Creating a Successful Marketing Campaign
Extraordinary Result producers know that market research is the cornerstone of any marketing plan. The elements of a successful marketing plan hinge on the accurate, insightful conclusions of thorough research. Don't assume you know how your customer feels about your service or product or that your competitors aren't encroaching on your market share. Let your research draw these conclusions for you. And remember, research never ends. It's a grim reality that on-going research is a function of any long-range marketing plan. You'll need to re-evaluate your information on a regular basis.
You need top know what you're selling. To develop a true understanding of your service or product, ask yourself these questions:
- How is my product or service unique from similar products or services?
- Why would someone buy or use this?
- How important is price?
- How long does it last?
- How often do people need it?
- What do customers like and dislike about it?
- From the point view of the customer, what value and benefit is the product or service providing them?
- What customer need are we fulfilling?
- What do customers base their purchase on?
- Can it be improved? How?
- Does it require any follow-up service?
How do you find the answers to these questions?
There are a number of techniques that are easy to understand and generally easy to implement:
"Response mechanism or vehicle" is simply a fancy way to say "a way to follow up with your customer". When interaction between you and your customer is complete (regardless of whether the customer bought your service or product), ask for their impressions of your company and your service or product. A formal follow-up, sent through the mail or conducted over the phone or in person, can tell you what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right. You can't necessarily base decisions on a single response, but as you continue to follow-up, you may see patterns developing. If so, respond.
Product data is available to you through business and trade publications and the internet. Visit your local library to determine the periodicals appropriate for you and subscribe to them. The information you can garner from these sources includes everything from product performance testing to trends in the industry.
Seminars, courses, and trade shows are great ways to gather product information (and network). You'll have field experts at you fingertips; so attend and ask lots of questions!
Other opinions can come from your suppliers and your employees. These people can offer information that will help you took at your service or product from other angles. Don't take action based on a single comment; rather, make note of comments and suggestions and look for a consensus of opinion.
Before you can decide where your business is going, you need to look at where it's been. Unless you've just opened your doors, there's a wealth of information at you fingertips: sales figures, customer information, employee history, and financial data. You need to spend time developing a profile of your company in order to familiarize yourself with the strengths and weakness that may affect your marketing plan. If you are a new business, begin tracking this information now, then you won't have to spend time compiling past figures.
Analyzing numbers is a great reason to plunge into the world of computer technology. If you don't have a system, it's time to get one.
Your in-house data may include:
- Sales data
- Salesperson reports
- Warranty cards
- Old marketing plans
Use this information to answer the following questions:
- How have sales changed from the past ten years? Are there trends?
- How has pricing affected sales?
- Has the business become more (or less) profitable as it has grown?
- How have past marketing efforts succeeded or failed? Why?
Another important note: don't simply look at data from the past year. Examine several years, and as time moves on, update your analysis with current figures.
There are a number of elements essential to customer research:
- Customer Profile
- Potential Customers/Prospects
- Customer Perceptions
- Market Segmentation
- Customer Tracking
- Customer Retention
Your customer profile should include statistical information like age, sex, income, occupation, and marital status (demographics), the location of your customers (geographics), and lifestyle information like interests, opinions, and values (psychographics). If your customer is a business rather than and individual, these categories would change accordingly. For instance, demographic information would include size, age, number of employees, services and/or products offered, etc. Understanding your present customers will help you to identify potential or "look-a-like" customers for target marketing.
Your customer perceptions are the opinions your customer has about your business, your competition, and the service/product you both provide. Tracking your present customers, and creating a profile of them, will give you a clear picture of their influence on your business. As an entrepreneur, you need to ask yourself: Am I getting the most from my customers? Do I offer services or products that they are not buying? Are there services or products I should carry because my customers are buying them elsewhere? What do my customers like most and least about my service or product?
Once you've described your customers, you can begin to divide them into smaller groups. This is called segmentation. There are two major reasons for segmenting your market:
- You can pursue the most appropriate markets. For example, if your financial resources are limited, you can spend more effectively by pursuing the customers who are the easiest to reach and the most profitable.
- You can develop a very specific and appropriate marketing strategy.
Consider the case of a small auto body repair shop. The owner's forte, and preference, is to use his skills to restore collectible and rare automobiles and trucks. He finds, however, that most of his time (75%, in fact) is spent on standard collision repair work. After reviewing and analyzing his profits, the owner realizes that greater profit is earned by his restoration work; the reason for the difference is that he is able to charge a much higher hourly rate for the skills required in restoration. It becomes clear to the owner that he should try to attract more customers who fall into this segment of his market. So, he attends several local antique auto shows, to which he brings a Mustang he's recently restored, where he hands out fliers and introduces himself to local collectors and dealers. Ultimately, he is able to change his customer base so that 75% of his time is spent on restoration rather than collision repair. His profits increase dramatically, and he enjoys his work more.
Customer tracking is most effectively managed with a database. There are a variety of commercial software applications available to you (and they're generally very easy to use and understand), and the cost of both the hardware and software have never been lower. So, there's really no excuse for avoiding the convenience of computer technology.
The capabilities of a good computer and software package are extensive. A database can: tabulate and categorize daily sales, generate customer mailing lists, maintain daily inventory, calculate year-end figures, project income, and on and on.
If you don't have any knowledge of computers and software, don't worry. The term "user friendly" is an honest assessment of much of today's technology. But though you'll be amazed at how quickly you'll learn, don't attempt to select appropriate equipment on your own.
There are excellent database software packages available today. Your computer consultant should be able to suggest programs that are appropriate for your applications. You should also ask for names of businesses using the particular programs you are interested in purchasing to find out-from a user's perspective-if the program is right for you.
And finally, one very important piece of information may become apparent as you use your database to track your customers:
Your present customers may be your best prospects.
This being the case, retention marketing must be included in your marketing objectives and strategy. Not only do you want to keep these people, you may be able to sell them something else. Maximizing the potential of clients you already have is much less expensive and less time consuming than reaching out to potential customers. It's your customer base that provides stability, so be sure to include this group in your marketing plan.
There are lots of things you need to know about your competition:
- Who are they?
- What is their market share?
- How long have they been in business?
- What is the public's perception of them?
- What do they offer that you don't (and vice versa)?
- Do they advertise? To what extent?
- How do you find the answers to these questions? There are two very simple ways: Trade Journals and Business Magazines.
A variety of business publications are available that will provide you with industry data and special reports. Visit the internet, your local library and review The Business Periodicals Index, Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Wall Street Journal Index, or New York Times Index to select periodicals appropriate for your business. And don't neglect your local publications. Newspapers, local business journals and local magazines are a great source of information; you'll read articles about local business people, trends, and events, and you'll get a good look at local advertising.
Shopping the Competition
One of the easiest and most insightful ways to find out about the competition is to "shop" them. This doesn't mean a simple visit to their place of business. It means getting involved as a customer, and if you can't, perhaps an employee can. What could you learn from this? Your employee will get a feeling for how busy the competition is, the quality of the work, professionalism, the number of employees, the kind of clientele, the cost of services, the working environment, etc. This kind of information is invaluable-you'll see what the competition is doing right and doing wrong. You can plan your attack from there.
In addition to your service or product, your company, your customer, and your competition, there are other factors that can have an impact on your marketing plan. Referred to as the marketplace, this area is often beyond your control. But while you can't change things, it's important to be aware of the effects of these outside sources.
Many services and products have sales periods that peak at certain times of the year. An oil company is generally very busy during the winter, while landscaping companies are slow during the same period. For obvious reasons, it's difficult, if not impossible, to change these cycles. So be aware of seasonal changes and plan around them.
Economic conditions, at an individual level within the broader marketplace, must be considered in relation to your business. Here are a few basic observations:
- During an economic downturn, households have less disposable income, thus the sale of lower priced services of products can rise among certain segments of the population.
- Economic factors that affect middle and lower income families may have little or no effect on upper income families, thus lower prices may not yield results for some products.
Other marketplace concerns to watch for may include: legal issues, market size and growth potential, suppliers and resources, and ethical/moral issues.