When four experienced, well-connected bankers decided to join forces and start a small community bank, their intended marketing plan was to open the doors of their flagship location and reach out to their contacts to say, “we’re open,” a frequently used approach that assumes, “build it and they will come.”
However, something happened during the early planning stages that changed their minds. Critical questions arose, such as: “Don’t you think we need a logo? What about our brand? How will our audience understand our concept? Who is our audience? What will we do when we run out of contacts? How will we tell our story? How do we continue to gain new customers and grow our existing relationships? What content on our website and collateral materials will best reflect our brand voice?”
These thought-provoking queries led the group to realize that they needed a Communications Plan to dovetail with their Business Plan. Without a roadmap for marketing and public relations strategies and tactics, they would operate in a strictly reactive way that would not move them toward the results they were after: new customers, new accounts, handsome profits, and high growth. Long story short, they ended up hiring an outside agency that created a full-scale communications plan to help develop their brand identity, clear messaging, strategies for paid and earned media, synergies for community engagement, fresh content, measurement tools and more.
Fast forward 11 years: the bank grew to eight locations, built a stellar reputation, garnered countless media mentions and positive customer reviews, and ultimately achieved a multi-million dollar sale to a larger bank. The four bankers eased happily into a more-than-comfortable retirement.
This is a real case study with many lessons learned; while not every business needs a full-scale communications plan covering start up through succession, every business needs strategies and tactics that will create awareness, attain acceptance and encourage action from its target audiences. Communication builds trust. Communication builds relationships.
To help clients accomplish their communications goals, VtSBDC has added a series of marketing tools to its online resource center that can be DIY, but are recommended for working through together with a VtSBDC advisor. Depending on the business’s short and long term goals, VtSBDC offers options for a comprehensive Communications Plan, a one-page Marketing Strategy Canvas, and a Media Audit to assess current marketing efforts and to determine next steps.
Wondering if this is right for you? Here are five reasons why a Communications Plan will help you and your business.
- TO FOCUS ON YOUR BRAND
You may have your mission statement and values in mind, but it would help to have them be more tangible in a document for easy reference for you, your staff, and potentially your investors. Creating a communications plan requires you to think about your brand and your promises to your customers. Who is your competition and how are you differentiating your business from those competitors? Get those thoughts down on paper before you forget – these ideas will come in handy later when you take steps to market your product or service.
Next, consider who your target market is. Men over 30 who own motorcycles? Couples who collect art? Families who go camping? Creating a persona (or three) of your ideal customer will provide a structured framework of who you are talking to and what you would like to say to them.
Don’t miss an opportunity to establish your goals and objectives – what do you want to accomplish over the next three, six, and 12 months? More sales? Increase in consumer recognition? A higher number of media mentions? What does success look like for your business?
Although it may seem challenging, you’d be surprised how much excitement you can ignite by reflecting on your business and answering these questions. You could rediscover your passion and remember why you went into this in the first place.
- TO CREATE AWARENESS OF YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE
You’ve done the work of clarifying your brand, identifying your target markets, and establishing your goals. How are you going to use this valuable information? The more you know about the internal side of your business, the more prepared you will be to develop outward facing strategies.
Keep in mind that engaging with your customer doesn’t happen overnight. First, they have to be aware, second, they have to accept your product or service as the solution to their problem and third, they have to take action to purchase. It’s a process that requires careful planning in small “bites” or phases.
- TO BRING CONSISTENCY TO YOUR BUSINESS
The reality is that most businesses will put forth a marketing effort only when they open, create a sale or special promotion, or focus on a holiday or special event. They may go quiet for the rest of the year at the risk of being forgotten, or worse, replaced by a competitors’ services. A well thought out plan will include a calendar for year-round promotions, social media messaging, email blasts, and other topics that will keep a business top of mind and provide consistency.
- TO KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING
Linked to #3, it is almost surprising to see the impact of a consistent communication plan on the momentum of awareness and ultimate results. There may be a few months where nothing seems to be happening, when suddenly the efforts take hold and start creating a buzz. At that point, it’s important to feed and nurture new budding relationships to develop loyalty into the future.
- TO EVALUATE WHAT WORKS…AND WHAT DOESN’T
Keep in mind that nothing is set in stone and you are allowed (and encouraged) to test your efforts to see what works…and what does not. Allocating a limited budget to test a new media – like radio sponsorships, for example, provides an opportunity to measure results before throwing good money after bad. Keep in mind, however, that running an ad one or two times is not an accurate indicator. Readers/listeners need repetition of clear messaging before taking action, which is why running a campaign for at least three months is recommended. Think back to your criteria for success and measure those results before moving forward: number of website visits, social media “likes,” sales generated, event attendees offer easy analytics.
If you are wondering what to do next, check out the VtSBDC Communications Plan template and other marketing resources to take the first steps toward customizing your own plan. Remember that not every component of these templates will apply to your business, as this is meant to be used as a guideline that can be customized to meet your needs.
Looking for more? Check out our resources page or reach out to your regional advisor!
Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon as this is part of a series on the topic of how to use VtSBDC’s marketing and communication resources.
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