Creating a Marketing Strategy for an SME

Working as a marketer in an SME can be incredibly exciting but also comes with challenges, particularly when you need to develop a marketing strategy aligned to the business’ goals.

The following outlines 3 basic steps that you can take to pull a basic strategy and plan into place.

Step One: agree the goals

First, a common understanding of what strategy means is needed – this might sound obvious, but I’ve lost count of the number of meetings that I’ve attended where strategy and tactics have become mixed up. Strategy can be defined as ‘leveraging your strengths to do something that is really hard, ideally impossible for others’. (Galloway) Michael Porter states that ‘strategy is choosing what not to do,’ and Ritson states that a strategy answers the questions, ‘who are we going to target? What is our position? And what is my objective to those people?

Ritson’s framework of diagnosis, strategy and tactics seeks to gain a genuine understanding of the customer, knowing who you want to reach, with what message, and what you’re hoping to achieve, then applying the 4Ps in their proper place.

In a world where there is no sense of strategy, budgets are tight and the product is fixed, creating a basic, stripped back strategy is a very useful first step.

NB: there are plenty of references online to Mark Ritson’s work on this.

What are we trying to achieve?

First, we need to know what we’re trying to achieve. It’s very likely in smaller businesses that the marketing and business goals are often the same.

The importance of SMART goals

The problem that most small businesses make is starting with goals such as ‘we want to get ourselves out there’ or ‘we want to sell more products’. SMART goals are a solution here which give direction and clarity. ‘We want to get ourselves out there’ becomes ‘from our current place of 500 visits a day, move this number to 1,000 per day by 17 November’. Or ‘sell more products’ becomes ‘increase conversion rates on our website from 1.5% to 2% by June 2023’.

This goal setting step is important and should involve as much of the senior management team as possible to ensure alignment. Sit down with everyone who matters and listen to what they want to achieve for the next 12 months. At this stage remember not to commit to too many goals as you’ll struggle with resource and, most importantly, focus.

The role of marketing

With business goal established and agreed we need to know how marketing will help us get there. Enter your strategic elements: the problem you’re solving, who you’re solving it for, and your position to them.

Very simplistically marketing can be distilled down into the following equation.

Their problem + your solution + communication = marketing

This is an overly simplistic way of saying that we need to start with the customer, and their jobs-to-be-done (JTBD).

As popularised by the late Clayton Christensen, JTBD acknowledges that people are buying the proverbial ‘well drilled hole’, rather than the ‘drill’ when buying your product or service. Whether it’s functional, emotional, social, or more, your product or service helps others do something that improves their existence. Review and understand what people want from you regularly and answer the question ‘what are people thinking when they buy from you?’

Step Two: Positioning

Once we know who we’re helping and what we have to offer it’s all about positioning. In this instance ‘we are the only brand in [category] to solve [needs] for [segment] that [alternatives] do not’.

The thing we’re aiming for with all of this is consistency – a brand turns up as itself (distinctiveness) time and time again in a different shape to its competitors (differentiation). You need both. The good news, particularly for small businesses, is there is an amazing opportunity when you know who you are and what you stand for to add small elements of positioning throughout everything you do. Rory Sutherland would call this magic. Jay Baer calls them ‘talk triggers’ – small moments that get customers to tell other people about your product or service. Remember that ‘word of mouth’ referrals remains the strongest form of marketing we have.

NB: April Dunford is a great contributor on LinkedIn about the importance of positioning, particularly within the tech sector.

Step Three: Tactical Activity

Once we know what we’re trying to achieve, who we want to reach, and the idea we want to build in their brain – we can finally start talking communication tactics: the SEO, PPC, email etc. This is where most marketers start. That’s a mistake because without the groundwork – it’s easy to flip flop between communication tactics without purpose. Do the groundwork and know why you’re doing something, then begin to communicate.

The best way to structure communication channels is through an old favourite, the sales funnel – splitting your activity into awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.

Place your tactics across the funnel – for example, TikTok for awareness, with the goal of likes. Or TikTok for consideration, with the goal of increased demo requests. The key thing here is you’re giving purpose to your tactics by saying why you’re going to use them and providing a metric for success.

Finally, remember to review your progress against your goals and regularly review these with other members of the management team within the business.

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