Perhaps you were fortunate that your initial business idea met a need and your business flourished. Over time, however, growth may begin to slow — or even decline. Having a fully thought out plan for marketing and advertising your products or services can help ensure steady growth of your business.

Marketing Defined

Marketing” simply means making your products and services available to the customers who need them, resulting in a profit to the company. A successful marketing plan includes these four parts:

  • Conception: Identifying what the product or service is and why customers would want it
  • Pricing: Establishing an appropriate cost for the product or service
  • Promotion: Strategies for letting potential customers know about the product or service
  • Distribution: Methods of getting the product or service to the customer

Marketing Strategies

When you think of marketing strategies, you might first think of “selling” strategies. It’s true that selling the product or services is a critical part of marketing. However, marketing includes many other activities. The marketing activities you choose depend on the type of product or service that you offer. Following is a brief list of common marketing strategies. Many of these strategies overlap — and marketing strategies involve everyone within the business. These descriptions are listed alphabetically.

Advertising: Paid notices or mailings to let potential customers know about your products or services; may include newspaper, radio, TV, or Internet ads

Competitive analysis: Identifying others providing the same products or services, determining their strengths and weaknesses, and comparing them to your business’s strengths and weaknesses

Customer service: Working with customers who have questions or problems with the product or service

Pricing: Finding the price based on many variables such as the cost of materials and labor, advertising, and what the customer is willing to pay

Product or service design: Determining through research and development the characteristics of a particular product or service

Production: Creating of the product

Promotion: Ways of letting customers know about your products and services, including advertising, phone book listings, public relations, direct mail, coupons, displays, and more

Public relations: Getting the news out about your business, products, or services through news releases, emails, web site announcements, or other “free” sources of information

Research: Determining the needs of customers and learning if a given product or service will fill those needs

Selling: The actual transfer of the products or services from the business to the customer

Tracking sales: Identifying number and amount of sales and related trends; can be used to plan continued production, new products and services, company income, and more

Transportation: Taking the product from your business to the customer

When selecting marketing strategies and activities, start by reviewing your overall objective as stated in your business plan. Make sure that you have activities identified for each of the four areas of marketing (conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution). It often helps to have the advice of a marketing professional — either an employee or a consultant.

Advertising

Although advertising is only one part of your marketing plan and strategies, it can play a critical role in the success of your business. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Know your customers. This includes who your current customers are, any other target customers, and how best to reach them. Where do they go for information about your type of products or services? What appeals to them? What irritates them?

Know what you are selling. Yes, you are selling a particular product or service. Beyond that, you are selling something that fills a customer’s need. Which features or benefits of the product or service best fulfill those needs? That’s what you want to advertise.

Know your objectives. What are the objectives of a particular advertising campaign? To reach a certain level of sales? To acquire new customers or richer customers? To have current customers purchase more?

Know your budget. What do you have to spend and how can you maximize your budget for the greatest outcome? Many experts recommend that you devote 3-5% of your annual revenues to advertising. How much is that? Do you need to spend more to penetrate a new market?

Be true to yourself. Not only should advertising be truthful, but also it should portray the “real” you, the “real” business you have built.

Work with a professional. Whether you have employees in house with advertising expertise, you hire an agency, or you work with the advertising specialists at the magazine or radio station, you can create more effective ads for less overall cost than when you go it alone.

Know the structure of ads. Most include the following parts: a strong headline, some support copy, a “call to action,” company name, and a visual. Make sure all the pieces support each other and add to your overall goal: to make that sale.

Keep track of your results. Set up a system for identifying which advertisements produced which sales. For example, sales people can ask, “Where did you hear about us?” Use the information you gain to determine the best ways to spend future advertising dollars.