Developing a Marketing Strategy

Developing a marketing strategy is vital for any business. Without it, your efforts to attract customers are likely to be messy and ineffective.

Your strategy should focus on ensuring that your products and services meet customer needs, and on developing long-term, profitable relationships with those customers. In order to achieve this, you will need to create a flexible strategy that can respond to changing customer perceptions and demands. It can also help you identify entirely new markets that you can successfully target.

The goal of your marketing strategy should be to identify and then communicate the benefits of your company’s offering to your target market.

Once you’ve created and implemented your strategy, monitor its effectiveness and make any necessary adjustments to ensure it continues to be successful.

This guide helps you identify which customers to focus on and your key goals to achieve them. It explains what to include in your marketing strategy and how it can serve as the basis for effective action.

You can then craft a marketing strategy that makes the most of your strengths and matches them to the needs of the customers you want to target. For example, if a particular group of customers are looking for quality first and foremost, then any marketing activity aimed at them should draw attention to the superior service you can provide. So, where to start?

1) Understanding your strengths and weaknesses

Your strategy should take into account how the strengths and weaknesses of your business will affect your marketing.

Begin your marketing strategy document with an honest and rigorous SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to you. At this stage, it’s best to do some market research on your existing customers, as it will help you build a more honest picture of your reputation in the market.

Strengths may include:

  • personal and flexible customer service
  • special features or benefits your product offers
  • specialized knowledge or skills

Weaknesses may include:

  • limited financial resources
  • a lack of established reputation
  • inefficient accounting systems

Possibilities may include:

  • an increase in demand from a particular market sector
  • using the Internet to reach new markets
  • new technologies allowing you to improve the quality of the product

Threats can include:

  • the appearance of a new competitor
  • more sophisticated, attractive or cheaper versions of your product or service
  • new regulations increasing your costs
  • a downturn in the economy, reducing aggregate demand

When you have completed your analysis, you can then measure the possible effects that each element can have on your marketing strategy.

For example, if new regulations increase the cost of competing in a market in which you are already weak, you might want to look for other opportunities. On the other hand, if you have a good reputation and your key competitor is struggling, regulations could present an opportunity to aggressively push your way to new customers.

2) Developing your marketing strategy

By understanding your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats, you can craft a strategy that plays to your own strengths and matches them to emerging opportunities. You can also identify your weaknesses and try to minimize them. The next step is to write a detailed marketing plan outlining the specific steps you need to take to put this strategy into practice.

Questions to ask when developing your strategy

  • What changes are happening in our business environment? Are these opportunities or threats?
  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do I want to achieve? Set clear and realistic goals.
  • What are customers looking for? What are their needs?
  • Which customers are the most profitable?
  • How will I target the right leads? Are there groups that I can target effectively?
  • What is the best way to communicate with them?
  • Could I improve my customer service? It can be a cheap way to gain a competitive advantage over opponents, retaining customers, increasing sales and building a good reputation.
  • Could changing my products or services increase sales and profitability? Most products need to be updated constantly in order to stay competitive.
  • Could expanding my product list or the provision of my services meet the needs of existing customers more effectively? Remember that selling to existing customers is usually more profitable than constantly trying to find new ones.
  • How will I price my product or service? Although prices should be competitive, most companies believe that competition based solely on price is a bad strategy. What else are my customers interested in? The quality? Reliability? Efficiency? Get their money’s worth?
  • What is the best way to distribute and sell my products?
  • What is the best way to promote my products? Choices include advertising, direct marketing, trade show exposure, PR, or web marketing.
  • How can I be sure that my marketing is effective? Check how customers find your business. A small-scale trial can be a good way to test a marketing strategy without incurring excessive costs.

3) Tips and Pitfalls

Before looking for new markets, think about how to get the most out of your existing customer base; it’s usually cheaper and faster than finding new customers.

Investigate whether you can sell more to your existing customers or look for ways to improve retention of key customers.

Your marketing strategy document should:

  • Analyze the different trends of different customer groups
  • Focus on a niche in which you can be the best
  • Aim to put most of your effort into the 20 percent of customers who provide 80 percent of the profits Don’t forget to follow up
  • Approach a third party for feedback on your strategy. She may be able to spot any shortcomings or weaknesses that you cannot see.
  • Put your marketing strategy into practice with a marketing plan that sets goals, actions, dates, costs, resources and effective sales programs.
  • Measure the effectiveness of what you do. Be prepared to change what is not working.

Pitfalls to avoid

  • Make assumptions about what customers want.
  • Ignore the competition.
  • Trying to compete based on price alone.
  • Trust only a few customers.
  • Trying to grow too quickly.
  • Become complacent about what you offer and fail to innovate.

When you have considered all of the elements –  decide on the best marketing activity that will ensure your target market knows about the products or services you offer, and why they meet their needs.

This can be done through different forms of advertising, exhibitions, public relations initiatives, internet activity as well as creating an effective “point of sale” strategy if you rely on others to sell your products. Limit your activities to the methods you think will work best, avoiding spreading your budget too widely.

Monitoring and subsequently evaluating the effectiveness of your strategy is a key element that is often overlooked. Not only does this element of control help you realize how the strategy works in practice, but it can also help guide your future marketing strategy. One easy way is to ask each new customer how they heard about your business.

Once you have decided on your marketing strategy, write a marketing plan to outline how you plan to execute and measure the success of this strategy. The plan should be constantly revised to respond quickly to changes in customer needs and attitudes in your industry, as well as changes in the general economic climate.

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