Opinion: Small business should create a marketing plan just like big business
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
By: Tim Kist
A winning game plan is needed no matter your size
A colleague recently sent me an interesting newspaper article entitled “Oops, small businesses are vulnerable to marketing mistakes.” It included some real-life examples where companies either failed completely or were slow to grow because they did not obtain proper marketing assistance and/or failed to apply marketing fundamentals to their business.
The article by Associated Press writer Joyce M. Rosenberg touches on some common pitfalls businesses and entrepreneurs face when launching a product or service.
First, every business must identify the target market for their product. I refer to users of the product or service as the target market, not just a demographic group such as “boomers” or “millennials.” Many products cross over between ages and income and therefore, must be understood in terms of how the product or service helps the customer address a need, problem or helps them in achieving their aspirations.
Having a deep understanding of how your product or service is used and valued by your customer will help you determine what else you should provide to lock them in for the long-term. Your better mousetrap may look good through your rose-coloured glasses, but is it what your customers want or need?
To answer this question, there are many types of research a small business can conduct. However, one must be sure not to ask leading or misleading questions since you run the risk of obtaining inaccurate and meaningless insights about your potential customers.
While some online tools seem to be less costly than using a professional researcher, if you collect inaccurate data, you will make incorrect decisions. An appropriate investment in good market research can help you identify your ideal customer and what it will take to have them buy from you.
A market research company understands how to properly source a representative sample. They also know how to ask the questions that will provide the information you need.
During my career, I have conducted research and reviewed research conducted by others wanting to launch a new product or service. Too many times, respondents said, “sure I’ll buy this at that price.”
When the product or service was launched, results were much less than expected. If market-research professionals were used more often, there would be more confidence in the accuracy of the research results.
Second, the article talks about using a marketing consultant or business coach. Quite simply, if you need marketing assistance, you should hire a marketing expert.
A marketing expert is trained in marketing and applies the principles — both science and art — to understand your differentiation and advantages. Business coaches tend to be focused on leadership or finance and do not provide expertise in the marketing discipline.
Since most business owners will use a tax accountant for guidance in tax planning, and a lawyer to guide corporate structure and governance, why would you trust marketing guidance from anyone other than a marketing expert? The main goal of marketing is to understand your customers so well that your product or service will sell itself because you have designed what they need and not what you want to sell.
A marketing expert can provide objective marketing advice that an accountant, lawyer, friend or relative may not be qualified or prepared to provide. I have seen examples of “coffee shop consultants.”
These are the untrained “marketing consultants” that will say, “I know just what you need to do. Let’s go for a coffee so I can tell you.” Be aware of the potential risks of relying on the singular advice of someone not trained in marketing or consulting.
Every component of the 4 Ps (product, place, price and promotion) begins and ends with an assessment of the customer and the competition. This is the third area to focus on.
While it is critical to know your customer and to prepare a comprehensive marketing plan, too many companies do not accurately assess their competitive environment.
While there are usually direct competitors that can substitute your product or service, there are often indirect competitors that can provide an alternate purchasing decision for your customers.
If you do not conduct a competitive assessment, you run the risk of being surprised with how the competition will respond after you launch.
Tim’s bits: The only difference between the marketing plan of a large business compared to a small business is the scope of the plan. If you are a local retailer, you should create a marketing plan that has all the elements that a multinational company has. You just won’t have all the global variables to consider and understand. If you think you are the best in your category, review your plan to make certain this is what your customers really say.
If you don’t provide what the customers want, your better mousetrap may end up gathering dust instead of customers.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.