Once you are armed with insights about your customers' behavior both as shoppers and as online participants you can flesh out your marketing strategy.
Look backward to look forward.
Get the list of every marketing activity you did last year: trade shows, retail shows, print ads, digital ads, billboards, press releases, radio spots, Facebook promotions, website promotions, events . . . and consider how well each promotion did for you.
What determines a successful promotion? A successful promotion is one that achieves the goals you set for it. If your goal for an event was to get 200 new customers to visit your establishment, then 210 non-employee guests at your party is probably a success. Some marketing efforts are easier to measure than others, but you must take a stab at measuring each one, deeming them successful, unsuccessful, or somewhere in-between.
For those efforts that you deemed successful, do you have reason to believe that repeating them this year will generate a similar level of success? Some marketing plans are terrific . . . but only once. Others should become regularly scheduled efforts.
For efforts that you deemed unsuccessful, can you identify what went wrong or what you could have done better? Determine what, if anything, you could have done to change the outcome, and decide whether or not to try again with new insights.
Set goals for next year
Success and failure can only be determined in relation to goals. So set goals for sales next year and make them as measurable as possible: Total sales in dollars, total sales in units, total new dealers opened, total new customers, profitability in either dollars or percentage points, growth percent, total new customers, X% increased volume from existing customers - these are the types of goals that drive a marketing strategy.
Once you've set your goals, you're ready to determine your messages. You should focus on one or two messages that you want to get across to your customers and potential customers over the course of the year. These are your core messages, and are geared to helping your customers recognize your big difference, the reason they should buy from you and not someone else. Once you have a firm handle on those one or two (max) messages, you're ready to decide which marketing efforts will help you deliver your message(s) and achieve your goals.
Look at your marketing options by category
Your plan should include a healthy mix of different marketing elements: paid advertising - both print and digital, social media, public relations, email and direct mail, and events. I like to lay this out month by month like a giant editorial calendar. In each month we visualize which marketing elements we will use, how much they will cost, and how we will be conveying the core message(s).
Don't worry about planning out every social media post - that would drive all the spontaneity out of your social media campaign. For your Facebook and Twitter feeds, come up with a significant element each week that you will use to convey your core message(s), and then let the rest flow as it usually does.
Once you've laid it all out, taking into consideration your current customer behavior, how you want to influence or modify that behavior, and which marketing efforts worked and did not work in the past year, you can add all the dollars up and there's your marketing strategy.
Is this all there is to marketing strategy?
No, of course not. A superbly executed marketing strategy has many more elements to it. But if every small business owner would just do the activities of this and the previous two blog posts, it would significantly improve the efficacy of his or her marketing. By a lot. And the benefits gained will help pay for a more sophisticated marketing effort in the years to come.