Each week, small business owners and managers are bombarded by countless blog posts, articles, and how-tos on marketing their companies. Many are filled with excellent advice, tips, and statistics to help small businesses grow their revenue.

But, few include The Most Powerful Thing Small Businesses Need to Succeed.

There are countless pieces on content marketing, social media marketing, mobile marketing, e-mail marketing, etc. Some focus on the newest trends, gadgets, and technologies that enable small businesses to better reach their customers. Vendors conduct studies and surveys to convince you that their product category or channel is “the” answer to all your marketing challenges.

But, few include The Most Powerful Thing Small Businesses Need to Succeed.

So, what is it? What is The Most Powerful Thing Small Businesses Need to Succeed?

First, let’s pretend to take a drive. We get into the car and onto the closest highway.

You: Where are we going?

Me: I don’t know.

You: When are we stopping for lunch?

Me: Beats me.

You: When will we be there?

Me: Haven’t a clue.

Aha! Now you “get” it. We don’t know where we’re going.

As the Cheshire cat said to Alice in Alice in Wonderland:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

The most powerful thing you can do for your small business is to develop a strategy – a marketing (and branding) plan.

First, let’s define “strategy.” Most of us use this word without a second thought. Yet how many know its meaning and the difference between strategy and “tactics?” Don’t feel badly if you can’t define them. I’ve read articles and posts by professional marketers who confuse the two terms.

In a nutshell, strategy is the plan and tactics are the actions you take to implement the plan. Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Next, strategy always comes before tactics. Many small business owners and professionals are “doing” tactics without identifying where they’re going. Many spend time, effort, and money on activities they think they should do.

Who should develop the plan?

I recommend deciding whether you want to tackle the plan yourself or seek professional assistance. Realistically, if you lack the time, inclination, or desire to work on the plan yourself and you have the financial resources, I suggest hiring an experienced marketing consultant to develop the plan with you.

This is especially valuable if your business is in startup mode. Contract with a professional who can help you create a business plan with a marketing and branding strategy as a subset.

However, if paying for professional assistance isn’t feasible and you want to develop a new plan or improve or update an old one, there are many resources available to guide you.

Will a one-page, one-size-fits-all plan work?

No, not if you want an effective plan for your specific business. I’ve seen several abbreviated marketing plans and they make a good start, but they aren’t comprehensive enough. In my opinion, a marketing and branding strategy should be given thought, time, and research.

What does a marketing and branding plan give you?

By the end of the plan, you’ll have captured where your company stands now, its overall business objectives, ideal customers and referral sources, brand characteristics, marketing and branding activities (tactics), and the measurement tools you’ll need to identify what’s working and what’s not.

The final plan will read like a business report, with a cover page, table of contents, and the four sections below. You’ll be able to refer to the document regularly and share it with employees and/or any outsourced marketing professionals.

A marketing and branding plan consists of four sections:

I. Market & Situation Analysis – your current marketplace and business position
II. Marketing & Branding Strategy – your business objectives and how to reach them
III. Marketing & Branding Tactics – your business actions to reach strategic objectives
IV. Metrics – measurement methods to determine which tactics are working or not

Within each section, there are several subsections that help break things down into chunks, making it easier and more focused to complete. You can set up a manageable schedule to tackle it, enlisting assistance from appropriate employees or “helpers.”

So, before you write your social media, content marketing, or other plans, do the due diligence and make sure you have the overarching strategy in place. It will set you in the right direction based on an informed understanding of your business.

*Excerpted and adapted from Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success
©2015, Elaine Fogel, All rights reserved.

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