The action plan step is the tactical or implementation phase for putting your strategy into practice. The action plan phase of your plan could have dozens of different tactics for promoting and advertising your products or company. The specific tactics you choose will depend on your specific situation, budget, goals and timeframe. We’ll cover some of the more common ways to promote your products. This is only a small list of possible implementation tactics.
The action plan phase of the marketing plan is really a two step process. First you identify the specific tactic you’ll use and then you create the action plan to make it happen. Let’s first discuss the tactics and then how you go about creating an action plan to support the tactic.
- Advertising & Promotion
- PR Campaigns
- Putting it to Work
Advertising & Promotion
Typically, the difference between ‘advertising’ and ‘promotion’ is money. You have to pay for advertising, while promotion is free. The lines are pretty blurry when discussing some forms of advertising, so let’s lump them together and call it all advertising. For a small business, you’re always going to try to get the most bang for your buck. If you can get something for free or nearly free, then you’ll do it. I don’t think it’s all that important to draw a distinction between paid advertising and free promotion. Let’s just agree to call it all advertising and realize that some you’ll have to pay for and some you won’t.
Advertising for your small business can take many different forms; from television or radio spots to sponsoring the high school yearbook. Advertising can easily become a black hole where money goes and never returns. This is one area where having a well defined budget and expectations are important. Know up front how much you can spend in advertising and how you will measure your success. If your first attempt doesn’t work, change your approach or change your form. Many advertising options for small business fall under the category of ‘donations’ rather than advertising. Don’t expect a high school yearbook ad to create new sales leads for you. However, advertising in a sports or arts program may lead to new customers. Which form of advertising you use will depend on your customer base and product line. It’s usually a good idea to take small steps so that you can measure your success before spending big bucks on a full-blown campaign.
The whole idea in advertising is to get your message to your customers. You don’t care to get your message to people or businesses that aren’t target customers. Spending money to spread your message in the wrong place or to the wrong people is just wasting money.
Let’s take a look at some examples of advertising.
Every business needs a website, period. If you have no intentions of using your site for the recruitment of customers, then you need it for general reference. In today’s business environment, a business without a website is not viewed as a serious business. Even if your site is only serving as a business card with contact information and hours of operation, it’s often the first impression you give to potential customers. Websites are easy to create and cheap. There’s really no excuse for not having some kind of web presence.
When I consider doing business with a new company or a company that’s new to me, the first thing I do is look at their website. If they don’t have one, or it’s really crummy, I try to find an alternative company with which to do business. And while that sentiment is not true for every consumer, you really can’t afford to turn away any likely consumers.
From business cards to brochures, product data sheets to samples, marketing collateral should define your brand and your products. Most small business owners can’t afford fancy, Fifth Avenue created marketing material. Consider how you can stretch your budget to get the best material available. Even if you don’t have much of a budget, don’t put out crummy material. Some items can be printed or even copied in black and white on a copier. A product data sheet or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) probably doesn’t need to be a four-color print job. If you have to choose between good design and good color/materials/printing, choose good design. A well designed marketing piece can be used for many years. As your budget increases, you can change the printing or medium to spruce up the piece. However, a cheap design will look cheap no matter how fancy the printing or paper.
If you can only afford to produce one good piece of marketing collateral, make it your business card. You’ll hand out your business card several hundred times a year. In many cases, your business card will be the only piece of collateral that a prospective customer will see. Spend the extra money to get your card designed by a professional so that you can always put your best foot forward with every contact.
Direct marketing can include such approaches as direct mail, email, phone solicitation and lead generation. If you are using purchased mailing or calling lists, it’s important to first define the type of lead for which you are looking. Most list agencies will be able to sort out their database into subgroups that meet your criteria. If you’re selling industrial supplies and equipment, it doesn’t do any good to solicit families. If you’re selling cosmetics, you’re probably wasting your time soliciting sporting venues. The more clearly you can define your customer, the better your list agency will be able to define the list you purchase.
Depending on your business and market, direct mail may be an excellent choice for contacting customers and generating leads. This is where getting a good list is really important. Define your customer and purchase a list that is as close to it as possible.
Social media has become a popular promotional tactic only in the past couple of years. It’s based on the premise that by building personal relationships with people, they will be more likely to buy your products when they need them or recommend your company to a friend who is in need of products like you sell. It can be a bit of a challenge to justify this activity in terms of time and costs, because it seems to be a large black hole where you pour your time. However, the costs associated with the social networking activities are low in terms of hard dollars spent. It’s really a question of your time.
There are dozens of different social networking sites and different brands pop up every day. As of the writing of this book, the following social networking sites were fairly effective for mainstream work.
Twitter – micro blogging site that enables users to send ‘tweets’, messages of 140 characters or less. It’s an excellent tool for communicating with customers and presenting your brand. The search engines apparently give tweets favorable recognition and heavy keyword use can bring traffic to your site.
Facebook – is a social networking site where users can add and communicate with friends, send messages and build an elaborate profile complete with pictures, video and games. Facebook has recently added the ability to create business pages, an area which is growing rapidly. The complete extent of the benefit is yet unknown as this media is in the infancy stage. I expect it will continue to grow and become one of the most favored venues for businesses, even more important than a company web page in the future. Facebook is excellent for engaging people who like your company or for promoting your brand.
LinkedIn – is a social networking site for business professionals. It’s essentially an elaborate professional resume. The service is an excellent means of branding for a professional, but it does less than most other sites at communicating to a particular group and generating traffic.
YouTube – is a video sharing website where users can upload and share videos. YouTube has seen phenomenal growth in recent years and is one of the best social networking sites for corporate branding, communication with customers and promoting your corporate website.
Please recognize that by the time I finish typing this page, the social media players will have changed. These are just a few of the more important players in the social media market as of mid-2011. This is a fast moving medium and one that takes a considerable time investment. However, the payoff is huge traffic, brand awareness and customer communication.
Most newspapers have several opportunities for paid advertising and free promotion in the course of a weekly news cycle. Paid advertising is the most obvious method. Like with any paid advertising, you want to make sure the paper’s readership demographic matches your target customer. Many newspapers today have a print version of the paper and an on-line version of the ‘paper’. Check the demographics of each and determine if either version is a good match to your target customer demographic.
In addition to buying an actual ad, you can also use some of the free or nearly free options available in the paper. Most papers have a section that runs weekly in the Sunday paper that lists newsmakers in business. This is an opportunity to highlight new employees, promotions of existing employees or awards or significant accomplishments of you or your employees. The calendar of events is an opportunity for you to list open houses, facility tours and speaking events that you or your employees are leading.
Radio & TV Advertising
Radio and TV advertising can be very effective for your business, if the venue and time slot deliver the appropriate demographic. Business owners have to be very careful that their target customer is actually represented in the stations’ demographic. Frank discussions with the advertising rep for the station about your intentions and targets will be helpful. If the rep can’t deliver the demographic you need, go elsewhere. Don’t get suckered into trying a program if the audience isn’t right.
Most industries have professional journals and magazines that cover the news and newsmakers in that industry. This can be a good venue for advertising, again, if the demographic fits your needs. The benefit of industry publications is that the target audience tends to be focused in a particular area.
Most business people are familiar with J. Conrad Levinson’s 1983 best seller, Guerilla Marketing. The book identifies tactics for small businesses that are free or nearly free and highly effective for certain businesses. While I’m not saying you need to go out and buy the latest version of the book, I am suggesting that you think about non-traditional methods of reaching your customers.
Stay connected with us on social media and our blog. Next week we will look at PR Campaigns.