Ask the experts: Making a marketing plan on a limited budget

Monday, June 20, 2011

How can I develop a good marketing plan with a limited budget?

JOHN CHERRY: A good marketing plan is the product of a clear view of what's possible, balanced against what exactly you're trying to achieve. We'll get to budget in a moment, but for now, remember that you can't fix every problem or maximize every opportunity in one fell swoop.

John Cherry

So decide what opportunities are most realizable or what problems are simply mission critical in the coming months. You can probably make a pretty long list, but remember, you must prioritize. Seen this way, the need to economize and the limits on your budget are actually a good thing because they force you to focus and to be disciplined. Even if you had an unlimited budget, you'd probably be wasting it if you don't have a clear view of the top three things that have to be done, and soon.

If I were your marketing consultant and we were meeting to discuss the next years' promotional activities, my first question would be something like, "Well, which ones are bringing the best results?" This is hard to know if you're not doing things with measurable results. Obviously, simply blasting a commercial onto the airwaves or into the print media is something short of measurable marketing. Your sales might go up or down, and this may be the result of your advertising or of something else. So before you put budget into any promotional effort, think about how you'll know if it's working for you. The beauty of direct mail, coupons and other types of promotions is that these carry with them those little identifiers that let you directly tie expenditures to results. Space here doesn't allow for an in-depth survey of marketing techniques that allow you to trace a sale back to "the sell."

By now, you're probably very familiar with the advantages of the Internet. Perhaps chief among them is the ability to gather information about your buyers' "click streams." Which pages did they view? How did they arrive at your site? From a hyperlink placed on a partner's website? You may not be a web wizard yourself, but you should probably look into these types of web diagnostics, and compare this to traditional promotional expenses (I'm thinking of traditional advertising).

And while we're on the web, don't forget about social media. This is another area where space prohibits a full discussion of the possibilities. And I don't just mean Facebook -- you can write a blog, make yourself an authority in your field, build your brand and provide real value along the way for customers who need to solve problems. If you can position yourself in that conversation -- "I have a problem – what information is out there on the web – and ka-ching! – what are your store hours?" you're marketing in the 21st century, and on a budget.

One thing I haven't mentioned, because this is a very deep and wide topic: public relations. PR is famous for being the go-to method for building businesses on a shoestring budget. So for now, I'll just leave you with the basics of PR: use the media to tell your story. Public relations is about people, stories and problems solved, and attracts a natural audience. Maybe we can have a fuller discussion of PR in a future column. I'll close with the famous tale of the sun and the wind: The sun and the wind made a bet about which of them could force a weary traveler to remove his coat. So the wind went first, blowing furiously at him. In response he pulled his coat tighter around him. Then, when it was the sun's turn, the sun shone brightly on the traveler, warming him so much that he took off his coat! The moral of the story is that your advertising-as-usual is the wind, and we mostly resist it. But PR is the sun: it draws us in, it engages us in the warmth of stories, people and the friends we like to do business with. It costs less than advertising, and best of all, it's a perfect fit with the Internet. Keep it in mind when you're minding your budget.

DANA HUKEL: A good marketing plan on a limited budget is doable; it just takes a little more time and finesse. My first suggestion would be to determine what your budget is, so you can then begin to develop your plan and remain within those parameters.

Dana Hukel

One of the most important steps is establishing your target audience. You've probably read these questions month after month and always hear about the target audience, because it is that important. Your audience can't possibly be everyone, everywhere. Maybe it's a current untapped group or one who's already proven to be successful. It's crucial you figure out exactly who you need to market to so your plan can be a success. This is a key step.

Another good tactic is using inbound marketing solutions. This can range from research to determine what your customers need, which can help decide what your organization offers. It can also mean you "earn your way in" with customers by becoming their information source, so to speak. For example, maybe you're a landscaper, so you begin a blog where you post the latest trends and tips in summer landscaping. This is a fairly budget neutral tactic that can earn a lot of return. Other innovative inbound marketing solutions include using your website for interactive conversations with your customers, social media, events and other marketing tactics that bring your customers to you, whether to your location or via online tools.

Once you have identified the best target audience and implemented interactive inbound marketing solutions, you can use more of your marketing budget on direct marketing techniques and some mass media advertising to create and execute a full marketing strategy.

DREW JANES: A marketing plan with a limited budget is possible as long as you know what you want to accomplish. When we work with clients who need to create a marketing plan, we start with a brand strategy. It gives you a checklist of what message you need to communicate that promotes your brand. If you're trying to save some cash by creating a simple marketing plan, follow these quick guidelines to develop a simple plan that's easy to follow and implement:

Drew Janes

--Vision. Write out why you exist and why it matters to the world. What is at least one thing you do differently than any other business? Keep it short and refrain from using "ands" or commas.

-- Define your audience and demographics. How old are they? What do they act like? Define their personality so you know how to communicate with them.

-- Define your brand personality -- what your brand sounds like, acts like and looks like. This defines how you communicate and approach your audience.

-- Strategy. Find practical ways to communicate to your audience daily. Be sociable and think big. There is a lot more you can do yourself than you might think.

These steps are not the end, but rather the beginning of finding out who you are, who your audience is and why what you do is important. A marketing plan or strategy should coincide with your brand guidelines and strategy. It's tempting to start communicating first, but you will want to take a step back and work on your brand truth, which will help plan your marketing successfully.

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