Small businesses were stressed about their marketing plans even before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by OutboundEngine, more than one in three small business owners were unsure about how to grow their business, and 50% didn't even have a marketing plan.
While adding another development project to your plate may seem overwhelming, the return on investment (ROI) may be a motivator. A recent report by ForwardPush stated that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) could see as much as $38 in returns for every $1 spent on marketing.
Best of all, your marketing plan can start small and grow from there. To get started with your own integrated marketing plan, try these expert tips.
Start with the customer
"Marketing plans come in various forms, from bare-bones or basic to highly detailed and thorough. It depends on how much you know about the product, service, and category, and how much time you want to spend [on it]," says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based marketing agency.
What every marketing plan should have in common, however, is that they need to start with an understanding of your ideal customer, says Boston-based marketing consultant Lindsey Canant. "Where are they spending their time overall? What are they using to make decisions about buying your products?
Those are the places where you need your brand to show up," she says. Ask your customers what media they consume, where they spend their time online, and how they prefer to get information. Their answers will give you ideas to focus your efforts.
For example, if they find local businesses like yours through search, you may want to focus your efforts on Google Local and join community associations. But if your customer is an online shopper who loves visual inspiration, consider Pinterest and Instagram, Canant says.
Don't take on more than you can manage
If time and budget are holding back your marketing efforts, start with two actions you can do for free, Canant suggests. "I typically recommend email if you've already been collecting email addresses. If you haven't, start now. And either Instagram or Facebook, depending on your audience's demographic," she says.
Email is often a strong performer for SMBs. A 2020 report from Campaign Monitor found that 38% of U.S. consumers are driven to action by email. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the most popular social media channels for marketers. However, business-to-business companies may prefer to use LinkedIn.
Get mileage out of every action
Think about how you can extend the reach of every marketing effort. For example, showing your expertise is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility, and attract more clients/customers, Arnof-Fenn says. The research you do for the articles you write can also help you develop speeches for professional groups, a blog post, or a newsletter.
Find highly trafficked blogs that your audience reads and offer an interview or a guest post. Put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up, she adds. And when your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers, and contacts.
Make the news
Collecting data and tying your brand in with current events can help you find timely hooks to communicate with media and your audience. In a previous role, Anne Szustek Talbot, vice president of content marketing at BX3, a New York City-based business investment and consulting firm, worked with a data scientist to uncover interesting beverage sales insights from around the country.
By simply coordinating statistics like how much beverage sales jumped the night before Thanksgiving (23%), they garnered national media coverage. You can do the same by using surveys, holiday tie-ins, and other timely themes.
Measure and prioritize what works
Track online analytics. Use your email marketing platform's dashboard. Ask customers where they heard about your business. In short, use every opportunity to analyze what's working and cut what's not. "It's important that [SMBs] don't invest in channels because they see everyone else doing it," says Simon Ensor, founder and managing director of London-based marketing agency Catchworks. "This is time much better spent doubling down on the channels that have been identified as most relevant to the business."
Find the best places to reach your customers, then consistently communicate with them there. Soon, you'll see the most effective vehicles, which will help you tailor your plan accordingly.