Do you find yourself saying, My marketing efforts just aren’t working?

Or, if you’re about to launch a new business, asking,  “Where do I begin?” 


First, what the heck is marketing?

It’s everything you do to promote your business (logo, business cards, website, signage, social media, advertising, etc.)

So, what’s a marketing strategy?

Simply put, it’s a plan. Big or small, it’s just a tool that captures everything you’re going to do to promote your business. This plan gathers the what, the why and the how of your marketing efforts so you have a clear path forward.

Each business is different. In order to help define the right path (because let’s face it, there are endless options out there), a good strategy should start by:

  1. Identifying who your primary target audience is
  2. Outlining your top business growth goals
  3. Capturing the differences between you and your competition
  4. Knowing how you want your business to be perceived while remaining true to what your business offers and what it stands for (aka brand)
  5. Putting some marketing budget numbers together
  6. And, last, developing marketing materials (website, logo, advertising…)

Once you have 1-5 on paper, you can begin to narrow down marketing options that will work the best for you, with a timeline and within your budget. What your logo looks like, how your website functions and where you advertise is the last piece of the puzzle, and is dependent on doing a little work upfront.

The marketing strategy is important because it will remove the guessing game, provide an actionable plan and save you time, energy and money in the long run.

Here are the nuts and bolts in more detail:

1. Target Audience: 
This is that group of people that are most likely to want or need your services or products, and bring the highest value to your company. It’s okay if your product isn’t for “everyone”—in fact, it’s better.

Spend some time thinking about the commonalities between those you do business with to help narrow this down. If you’re just starting out, imagine who the person is that is most likely to do business with you and jot down some traits (age, gender, income, emotional motivations, whether or not they’re active in social media, where they get their news…).

Why advertise in the locally printed newspaper if 65% of your audience primarily subscribes to the Wall Street Journal online?

2. Business Goals:
Don’t worry about Harvard MBA answers here, but do spend some time thinking about what aspects of your business produce the best revenue (or projected revenue). Then, put some goals together to increase sales in those areas. This will help you act on bringing those goals to life through marketing.

For example, you may want to increase in-store sales by 5% year over year. This means you have to get people to come to your store first. Think about ways your website or other promotional materials can entice people to visit your location.

Or, perhaps you’re looking to develop three new relationships with other businesses who will refer business to you. Instead of mass advertising, you’ll need to create relationships with those businesses directly.

3. Competition:
Understanding your competition isn’t about doing it better, it’s about doing it differently. Think of this in both broad and narrow terms. Your competition is not just anyone providing the same service or product you are, it’s also anyone providing an alternative option for your customers to spend their money on. In your geographic location and online.

Let’s say you’re a boutique pet supply store. You bake all your 100% natural dog treats in-house and only carry top-of-the-line brands. You’re competitors are comprised of all companies selling pet products (Wal-Mart, PetSmart, Petco, other boutique shops) in your area and online. You may not think so but these companies offer alternative products to yours and even though your quality might be better, you need to distinguish the difference in a way that will appeal to your target audience.

Take note of who these companies are. Look at their websites and write down what you like, what you don’t like and how you’d do it differently.

4. Brand:
This is a confusing one but very important. Brand isn’t your logo or the colors you use on your website, although it can dictate that. Tangible items such as these are considered expressions of the brand, or branding.

Think about brand and branding in terms of building a new home. You’ve just signed off on the property and the plans are being drawn up. If you’re a cook, the first thing you might start to envision are the awesome dinner parties you’re going to have in the new kitchen (beautiful pendant lighting, stainless steel gas range, custom made chopping block in the center with copper cookware hanging above). Great, right?

Kind of. There’s still lots of planning to do. Before you have a party, you need to work with the architect on the design and materials so you get the right look and feel, inside and out. The foundation needs to be poured, walls constructed, roof built, fixtures chosen and you need to move in. Then, you can have the party.

Think of your brand as the architectural plans for your business. Just as with a house, it defines the atmosphere and perception of your business. Branding is the carefully chosen décor and appliances in that new kitchen (in marketing, your logo, website, social media message…).

Defining your brand sets the stage for how you speak to your customers and tells the public who you want to do business with. It helps the right people find you. It can be thought of the internal playbook or foundation for making decisions about how to represent your business, through customer service, advertising, partnerships, even down to website functionality and appearance.

5. Marketing Budget:
There is always a marketing solution, the budget merely helps defines how big or small that solution is. If you’ve already spent the time to define all of the above, the budget will help you further narrow down the marketing efforts to those that will make the biggest impact. And, it gives anyone you work with (graphic designers, web developers, copywriters, media reps) parameters to work within. The dollars add up quickly, providing guidelines will keep you from receiving a surprise bill.

Most recommend that your budget be a percentage of your total revenue, however the percentages vary. Knowing how much to spend depends on the type of business, your competition, profit margins, the age of your business (start-up, 5 years +, 10 years +) and several other factors. If you’re just starting out, your recommended marketing spend may exceed all industry standards because you’re starting from scratch. Before you can begin to advertise, you need to factor in the development of items needed to support the advertising. Your website and business identity are at the top of that list.

More on marketing budgets at

6. Developing Marketing Materials:
Now that you’ve done all the hard work, this last step is pretty easy and for many, the most fun…probably the reason this is where everyone wants to start. Creating the items that tell the world you are in business (logo, website, adverting, social media page) can be so gratifying. You now have visual proof that your business exists and your doors are open.

Don’t lose sight of all your hard work during this phase. Target audience, goals, competition and brand all play a role in the end result of what your materials look like, sound like and where you choose to advertise.

You’ve defined your path, the challenge is to say on it. Good luck!

Still have questions? Let’s chat over coffee.