payment of $19.99, life would be a little bit better.

So what is the problem your business solves? If you were creating an “As Seen on TV” ad for your business, what would it look like? What do you want a potential customer to take away from your advertising? What can you do for them?

This is part of our strategy when we work with clients in our “Customer Conversations” program. We identify the hot buttons, or pain points, that potential customers and clients are looking for and design a marketing strategy and content to communicate it.

Being able to articulate the key issues in your industry and how your business effectively solves them is not only important for your general marketing or business plan, it is also critical to understand these points when designing and structuring your business website. Your website should be designed around presenting those solutions. How those solutions should be presented is covered in my upcoming book, 10 Steps to Success with WordPress.

Want to Get Started?

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Three Steps to Creating a Marketing Plan

Three Steps to Creating a Marketing Plan

Tomorrow is the first day of 2019. Do you have a marketing plan for the upcoming year for your business? If not, I’m going to cover three steps to creating a marketing plan.
As I’ve discussed before, marketing is identifying a particular need in a specific group and explaining why your product or service is the best solution for that problem. We talk about the “4 P’s” in marketing: product, place, price, and promotion. In other words, what you are selling and for what price, where it is being offered and how you are telling others about it (promotion.)
Marketing isn’t mystical or mysterious, it is a set of actions taken to achieve a specific goal — the meeting of the customer need — and as a result of meeting that need, your sales goals are reached.

Having defined those terms, how do we begin to line out those actions?

#1 Know Where You’ve Been

If you’ve been in business for any amount of time at all, you have data for a starting point. We have any number of software programs today that make looking at sales and financial data and generating reports easy. The thing is you have to look at them. Those numbers are much more than simply something you compile to submit to the IRS. They are a report of how your business is doing.

When I was in business school, we created a business plan for the university student cinema. We found that the cinema was losing money on every candy bar it sold because it was priced below cost. The students operating the cinema had no idea until they saw the report. At some point, someone priced it and that price was never questioned again.

What were your sales by month? If you offer multiple product or service lines, what was the breakdown of sales between them? Were there variations between months, and if so, can you explain what went on?

Public companies are required to give quarterly reports on their earnings. They have to explain to analysts how their business performed as well as the factors underpinning those results. If you are a private company and don’t have investors, imagine that you have someone to whom you have to give a report.

Create a one page sheet that shows the sales for your product or service (your business lines), your expenses, and the net. Then write a short summary of what happened during the year.

# 2 Define Where You Want to Go

Now that you have defined your starting point, the next step is to define what you want to achieve. Often, businesses will create long-term business plans, for example, 5-years or 10 years, and then the annual marketing plan is designed to further that long-range plan. However, if you don’t already have one in place, begin with a one year plan. Where do you want to be December 31, 2019?

What are your goals? Maybe you want to increase sales by 20%, add a new business line, or open a new location.

Identify the Steps to Reach Your Goal

Once you know where you are and where you want to go, the next step is to identify the steps needed to reach that goal. Looking back at past and current activities will very likely be your most valuable resource in creating these steps. Look at variations in your sales and your net, both the peaks and valleys. Do you know what caused them? Do more of what worked and less of what didn’t work.

Are there new strategies you would like to implement? There are two ways to increase sales. The first is to get more customers. The second is to sell more to existing customers. It is much more expensive in terms of marketing and promotion to obtain new customers versus increasing sales to existing customers. However, marketing to existing customers is not free and it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to have a plan for that as well.

If you focus on nothing else, my recommendation is to have a solid plan for deepening relationships with existing customers. This is part of the reason we created our “Customer Conversations” program. It is more than content marketing, it is designed to create “brand evangelists” among your customer base.

Over the next several weeks, I will be giving tips on how to use your business website as part of that marketing plan. My book, “10 Steps to Success with WordPress” is coming out in April 2019 and these tips will tie into the concepts in that book.

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

Tomorrow is Christmas and then we have a little lull before 2019 comes in with a roar. 

Christmas is a time when we consider our blessings and show our appreciation to those around us.  As I discussed a couple of weeks ago, the focus of your business should not be on the bottom line alone.  True success and a lasting legacy is determined by the impact that you make on those around you. 

Your Business as a Good Citizen

If you run a business, you have a wide reach.  Businesses play an important role in making the community they are a part of a desirable place to live.  We have many small businesses in our area that make our community a special place to be by investing in and giving back. 

Each business is also a community in itself.  As you finish out the year and look at your year-end reports, don’t forget to take the temperature of the culture and sense of community within your business.  Is it a place where employees feel valued or is it one where they feel dismissed?   Do they come to work and feel like they make a difference and contribute to the common goal or is it a place of stress and contention?  

There are times when culture is sacrificed, in an effort to boost profits.  This is a short-sighted strategy if your goal is to build a business with longevity. 

No One Makes It Alone

We have this idealized vision of the “self-made man,” but really there is no such thing. For every successful person, if they are honest, there have been many hands helping them along the way; whether it was a teacher who took the time to go the extra mile when they were young, friends who encouraged and supported an idea, or a professional mentor that gave a helping hand. 

While a founder may have an idea, every successful business is helped along the way by employees who contribute their time and their talent.  It is not just about contracts and accounts, the people who help man your ship in the ocean of commerce are just as important..

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

All of us are familiar with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It has been retold and reworked in movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life to countless renditions on Lifetime.  The message Dickens gave in the mid-nineteenth century in the middle of the Industrial Revolution is the same one that Jack Welch gives to business owners today, “Put people first.”

 As the ghost of  Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol said:

 “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”[1]

 Scrooge was given a second chance to make a course correction and adjust his priorities.  For the savvy business owner, the welfare of employees and giving back to the community of which they are a part should always be part of the business plan. 

Gratitude is Key

 Christmas and the end of the year are often a time when businesses give holiday bonuses.  However, did you know that compensation is actually not the primary determinant of employee satisfaction?  It’s not.  Multiple studies have shown that appreciation is[2] the number one factor.[3]

Showing Appreciation

So how can you show your employees that you recognize and appreciate the contribution they make?

Tell them.

Write a card of appreciation and tell them a specific thing that you appreciate about the job they do.  This might be when they went an extra mile to finish a job, or when they showed extraordinary patience with a difficult customer.  Maybe it is that they do an excellent job training others, or they pay attention to detail. 

What is their primary character quality?  Are they: thoughtful, considerate, trustworthy, reliable, respectful, humble, compassionate, fair, courteous, efficient, diligent, flexible, focused, honest, determined, insightful, intuitive, creative, persuasive, perceptive, resourceful, imaginative, punctual, or cooperative?  Pick one and tell them how it makes a positive impact on the team and in your business.

Don’t send it in a text, email, Facebook or Slack message.  Get some pretty cards, grab a pen, and write the note by hand. 

When your employees know that you value not only what they do, but who they are, they will want to do their best for you.  

Grow your business from the inside out starting with your people.

 


Endnotes:

[1] Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” ed. Katharine Kroeber Wiley (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Press, 2004), 7–88.

[2] Jane Burnett, “Employees Treasure This the Most When It Comes to Job Satisfaction,” Ladders, last modified November 10, 2017, accessed December 24, 2018, https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/employees-treasure-this-the-most-when-it-comes-to-job-satisfaction.

[3] Jacob Morgan, “The Top 10 Factors For On-The-Job Employee Happiness,” Forbes, last modified December 16, 2014, accessed December 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/12/15/the-top-10-factors-for-on-the-job-employee-happiness/.

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