Strategy for marketing

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a strategy for marketing your small or micro business? Maybe you equate marketing with advertising, sales or social media marketing. Marketing is all of these, however, if we consider only these we are oversimplifying what marketing is.

What is strategy for marketing?

When we start talking about our plans or approaches for one of the above areas, often we are talking about tactics, rather than strategy… and we need to talk about strategy. Stragegy is long term thinking. Strategic goals are those set over years. In the Western World, that could mean 3-5 years. In Japan, most organisations think in decades.

Strategy vs tactics

That’s not your fault if you confused the word strategy with tactics. The word strategy has been overused, misrepresented and abused. In fact, if marketing was a person, it would probably sue us into oblivion for what we’ve done to it. All in the name of clicks and eyeballs. Strategy is a popular keyword, so too many copywriters and content creators try and stuff it into their creations. That’s right, I said it, marketers sometimes just make stuff up to sound good!

Creativity still (yes, still) trumps data

Can any small or micro business owner create a winning strategy for marketing? Indeed they can. Indeed you can. You don’t need to be an academic or a genius but you do need to be creative. Creativity still trumps data in some areas, even amidst the ongoing hype of artificial intelligence. Some work is still required to create an effective strategy for marketing and make it work.

Oxford defines strategy as, “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim”. A strategic aim, or goal, is important but the how of getting there also matters.

Think 5 moves ahead

Your Next 5 Moves is a book which uses chess as a metaphor for business strategy. Given how closely they are tied together, we can use the same approach in strategy for marketing. Entrepreneur and Author, Patrick Bet David, writes that similar to chess, business is about thinking 5, 10 or even 15 moves ahead. In order to do this, you need to be creative enough to think about the future. Perhaps even create a future in your mind that does not yet exist.

Strategy as fiction

This takes me back to my days of studying business and marketing. One of the courses we studied was strategy as fiction. Often a businesses long term goals are set to be realised in a future that does not yet exist. Imagination might fill in the blanks about changes in the economy, in technology and in the competitive landscape.

As a kid, I was a bit of a day dreamer, so this idea of writing a story about how I wanted my life and business to turn out was great. I’ve noticed similar techniques work, like keeping a vision board or writing a short piece about what my ideal work day will look like in a few years. Strategy for marketing is similar and there is always a villain for this story (your competitor)!

I want you to know there are too many business and marketing strategies to list in this article, so you can’t chase them all. As I have said before complexity will kill your business. Better to choose a single strategic approach and master that before you try anything else. Make it simple.

No business is an island

No business is an island, even though that’s how many aspiring entrepreneurs see themselves. As business owners, we may be part of broader systems or organisations, are likely to have competitors and most certianly have customers or clients. Where we fit, or how others see us, matters.

Segment your market

Your first step when deciding who your target market is, is to break the potential markets into segments. This is known as marketing segmentation. I know you’re probably tempted to skip this step but don’t. This would be like leaving the cream out of creme brulee. Ask my wife… it may look similar but all you end up with is sweet scrambled eggs.

Draw a market map

Perhaps you believe you already know who your target market is but I encourage you to try this. Draw a mind map showing different ways you might segment your marketing (aka break it into different segments). For example, you might know of different physical characteristics because these are the easiest to identify.

Look beyond the obvious

Remember to segment based on less obvious factors too. In addition to the old “ASL?” (age sex and location, for those who missed the days of AOL, Messenger Chat or My Space) , think about different interest groups, behaviours, careers, political pursuasions, sexual orientations, family or living situations and aspirations. It’s easy to miss these additional factors and assume all men aged 20-40 want the same thing. They don’t and thinking they do could cost your business dearly.

Define your target market

Once you define your target market, you may choose to differentiate your service. In other words, you find a way to make your offer stand out because it’s better than your competitor’s offer for the same type of client. For example, late night TV is littered with ads for solicitors who specialise in worker’s compensation. When you’re a small or micro business, however, being different is not enough.

Providing a niche service

Oxford defines a niche as, “a specialised segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service”. In other words, your niche could be small but still be profitable. Consider the makers of Mud, a mushroom based coffee alternative, which makes $60 million per year from their only product. Is it just aproduct though? Dig a little deeper and you will find there’s a subscription service behind the fulfilment. You can find a highly lucrative niche for your service based business too. Perhaps that too is a subscription, like Lawpath and a handful of others have done with legal documents.

I know accountants and business consultants who specialise in helping farmers. Business hubs that specialise in helping tech based startups. You name it and there’s probably someone targeting that niche. My own niche is service based niche business owners, who are just starting out. Sure I help others with marketing but helping solopreneurs and micro businesses is where I thrive. Finding your own niche to serve can be a highly effective strategy for marketing.

Position your service

Remember I said where you fit matters? Positioning your brand, product or service is your final step of the segmentation process. Remember, the position your brand occupies in someone else’s mind is all relative to services that already exist. Your clients will draw comparisons to others in your industry.

Are you cheaper or more of a luxury than your competitor? Do you offer more service features or more simplicity? Are you fast and convenient or do you pride yourself on being slow and methodical? All of this matters, for products and services alike. That’s why knowing who you’re up against is so important.

New service inventions

What if you invent a new product I hear you ask? Then, you can position your offer based on what people already know about other industries. If you have ever seen The Founder, Ray Kroc tries to sell a “Fold a Nook” at one stage, which he remarks is “like a murphy bed for your kitchen”. Is your service similar to something in another category? Do you have a subscription, like Netflix for… your service?

Positioning vs partnering

Positioning against competitors is one option but have you thought about partnering with them? There’s a concept called co-opetition. Does your competitor have something you don’t and visa versa? If so, you mght consider doing a deal to help each other out. For example, they might have an existing client list and you have a new service they don’t offer, which could help their client out. If you can think of a win win, you can partner with competitors, suppliers, clients or complementary solutions.

Simplify your service offering

This is more than lip service. Does your product or service address the needs of your target market better than competitors? In the spirit of keeping things simple when it comes to service design, Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood authored a book titled Simplify. They claim your can choose to simplify your service in 1 of 2 ways. Make it a joy to use or make it cheaper. Both of them can work, however, if you plan to make it cheaper it needs to be significantly cheaper (maybe even half of the current price). The only way to provide lower prices sustainably is to re-design your business model, so you have a lower cost base than your competitors.

Hold off on diversifying

Everyone thinks they’re ready to diversify before they are. Remember when we spoke about complexity killing businesses? Diversification or expanding into new products or services is one way small business owners get lost with their strategy for marketing. Adding new services, targeting an additional client base and expanding your distribution all come with extra costs and complexity. So, how do you know when you’re ready to expand?

Kill off poor performing services

Before you try to diversify your service offering and make life harder for yourself, consider this. Is your existing service performing like it should? I see plenty of micro entrepreneurs, who think they should add more products to prop up their poorly performing service. Sure, if your product or service is performing poorly, you need to make it work or try something new. However, resist the tempatation to chase the shiny new object or keep adding services that perform poorly. You might need to drop what you did before if it doesn’t succeed like it should.

How strategy can grow your business

Now I hear you asking, “What’s the right way to grow if I can’t add new services? Well, I encourage you to find low cost ways to test your service before you invest all of your money something new.

Remember we talked about the complexity of adding new services, clients or distribution channels? The trick is to change only 1 of those things at a time. For example, if you want to pitch a new service, try and create something your existing clients are screaming out for.

My final word on this is strategic planning can have a significant and lasting impact on your business performance, however, none of this is possible if you don’t have the capacity to carry our those plans. The best strategy for marketing is simple to execute. Actions speak louder than words.

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