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Many businesses complain that they don’t see results from their marketing activity, yet they somehow treat marketing differently to other parts of the company where careful planning is standard practice. In research we conducted among 102 small to medium-sized businesses, only 42% had a documented marketing plan. As they say, you can’t manage what you can’t measure!

Define the company

It sounds obvious, but most businesses still need to define who they are, what they do, who they do it for and why it matters. It is about taking an inside-out view of the world – “based on what we know; who we think we are”. Putting this in writing ensures that everyone in the company is – quite literally – on the same page.

In my experience, speaking to several managers and employees individually is the best way to achieve alignment. People tend to talk more freely when alone, giving insight into the company’s culture, vision, strengths and weaknesses. Following such interviews, it is often best to prepare a guideline that can be workshopped among a core group of executives in a type of brand identity workshop. The workshop’s outcome should be a positioning statement that captures the overall value proposition the business seeks to deliver.

Understand the customer

Once the business has a clear sense of who it is or wants to be, it should take an outside-in view by defining the ideal customer. Who do we really want to work with? Where are they? Who are the people we should talk to? How do they currently make decisions? Building such a customer persona and journey map allows for better, more relevant marketing.

Understanding the customer landscape differs between business and consumer markets. In business, business customers typically base decisions and predetermined measures and make decisions in a team. Business-to-consumer decisions are made mostly by the individual end-user and tend to be more emotionally driven. A good marketing strategy should account for these differences by, for example, mapping out the decision-making unit of a typical business customer or the emotional drivers of a shopping decision. Engaging in customer research, such as one-on-one interviews and observation, should form part of a marketing planning process.

Know the competition

The competition is not necessarily whom you see as the opposition but what the customer views as a worthy alternative. A review of competitors helps to understand messaging, points of difference and parity, relative size, and communication channels. The competitor review does not need to be overly in-depth – it’s a question of who’s out there and what do they say.

My approach to competitor reviews is informed by the feedback provided in the first two pillars of the strategy process, followed by looking at company websites, downloadable documents and social media platforms. I then typically summarise my findings in a spreadsheet or table.

Craft a message and build a plan

Once a review of the company, customer and competition is completed, a compelling marketing message should be defined. A strong message has several layers, namely:

An attention-grabbing headline

A benefit statement

Proof points

Call to Action

I prefer to consolidate the messaging into a dummy “magazine advert” to bring it to life in combination with visuals. This “ad” can form the foundation of a creative brief or outline for marketing suppliers, such as a digital agency. A communications plan can now be developed to promote the message in supporting the business objectives.