If you’re a small business owner, you might not have a lot of time to spend worrying about your marketing strategy. Running a business is a constant swirl of competing needs, compromises, and decisions based on limited information. You can get lost in the day-to-day tactics; the stuff you have to get done, now, and lose sight of the overlying strategy that sounded so good in your mind.
Digital marketing isn’t immune from that whirlwind. Even if you have thought about it or, better still, taken action, it’s likely that you didn’t think too far past, “We’ll run some ads and get some new customers.” If only it was that simple.
Your Digital Marketing Strategy
Like everything else in your small business, your digital marketing plan should be strategic. If it’s not, you’ll have a hard time measuring results. I like to think of marketing strategy in quarters. Understanding where you want to be in three months will help you plan and execute the steps you need to take to get there.
The benefits of a quarterly marketing strategy are simple. First, it’s a long enough period of time to exercise real change. But, it’s not so long that you lose a sense of urgency and start seeing it as a collection of tasks that can be put on the back burner. Second, if you’ve gotten this far you probably understand the need to be agile. Things change fast in small business and if you are not leading the way then your competitor probably is.
With that in mind, now is as good a time as any to flesh out a strategic marketing plan. Here are five things it should include.
1. Define your marketing goals and write them down.
Writing down your strategic marketing goals seems kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it. The result is that they haven’t defined the playing field, and that in turn results in goals that get moved or forgotten.
It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t have to spend a lot of time on your goals. They should be straightforward and simple to understand. Better still, defining your goals gets easier over time because you will find yourself building on past successes and evaluating areas that come up short.
Marketing Strategy Goal Examples
So let’s consider some examples of strategic marketing goals. As a small business owner I know I want more customers, and I can begin to define my goals by asking how to get those customers. For example, if I think I need to increase the width of my sales funnel I might conclude my small business website’s monthly visits need to increase by a thousand. There’s goal one: Drive 1,000 more people to content on my website every month.
Now I’ve set my first goal, and it helps me define my second. I want a way to connect those 1,000 new monthly visitors to my sales funnel. This means I need a way to convert those visitors into people I can communicate with. With that in mind I might determine my second goal is 25 more new email addresses I collect each month. How we convert 2.5% of our new site visitors is tactical; understanding that I want 25 more addresses every month is my second strategic goal.
And on it goes. But don’t let it go on for too long. Set a reasonable number of goals, four or five is enough, write them down and understand what achieving them will mean for your small business. Setting too many goals will dilute your strategic marketing plan and your ability to execute.
2. Identify KPIs for Your Marketing Strategy
You may not realize it, but in setting your marketing goals you have also begun to identify meaningful key performance indicators. In the example above website visitors is a KPI, as are Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) - the 25 new contacts you have focused on. So is conversion rate, or the 2.5% of those 1,000 new visitors who may offer an email address in exchange for valuable content.
In fact your KPIs will mirror your strategic marketing goals. They should because they are a revealing look at what you are, or are not, achieving. Without measuring it is nearly impossible to understand if your small business is on a path to growth. Here are a couple more KPIs you can find on HubSpot's Blog.
Two Strategic Marketing KPIs You Must Know
If you are not aware of your average Lifetime Customer Value (LCV) you should be. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to think about the word “Lifetime.” This number is not how much a customer spends for your products or services over the duration of your three month strategic marketing plan, but how much that customer is likely to spend with your small business forever.
I have heard well-known, successful marketers say this number should be no less than $1,000. That may be a good starting point, but I find that much depends on your unique business model, marketing budget, cost of production, and other factors.
If you don’t know, monitor, and update your LCV key performance indicator quarterly, strategic planning is extremely difficult.
Of course, understanding your Lifetime Customer Value indicates you need to know your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). To be clear, CAC is the amount of money you spend marketing to acquire a customer. It is not tied directly to LCV in the sense that your new customer’s first purchase may be less than the total that person will spend with your small business over time. But, if you don’t know your Lifetime Customer Value, then you can’t know if your coast of acquisition is tolerable.
3. Set a Specific Marketing Budget and Stick to it
This too may seem obvious, but like other aspects of poorly defined or executed marketing plans I’ve seen plenty of people gloss over budget allocation, not get specific enough, or make often fruitless adjustments en route. Your small business’s strategic marketing success depends on how much effort you put into defining your budget.
A word of caution: deciding on a number and saying, “This is how much we will spend on marketing this quarter” is probably not the best approach. When considering marketing spend you may be best served to start more tactically and build to a total. This is a good idea for a couple of reasons.
When Tactics Should Enter Budget Considerations
First, it will make you think about the efforts you will make, the campaigns you will run, and the resources you will need. For example, if you say, “Our marketing budget this quarter is $10,000” I will ask you what that means. Better, I think, to say, “We know we have a goal of 1,000 more site visitors per month, and we will commit $3,000 to ad campaigns to drive traffic.”
Second, segmenting your marketing budget will help you understand what is working, what may need improvement, and what is not working at all. As a small business owner I would much rather understand that the $5,000 we spent on Effort A was critical in meeting our goals, while the $5,000 we spent on Effort B was probably a break-even for the business. Knowing this informs the digital marketing strategy I built for the next quarter.
Details Can Inform Future Marketing Strategies
In the illustration above, both campaigns are likely to be profitable for your business long-term. But by getting tactical in your budget you can see that Campaign 2 isn't viable. Your small business will lose money in the short-term and you probably can't sustain that waiting for your new customers to reach their lifetime value. Better still, viewing details this way will inform your next marketing strategy: you'll have a clear idea of what works and what needs improving.
Whatever your marketing budget, you should avoid panic-spending. This happens when you are ten days into a campaign and, frankly, things don’t look so good. A normal response might be to think results will improve if you just increase the budget; In reality it’s far more likely you’re just throwing good money after bad. In all the years I’ve been in the small business marketing world I have yet to see a perfect strategic marketing plan. Success comes from those willing to learn and apply that knowledge in a way that makes them better in the future.
Developing and executing a strategic marketing plan for your small business doesn’t have to be hard. The value it can bring is enormous, As a general rule strategy should be simple, straightforward, and easy to understand. When you put such a plan in place for your business you are less likely to get stuck in the weeds of day-to-day demands because you have established a larger picture on which to focus.
Starting with a pad of paper and jotting down a few strategic goals, the key performance indicators you need to measure success, and how much you have to invest will put you ahead of more of your competitors than you might think.