How to create a marketing strategy for your small- and mid-sized business

A marketing strategy is essential for any business looking to maximize potential, but business owners often put it last on their to-do list…or hope they can get by without it.

Experts will tell you that is a classic mistake. So what is a marketing strategy and why is it so important?

Creative Business sat down with Tori Barker, the owner of Creative Marketing, a California-based digital marketing, brand strategy and consulting company, to uncover just why a marketing strategy is so important for business growth.

Barker has extensive experience in corporate marketing spanning nearly 20 years, with a background in developing digital campaigns for major residential real estate brands. She launched her own firm four years ago to provide hands-on support and consulting services to small and mid-size businesses looking to implement their own marketing strategies.

In a post-pandemic world, and with the prospect of a recession looming, businesses need to use all the tools at their disposal to boost growth and protect against risk. A marketing strategy should be at the top of the list, says Barker, who recently joined us for a Q&A discussion.

Q:  What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?

A: Those two terms are often used interchangeably but they’re really different. A marketing strategy is a high level, overall view of your marketing goals. What do you want to achieve? Who’s your target audience? What product are you trying to sell?  A marketing plan is the framework for reaching those goals. It’s the tactics, how you identify your target audience, your budget, your positioning and your timeline. It’s the document that you’re going to work from to measure the success of your marketing strategy moving forward.

Q: Why do businesses need a marketing strategy?

 A: It’s essential to have a marketing strategy and plan because that is going to be the hub of everything that drives your business growth. It connects to sales and customer service, your goals and business strategies. So it’s really an integral part of any business. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes overlooked or put last on the list. And I think that’s a big mistake. Your business plan and your marketing plan should go hand in hand.

Q: What are the consequences of not having a marketing strategy?

A: I call that the spray and pray approach. If you don’t have a plan or strategy then you don’t know if what you’re doing is going to be successful. It’s like throwing spaghetti on the wall, right? You just throw something out there or go with the latest trend and hope that it works. With a plan and a strategy, you actually have identified what you want to do and then you can track and measure the campaign to see if it’s a success or it needs to be tweaked.

Q: My company is small. Do I still need a marketing strategy?

A: Absolutely. A marketing strategy and plan can match the needs of a company, no matter the size. A big public company is going to have bigger initiatives. A smaller local company that needs to raise awareness might just do a direct mail campaign or a Facebook ad. There are different ways that you meet your audience based on the size of your company, the needs of your company and the needs of your audience.

Q: Can I update my strategy if I find it’s not hitting its targets?

A: A lot of times in marketing, we do what we call beta testing. We’ll launch the campaign and halfway through we’ll reevaluate to make sure it’s working, that we’re getting visitors to the website or the visitors are clicking on the calls to action. If not, then, we look back at our messaging and tweak or revise what we have. So, we do this beta testing until we see that the strategy is working and we’re achieving success.

Q: Will having a marketing strategy help my business increase sales?

A: Yes, absolutely, because the marketing is driving the customers coming in. With a strategy and plan in place you’re going to have better targeting, more visibility and better conversion rates.

Q: Will it cost my business money to create it?

A: A marketing plan will cost money in a couple different ways. If you have an internal team, it’s going to be the time of the employees that you have to develop a marketing plan and strategy. If you don’t have the capability within your firm, then there’s resources like my firm that can help with putting together a roadmap. So it will be employee costs or an external consultant that you hire.

Q: Can it save my company money?

 A:  Having a plan does save money in the long run by adding efficiency. If you don’t have a plan in place, then you could launch an untested marketing campaign that may not be successful.  So, you spend all this money on a campaign that hasn’t performed – you didn’t get the leads, you didn’t sell the product, you didn’t get results. But if you had identified your target audience and identified the messaging that you needed to use, then the campaign is more likely to be successful.  So you save money in the long run by taking a step back and planning from the get-go.

Q: How much will it cost my business?

A: It really depends. Most consultants charge an hourly rate. If you have an internal person it would be the employee costs. So it’s hard to provide a number without knowing more about a company and its resources.

Q: How do you develop a marketing strategy?

A:  In marketing, having a clear framework can guide the development of an effective strategy and plan. While some may rely on a simple three-category approach, I prefer my own five-part framework: Clarify, Create, Calibrate, Capture, and Convert. With subcategories under each piece, this framework helps to break down the necessary steps to identify and reach your target audience, craft effective messaging, optimize performance, retain customers, and ultimately drive conversions.

Q: Can I change my strategy if the business environment changes? 

A: For sure. A lot of businesses faced this when Covid hit because a lot of companies didn’t have an online presence, they just relied on brick and mortar stores and word of mouth. So when the world shut down, companies had to quickly shift to an online presence, whether building a website, creating a social media presence or doing video marketing. I think consumer behavior changes all the time, so as a company, you have to know your industry and be aware of what’s happening. When it comes to marketing campaigns, it’s okay to make adjustments. If you’re not reaching the right audience, you can adjust based on reviewing and analyzing the performance of the campaign as it goes along to get to the audience that you need.

Q: Does my strategy have to include social media?

A: Oh I always get that question! ‘Do I need to be on all social media platforms? Or do I need to use TikTok and snapchat?’ And I always say ‘Well, where’s your audience?’ If your audience is a younger demographic, then they’re probably going to be on Instagram.  If you have an older demographic, they’re probably going to be on Facebook. So you need to know how to find your customer base and meet them where they are. On the other hand, you don’t want to go back to the spray and pray approach. You don’t need to do all the platforms, just to do the ones that make sense. The most important thing that I tell people is don’t just follow what other people are doing. Put your own personal spin on your campaign so that you stand out from the crowd.