Successful Communication Begins with Strategic Planning: Highlights of the VtSBDC Communications Plan
In Part 1 of our blog series on Communications, we shared the Why behind having a well thought out, strategic plan to assess and reflect upon your business’ unique value proposition, target audiences, branding, and messaging. While most of us love to plunge right into the energetic, fun side of tactics, let’s take a pause to understand the strategies first – and let the action steps flow from the starting point. Here are 10 highlights of strategic planning to think about and to implement at your own pace.
1. STAY TRUE TO YOUR BRAND…IT’S YOUR PROMISE TO YOUR CONSUMERS
This is your opportunity to let your customers and potential customers know what you and your business are all about. Claim your space in the business community and let your audience know what you stand for. Yes, the logo, colors and fonts are important for recognition in everything you create, but the visual representation is also symbolic of your promise. Remember the Nike Swoosh? What started out as a symbol of motion and speed has become a multi-billion dollar brand that speaks of transcendence through sports, a positive attitude, and an entire culture.
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE(S)/MARKETS
Keep in mind that your product or service is probably not for everyone, but is perfect for specific segments of the population. There is no such thing as a one size fits all marketing strategy. Each business caters to a different niche in the market, and therefore each company requires a marketing plan specific to their goals and needs.
Before deciding on an action plan, small business owners need to understand who their target customer is by asking several questions:
- What is their demographic: gender, livelihood, interests?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live?
- What online services do they use?
- How do they look for products?
- What are their buying behaviors?
- What other specifics do I know about my customers?
Knowing these things about your target customer will help your business develop a targeted and effective overall marketing strategy focusing on the channels that will connect you with your consumers.
3. REFRESH & BUILD UPON YOUR WEBSITE…YOUR HUB
View your website as the online version of your brick and mortar place of business. What do you want customers to see when they “come in,” and what do you want them to know? In most cases, your website is your first chance to make an impression. Businesses can use their website to provide their customers with more information, attain free traffic via search engines, drive people to their social media and establish themselves as an authority in their field by providing helpful content.
Once your company has a website you are happy with, you will want to continue to create content and update your website over time to keep it fresh and relevant. By linking your social media channels, and maybe even a blog site to your website, you will enhance your SEO and increase exposure for your business. Take a look at the VtSBDC Online Presence Guide for a comprehensive look at this topic.
4. EXPLORE YOUR COMMUNICATION TOOLS & OPTIONS
Your special target audiences whom you identified in #2 are reading, viewing, and watching a variety of digital and traditional media. A little research can go a long way in helping you select where, when and how to place your marketing messages, and while digital options have taken precedence over the past several years, remember that a direct mail piece, event sponsorship and other traditional tactics still have their place. Look forward to much more on this in Part III of this blog series – coming soon!
5. SPICE UP YOUR SOCIAL
While some small business owners embrace engagement via social media, there are those who find it to be overwhelming, especially when it comes to ideas on what to post. To make this easier, and yes, even fun, consider having a social media calendar to accompany your overall plan. You can allot some time every month to fill out the calendar with holidays and milestones you want to recognize for your business, relevant articles you would like to link, and even “shares” of other organizations you follow. You might even take a look at paid digital ads. Once you have the posts laid out in a calendar format, you can schedule posts accordingly without stressing.
The most important aspect is to inspire a conversation between your business and your consumers and to keep it interesting and active. While this strategy may take some time to yield tangible results, you are in fact building stronger relationships that will lead to loyalty and sales.
6. EMAIL CUSTOMERS AND POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
There are many advantages to using email as a marketing strategy. It is easy to do, can be automated, provides instantaneous communication, costs very little and can reach a large number of your potential customers.
This process all starts with your database, so try to remember to get customers’ emails in a variety of ways. For example, they can sign up for an enewsletter, leave contact info in a guest book, fill out an order form – you can save in an Excel sheet or in a more advanced software format, but definitely save them.
From the database, you can provide interesting, valuable and relevant content so the emails get opened and not just merely diverted to spam mail.
7. NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
While we have focused a great deal on digital strategies, there is nothing more important to your business than building relationships in your online and offline communities. Referrals will grow from your personal and vendor relationships, community involvement, contacts through your children’s school and sports activities – everywhere you look there will be potential customers within your reach. Make sure they know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. This approach will serve you well in the long term – personally and professionally.
8. ENGAGE YOUR SOCIAL CONSCIENCE
Aligning with a non-profit that is near and dear to your heart is not only good for you, it’s good for business. Consumers like to know that you are giving back to the community, and it helps to build a like-minded network of caring people who will rally around your cause…and your business.
9. BECOME A CURATOR
You don’t have to be a professional photographer to capture images that are aesthetically pleasing and true to your brand. Photos from your phone camera can work perfectly fine when done thoughtfully. Archive your photos by category or service on your computer, and when you are ready to sit down and create your social media posts you will have a photo library at your fingertips. Same goes for ideas for your blog or newsletter – write and save a short brief when the idea strikes, and it will be right there when you are ready to tackle that next piece of content for your website.
10. PACE YOURSELF
As a small business owner, and perhaps even a sole proprietor, it’s okay to acknowledge that there are only 168 hours in a week with many demands on your time. Implementing a communication plan, and doing it well, is important to your business but you cannot do it all at once. It is best to allocate four to five hours per week for your marketing efforts, to approach your plan in manageable phases, and to consider hiring an internal or outsourced communications specialist to give you a hand. Take small action steps at first, assessing results at intervals along the way, and tweaking as necessary.
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