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Ultimate guide to a successful marketing plan

When you’re a start-up, chances are you don’t have a ton of money to throw at your marketing. You need a killer strategy that takes full advantage of the marketing you can do, and to make sure you’re saying the right things. Putting in some time, creativity and effort now will pay off in the long run.

Sometimes when you’re forced to work hard on ideas and content for your marketing strategy, rather than simply buying adverts, you end up with far superior results. Although you need to put together this plan before getting started, don’t be afraid to be influenced over time and evolve your strategy as you learn more and technology develops. 

Follow this initial guide to make sure you get the most you can from your marketing strategy:

Your end goal:

If you’re reading this you probably have already done your business planning basic (business end goal, mission statement and small goals). If you haven’t, here’s a handy guide. 

So, you have your business goal, but what’s your marketing goal. Do you want to grow your social profile to a certain number of followers? Do you want a specific number of email sign ups? Or x number of new clients? Whatever it is, you need a clear idea to make sure you can achieve it. 

Think about a goal for a years’ time, two years and five years. Once you have these you can break them down into landmarks and smaller goals that you can work towards, to stop them being overwhelming. Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), so that you have a real chance of completing them.

What’s your ‘why’?

In marketing, a really important factor is understanding the ‘why’. If you want someone to take an action (buy a product, sign up to emails etc.) you need to give them a reason that appeals. You can only do this by understanding what drives them as an audience, and also understanding why your business exists. What solution do you offer and why would someone care about it? 

A great example: Many companies might write a heading like ‘Personalised sign up widget for your website’. 

This says what it is, but nothing about why a customer should care. You might attract those who were already specifically looking for your services, if they don’t come across your competition first, but you’ll struggle to attract others.

A better headline would read something like ‘Capture and convert up to 300% more leads’. 

The key difference here is that the second version says how a customer will benefit, gives them a reason why they should click. 

You want to come up with what problem your business solves, why it exists. Then, think about what the customer gets by using your business. Do they save time? Money? Sell more? That’s what you should be talking about in your marketing – always based around what the customer will get from you, not just what you do. 

You can even take it a step further and think about what a customer will do with that benefit. If they save time, what would your target market do with that extra time? If your target market are likely to have a family and work long hours, and they will save time by using your service, then promote the fact that they will spend more time with their family by using your service.

Consistency is key

This doesn’t mean that you can’t evolve and develop your brand over time. However, in the early stages it is important to keep a consistent message across your marketing. It’s a fairly common misconception that it’s only bigger companies that need to worry about this, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!

One of your biggest aims whilst starting up is to build trust, confidence and credibility for your prospects, and one of the prime ways to do this is by keeping a steady message and branding across all your marketing efforts.

Focus on feedback

If every customer or user recommends just two new people to you, you will have exponential growth. Considering this, you can’t overemphasise the importance of listening to your customers and going out of your way to find out what they think. 
Initially you can use a simple survey tool (there’s plenty of free ones online, just give it a Google) to ask all of your existing customers whether they would recommend you, and any other specific questions that would help you. 

You may have to incentivise people to respond to your questions by offering a prize for completing it, otherwise you might find you only receive a few responses. 

Another aspect to consider is those that don’t buy from you. If you have people who have got to the buying point and then disappeared, or enquired and then dropped off, it is really valuable to contact them and ask why! If you find out the reasons that have stopped potential customers from converting, you can overcome these issues ready for the next customer.

Who are your customers and where are they?

You can have the best marketing campaign in the world, but if you’re targeting the wrong market you just won’t be successful. You need to build up a picture of your ideal customer, the things they like and their behaviours in order to effectively target them.

You should also use this information to write your marketing message and strategy. Think about the language they use, the things they care about and what their pain points are.
So, how do you work out your ideal customer? Think about:

  • The physical aspects that apply – age, gender, height, body type etc.
  • The environment aspects that apply - location, home/relationship status, job role etc.
  • Their pain points – this will be more specific to your business, what are the pain points that you help with?

Once you’ve described your ideal customer you can work out where you want to target them. This will help you avoid unnecessary spending through trial and error to see where you get the best results. There’s still an element of it, but your planning and precision here will save you time and money.

Consider your customers behaviour

Now you’ve got a clearer picture of who you’re targeting, you can put together a plan of how you’ll reach them. For your ideal customer, what are their relevant behaviours? This could include: Social media choices, hobbies, interests, buying habits, where they get their information/news etc.

There’s a well said quote from Brian Halligan at Hubspot: “To be successful, you must match the way you market your products with the way your prospects learn about and shop for your products.” 

Marketing on Facebook is great, but if your ideal customers are reading B2B whitepapers then rather than trying to target them via social media you’d be better of creating user-generated content that could be used to scale producing high-quality whitepapers.

Does your young b2c target market tend to use Instagram or YouTube for inspiration and recommendations when buying? If so, Twitter probably isn’t the place for you to focus on.

Get blogging

A blog is a really useful way for you to position yourself as an expert for your consumers. If you can do it successfully, you’ll build trust and belief in your product or service which will help to convert prospects into business.

It will also really help when it comes to SEO. If you’re not sure, SEO basically is doing everything you can to make sure your site appears near the top of search engine results, meaning more customers can find you. 

How do you write a successful blog? Think about what your target market would want to read about in a blog and write about that. Sounds like a simple concept right? Well you’d be amazed how many businesses get it wrong and write about what they want customers to read. A successful blog isn’t about you, your business or products – it’s about news and topics that are relevant to your audience. 

You’ll also need to think about how frequently you write blog posts. If you post once every couple of months when you get round to it, can you expect your audience to build up trust and interest in it? If you can post at least once a week you’ll be off to a great start.

Keywords are the other main consideration when starting a blog. Keywords are what people would type into a search engine in order for your result to show up. So, if you run a dog walking service in Manchester your keywords would probably be something like ‘Manchester dog walker’ ‘dog walking near me’ or ‘find a dog walker’. 

Now, when you’re writing your posts think about using those keywords in a natural way while you write. If you do it well, it simply means that search engines are more likely to show your content in response to someone typing those search terms. 

Get social

In an ideal world you’d want to have a strong social media presence on each of the main platforms. However, in the real world it’s not really feasible for a start-up. Social media marketing is free, but the time it takes to regularly produce great content, interact with your audience and build your following is not. 

You’re much better off focusing on the most relevant social media channel for your audience and doing it well than having profiles on all of them that aren’t constantly looked after.   

Each of the major channels have different audiences and different feels to them, with different ways to engage. Think carefully about which is right for your business as you’ll be working hard to build your profile and you need to make sure it’s in the right place.

Here’s a quick overview of the main social media’s:

Facebook: This is a big one. As of April 2019 Facebook has around 40million UK users, so chances are your audience is on there. However, look at Facebook adverts and how they target. Can you target your audience effectively through it? For example, if you’re looking to target business owners then they’re harder to target via Facebook because they tend to use it as a social profile rather than a business one. Consider whether your adverts would come across as intrusive to them, and if a different network like LinkedIn would be better.

Instagram:  With a smaller following than Facebook, Instagram had around 24 million users in 2019. If you can produce quality content and images that people will like then this might be the platform for you because it’s optimised to show highly liked content to more people. 

Twitter: With 13.7 million users in 2019, Twitter has earned its place as one of the giants of social media. You’ll need to commit lots of time and effort to be successful though because once you’ve tweeted, it’ll only be seen by your audience for a short period (estimated to be around 30 minutes). 

To get started, here's a social media 101 breakdown for you.

Build a network

It might take a while to build a network that regularly gives you business, but it’s so worth it. The referrals you get are solid and some of the easiest leads to convert, mainly because they’re based on trust. 

Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful types of marketing available and can make or break a new business. When you build a network that likes and trusts you, they’ll have no problem referring business your way. As long as you deliver, the business will keep coming. Here's some simple networking fails you can avoid, and where you should network in Manchester in 2020 to get you started.

Work with influencers.

Firstly, what are influencers? Influencers can be a person on social media who has a large following, a YouTuber, radio and TV personalities or anyone who ‘influences’ the opinions of their audience. 

Although you can pay influencers to promote your products, this isn’t necessarily the best way. For one it costs you cash, and for two it is often disregarded by their audience because they know it’s a paid advertisement. 

What can work well is sending an email or letter to them, or simply sending them your product or service to them free of charge. If they like it, they’ll promote it to their audience because they genuinely like it – something which money can’t buy!

Appeal to your audience’s emotions

Consider what emotion you want your audience to feel when seeing your advertisements. Plenty of studies that have been done show that emotion outweighs logic when buying from adverts. So, just because it’s the logical answer to their solution doesn’t necessarily mean your audience will buy from you, but if they feel good or happy about it then they might. 

Think about basing adverts around friendship, smiles, happiness, warmth, laughing and inspiration to generate a positive emotional response in your audience. Coca-Cola is a perfect example of this as its adverts tend to feature happy people, friendship, and taglines like ‘open happiness’ and ‘Taste the feeling.’

It doesn’t all have to be about positive emotional responses though – fear and surprise are an often-used tactic. It creates a sense of urgency and creates a need to act. Although this is used strongly in adverts to encourage stopping smoking or to promote sober driving, it can be used less aggressively in business marketing. Good examples are cyber security products and services – how many times have you seen ‘Warning, your computer is at risk!’ pop up? This is fear messaging.

At the moment FOMO is successfully used in this way (fear of missing out). It’s not the same fear that used in the adverts just mentioned, but it creates a need to act on a smaller level.

Similarly using anger inducing marketing messages can be effective in some instances. If you share content or have messaging based around difficult topics like politics or violence, this can be the tool for you. 

Earned marketing

Many call this PR, which sometimes comes with certain connotations such as ‘It’s not something small businesses or start-ups need to bother with’, ‘It’s expensive to do’ and ‘I don’t know where to start with PR’.

Thinking about it as ‘earned marketing’ makes more sense, because really that’s all it is. You’re simply putting together interesting stories and generating publicity from your customers/partners etc. 

There are many reasons start-ups should ‘do’ PR, but the main one is that it is so valuable. It’s credible, sustainable and cost-effective and can catapult you to business success. Not to say it’s easy, but definitely worth doing. Here’s the comprehensive guide to PR for small business.

Email Marketing

Gone are the days of a simple newsletter sent out every month or so, and a small signup box on your website. Email is now a consistently strong weapon in the marketing armoury, which shows no sign of changing. 

You do need to put some more effort into email marketing than you did five years ago, but there’s plenty of easy-to-use and free/cheap software available to help you. 

Email has three times the number of users than on Twitter and Facebook together. If your target market is older, chances are many of them won’t be active on social media or in front of digital adverts. Even younger audiences are still receptive to email, since having at least one email account is pretty standard these days.

You’re also able to specifically target your emails to your audience based on their preferences, interests, previous activity, location etc. For example, if someone signs up for a free trial but doesn’t use a certain feature within a certain amount of time, you can trigger an automated email inviting them to check it out.

You could collect email addresses through a form on your website, or by running a prize draw which captures entrants’ details. The data will be yours, and there won’t necessarily be a cost to accumulate it, but the slight disadvantage is that it will take a while to build up a worthwhile database of contacts.

Alternatively, there are many data companies out there who you can buy an existing list from. You can usually refine the list before you purchase it, so that it is as relevant to you and as close to your target audience as possible. 

Whichever option you choose you’ll need to make sure you check your responsibilities within GDPR, as the government is hot on this and breaching the terms could see you landed with a fine.

Attend trade shows

It’s easy to build a strong network of connections by visiting business events, which in turn can boost your brand visibility and provide you with extra sales. Discover how to maximise the number of referrals you get from networking.

You also never know who you’ll meet – influencers, key industry figures or your next business partner are all possible. 

Depending on the event, you’ll find a variety of features that will be powerful tools to get your business off the ground, and well worth attending. If you’re in the North of England, the biggest and best event is at Manchester Central on 17th & 18th March and is free to visit. 

You'll discover the formula for a thriving start-up at the seminars and expert advice counters, pick up insider tips from the keynotes, master vital skills in the workshops and make significant connections in the networking sessions. It’s called the Northern Business Expo and all you need to do to be there is get your free ticket online now.

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