The essential marketing strategy guide for small business
So, you’ve started a business. You’ve chosen a name for your brand, created an Instagram page for it, and even received your first orders. Time to celebrate, right? 🥂
Not exactly…The rise of entrepreneurship is one of the hottest trends of 2022, which means more and more 9-to-5 employees will be turning into your competitors.
How do you not get lost among them? It’s important to understand your audience’s needs and pain points better than the competition and offer the products or services your competitors don’t. You need a well-thought-out marketing strategy, one that will guide your journey.
In this guide, we’ll run through the basics you need to nail your marketing strategy:
- What is a marketing strategy?
- What does it include?
- How does a small business benefit from having one?
- How to develop a marketing strategy that works.
- What are some success tips, and what mistakes should you avoid?
We’ll cover all of this, seasoned with step-by-step instructions, useful tools and frameworks, real-life examples, plus small business marketing ideas — enjoy!
What is a marketing strategy?
Let’s start with a simplified marketing strategy definition: It’s what you sell, who you sell it to, at what price, and how.
Strategy is often confused with tactics — let’s not make the same old mistake. While a marketing strategy tells you “what you need to do,” a tactic is more about ”how you’re doing it.” Tactics are the tools that help you reach goals.
For example, you want to host a pool party. ⛱
What you need to do is design invitations, go grocery shopping, decorate, and prepare drinks. How you do this is using VistaCreate for invitations, food delivery for shopping, and your bartender equipment for cocktails.
A successful marketing strategy outline includes exploring:
- Market research: How many similar companies are on the market? Are there any alternatives for your product?
- Competitor research: Who are your competitors? What niche are they in? What can you do differently?
- Target audience research: Who is your product for? Who will pay for it?
- Marketing tools research: Where do you reach your audience? What platforms do they spend time on? How do they make decisions to purchase something?
- Goal and KPI setting: How will you know that you’re moving in the right direction?
If you need a simple framework for building your marketing strategy, go to the basic 5 Ps of marketing. These are your focuses in a marketing strategy:
Product — what your competitive advantage is
Place — where you distribute your products (e-commerce, offline shops, retail)
Price — how you make a profit
Promotion — how you reach your audience
People — how your company functions
Small business benefits of a marketing strategy
“We’re a two-people company. Do we really need a marketing strategy?” In fact, you do. Here’s why:
- It saves money because you better understand where to find your audience and what resonates with them.
- It gives you a better understanding of your brand (what your values are, how you look, how you communicate).
- It gives you direction: you know your goals and how to reach them.
The fundamentals of a marketing strategy for businesses
We’re done with the basics! 🎉 Let’s sum up the essentials:
- A marketing strategy gives you a better understanding of the market, your target audience, your competitors, and tools for promotion.
- A strategy is what you do and a tactic is how you do it.
- If you need a simple framework, use the 5 Ps of marketing: product, place, price, promotion, and people.
- Small businesses marketing their brand also need a strategy.
- A marketing strategy can help you save money, crystalize your brand, and find direction.
🚀 Pro tip from VistaCreate: A marketing strategy is vital for building a strong brand. It keeps you focused on your main goal — to create a product that meets your customers’ needs in a unique way.
How to create a marketing strategy
- Get personal: Building customer personas
- Size up the competition: Researching competition and market trends
- Know thyself: Clarifying brand value and unique offering
- Aim high: Setting business and marketing goals
- Build your toolkit: Choosing marketing channels and tools
- Take action: Planning and creating marketing campaigns
- Launch and learn: Tracking your success
- Get inspired: Marketing strategy examples and ideas
- Work smarter: Marketing strategy tips
But first. . .
Let’s do a bit of housekeeping. A marketing strategy consists of different parts, some of them are cornerstones of your business marketing, others change depending on your goals. To keep them all neat in one place, you need to create a document. We suggest starting with a presentation, where each slide is dedicated to one part of your strategy: market research, competitor research, customer persona, values, and mission — follow the list above.
Check out VistaCreate’s marketing strategy templates to simplify the task!
1. Get personal: Building customer personas
You’ve got a product! First and foremost, you need to understand who will pay for it.
Your best strategy will be to conduct research, but let’s be honest — small businesses don’t usually have a budget for this. Instead, you can look at competitor target audiences, create a questionnaire, send it to people who might be interested in your product, then ask friends or friends of friends for a short interview.
After gathering information, crystalize it into a buyer persona. This concept usually includes sex, age, job, location, interests, and challenges. You’ll need it to constantly remind yourself who you are selling to.
For example, a 24-year-old lifestyle blogger, Jess, from California who cares about the environment and shares her fitness routine on Instagram could be a buyer persona for an organic matcha brand. 👩🦰🍵
2. Size up the competition: Researching competition and market trends
Done with your target audience research? Let’s move on to the next step.
Market and competitor research help you understand how many players there are, what niches have high demand and little supply, and the strengths and weaknesses of other companies on the market.
There are several ways to conduct the analysis:
- Look through reports by government agencies, trade associations, and other companies in your industry.
- Analyze the online presence of your competitors (website, socials, order process, etc.)
- Check their reviews on Google and Facebook.
- Talk to competitors’ customers (you can reach out to those who’ve left comments.)
3. Know thyself: Clarifying brand value and unique offering
Back in 2014, a Ukrainian fashion brand, Sleeper, started to design pajamas people can go out in. 😴
They basically created a new niche — luxury, multipurpose loungewear. What’s more, they gave women value with their product: to have a beautiful routine every day — not just on special occasions.
This is your success recipe: a unique product that satisfies customer pain points.
So, when thinking about how to market your business, focus on what you can offer with your product: maybe you offer unusual materials, new techniques, unique product applications, or a special customer support service.
👩🎨 Need an artistic hand? Bring your creative ideas to life with VistaCreate.
4. Aim high: Setting business and marketing goals
You need to set a direction for your business, whether you have a team or you’re a business of one. Goals can help you with this.
There is a basic SMART approach to setting goals that requires them to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
For example, you need to attract more people on your social media. Then, your SMART goal will be to get 10 thousand followers on Instagram by the end of the year.
There are also other frameworks you can use:
WOOP is a goal-setting framework for those who tend to sabotage themselves due to a lack of confidence:
Wish — Is your goal possible to accomplish?
Outcome — What is the best outcome?
Obstacle — What’s stopping you?
Plan — How can you overcome this?
Here’s another one, perfect for artistic people — PACT:
Purposeful — Can it be your life purpose?
Actionable — Can you start working on it right now?
Continuous — Can you repeat it until you reach your goal?
Trackable — Can you track your success?
And here’s one you, as a business owner, might find the most helpful — WISE. It’s excellent for multitasking:
Written — Have you put your goals on paper or, at least, a file?
Integrated — Does it looks fitting among your other goals?
Synergistic — Can your goals work together?
Expansive — Are they motivating?
As you dive in, you may opt to merge goal-setting frameworks to create the best approach for you, your business, and your objectives.
5. Build your toolkit: Choosing marketing channels and tools
So, you already know who your audience is. How do you reach them? ☎️
There are several Digital Marketing strategies to reach people online, such as SEO, local SEO, SMM, Content Marketing, and Email Marketing. There’s also PR, Event Marketing, and much more. What you need is a perfect marketing mix for your business.
A marketing mix is a combination of tools you use to promote your business. For example, if you’re running a cafe, you need local SEO + Social Media Marketing (consider Instagram or TikTok). If you’re running a fashion brand, go with Instagram + Content Marketing. Selling to other businesses? Use LinkedIn and SEO.
You don’t need to implement all types of marketing strategies at once: start with 2-3 and track your progress to see if they’re working. In a couple of months, adjust or add on more approaches.
There are lots of free or budget-friendly online tools that can help you with your chosen digital marketing strategy:
We have even more useful articles for you! Check out this list and learn more about the platforms you want to use:
- The complete guide to Content Marketing
- Facebook Marketing for small businesses
- Email Marketing guide for small businesses
- The ultimate guide to Instagram Marketing
6. Take action: Planning and creating marketing campaigns
Let’s have a quick look at where you are. You’ve:
✔ identified your audience
✔ conducted market and competitor research
✔ defined your values and goals
✔ chosen platforms for promotion
It’s time to put all this into a marketing campaign. This is where you imagine and implement exactly what you will use to start reaching your marketing goals.
Say, you’re designing bold accessories for Gen-Z. You know that they spend most of their time on TikTok, follow Emma Chamberlain’s blog, and enjoy standing out.
Your solid campaign could be a “look of the day” channel on TikTok, where you style clothing with accessories for everyday / for different occasions / for different styles, and so on. Keep brainstorming for an idea that will match your brand perfectly.
7. Launch and learn: Tracking your success
Once you’ve developed a marketing plan, you need to track how successful it is. That’s when your SMART goals come in handy: they help you measure your progress.
Whether you want to develop your social media channels, increase website traffic, or boost sales, it’s important to put goals into numbers — especially if you have a limited budget. This will help you track what works and what doesn’t. If most of your clients come from Instagram, why waste time on Facebook?
There are lots of tools that can help with tracking your success.
For improving your social media performance, use each platform’s analytics tools. They will give you access to information, such as actions on the page, new followers, unfollows, post engagement, page views, and likes:
Facebook — Insights tab
Instagram — Instagram insights
Twitter — Twitter analytics
LinkedIn — free data on your company page (full analytics software with a premium account)
YouTube — YouTube analytics
TikTok — TikTok analytics
There are services that allow you to aggregate all your social media analytics, but these can be pricey once you’re juggling multiple accounts. If a one-stop dashboard is important for your business, Buffer or Hootsuite are popular options.
🚀 Pro tip from VistaCreate: Set up business accounts to get access to more information on your social media performance.
8. Get inspired: Marketing strategy examples and ideas
We’re done with the technicalities! Let’s move on to marketing strategy examples.
But first, a quick reminder:
A marketing strategy includes cornerstones such as your brand, values, customer persona, your ultimate goal, and key variables, such as short-term goals.
We need to keep these in mind.
Let’s say, you grow organic fruits and veggies at your farm in Charleston.🥦 🥕🌶 Here are the basics you can have in your marketing strategy outline:
Values: healthy lifestyle, wellness, environmentally-friendly produce, local businesses community
Customer persona: Linda, a 35-year chief cook from Charleston, who aims to cook healthy and delicious dishes using local ingredients
The ultimate goal: become a top fruit and veggies supplier for local restaurants in South Carolina
Next, what you can do to achieve this — your short-term goals:
Local SEO: Set up your Google My Business page and get into the top 5 search results.
Social media: Grow your Instagram (to show your yummy fruits and veggies ) and LinkedIn (to reach other businesses).
Industry partnership: Collaborate with local restaurants on a series of dishes that are unique to your region.
Local markets: Sell your fruits and veggies at weekly local markets to meet potential clients there.
Now, we’re really moving on to marketing strategy ideas for small businesses! 💡
- Use your personal brand
If you already have a solid number of followers on your personal social channels, use this to develop your business. Like sharing dessert recipes on Instagram? Start an online pastry shop. Passionate about vintage clothing? Select and sell special pieces at your own vintage store. Maybe you’re marketing savvy? Go ahead and launch an online course to share your knowledge.
Real-life example: Emma Chamberlain — a YouTube blogger who turned her passion for a cup of joe into a thriving coffee company. ☕️
- Leverage user-generated content
If you have a product people love to share on social media, make it your unique advantage. Encourage customers to share pictures using your brand hashtag, then post user-generated content in your feeds. Not only will this simplify content creation for you, but it also attracts even more people to your brand.
Real-life example: Sleeper, a brand that creates luxury loungewear and accessories, often uses their customers’ pictures on Instagram to make it less like a brand account. 🌸
- Send free samples to influencers
This is a perfect low-budget marketing strategy for a small business. Instead of spending all your money on an influencer campaign, send free samples and ask for reviews on social media.
Real-life example: Kay Bojesen, a kitchenware brand, collaborated with stylist Trine Kjær. 🍽
- Nail a customer referral program
Looking for ways to get more clients? Your current customers can help you with this. Offer a free product or a complimentary discount for their referral — this is another marketing strategy example affordable for small businesses.
Real-life example: Postable, a brand that helps people create beautiful cards and send them via email, offers $5 credit for referring a friend. 💌
Source: Really Good Emails
- Consider cross-promotion
This is another marketing strategy example a small business can leverage. Collaborate with a complementary brand to attract their audience to your business. For example, if you’re selling hair products — work with a beauty salon; if you’re roasting coffee beans — collaborate with a coffee shop or book store; if you’re producing vegan snacks — try selling them in yoga studios and gyms.
This is a business marketing strategy not only small businesses use: think of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, Uber and Spotify, or Crocs and Balenciaga.
9. Work smarter: Marketing strategy tips
Our brains love repetition. So, let’s sum up all the essential information into practical tips:
- Document your strategy — You want it nicely organized so that you can review it anytime you need it. Check out marketing strategy templates on VistaCreate for a quick presentation!
- Make your customer persona as real as possible — Use insights from your target audience research.
- Experiment to find the perfect marketing mix for your business — You don’t need to use every channel starting out. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
- Mind your brand consistency — Use your brand colors, fonts, tone, and voice across all platforms to build a brand people recognize and trust.
- Remember your ultimate goal — Everything you do in terms of marketing should bring you closer to it.
- Skipping early research steps
- Creating customer personas with no data behind them
- Setting blurred goals that are impossible to track
- Using marketing channels irrelevant to your audience
- Winging content creation and execution
Your marketing strategy is not a document you create once and bury among the other files on your laptop. It should be the guidepost for every business decision you make.
Whether you’re deciding on the color of your packaging, a CTA for an email, or a new gift certificate design, check in with your marketing strategy.
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