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Can't Afford a Shop? Then Think Like One

Don't Dump to Execution: How to Build a Marketing Plan That Will Set Your Biz on a More Effective Path Now

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You're the marketing director of a small company with a small marketing budget. The company's marketing is all over the place: a list of tactics, each used to address a need.

It's obvious that you need professional guidance. But hiring an ad agency would eat most of your budget, leaving you with almost nothing for media. How are you going to create a brand that sees you through times both lean and fat, much less keep sales going now?

A Starbucks coffee shop in Pike Place market became an international brand.
A Starbucks coffee shop in Pike Place market became an international brand.

First off, if your small company is growing, the sooner you hire competent marketing expertise, the better. But this is the real world. You have to walk before you run, and if the money simply isn't there, you do the best you can.

So here's what you do: Think like an agency.

By using the same fundamentals as an agency, you can build a marketing plan that will set your company on a more effective path now. You will also avoid the No. 1 mistake small advertisers make: creating marketing in the wrong order. By that I mean they begin with the last step -- execution -- satisfying a need for, say, a website or brochure before they've settled on an objective.

Let's go through the steps.
1. Determine one specific objective
2. Define your target
3. Determine your identity
4. Develop your plan
5. Create and execute.

About now you're thinking, "Duh." Still, most small advertisers get into trouble because they don't take the steps in the correct order. Don't make the mistake of jumping to execution. By breaking down each step, you'll see why that 's a costly error.

Determine one specific objective
This must be a business goal that marketing can achieve. If you can't afford the marketing required to achieve the goal, it can't be the goal. The goal must also be specific if you expect the marketing to be measurable.

For example, if you're a retailer with a number of locations that need to boost business, the specific objective could be: Increase sales by 10% within three months by proving the superiority of the product over its competition.

Define your target
This is a crucial step and easily bungled because you are actually not defining a target but a bull's-eye. There's a lot to do here, but in a nutshell: Think of your dream customer. Write down everything you can think of that makes her a dream customer. Then break down that description into a few categories that will help guide you to the best place, time and way to communicate to her why she should buy your product.

Determine your identity
An identity is not a color, typeface, design style or tagline. It's a story. It's not what you do or how you do it, but rather why you do it. This will be the toughest step to do well because it's so tempting to say what you do differently or how you do it differently. But if the consumer doesn't know why you would do something better than everyone else, they won't believe that you can or will.

Develop your plan
This is your huge opportunity to be a hero or a chump. You know who will buy. You know how to tell them why they should. Now figure out the best ways to bring target and identity together. Warning: There will be a great temptation to do what you've always done. After all, the boss likes to see his company on TV.

But now is a time to examine all options to find the most effective way to connect target to identity. Don't let fear stop you from doing the right thing. If the best approach is social media and you don't know how that would work, keep it on the table. Then hire an expert.

Create and execute
Again, this is usually where most advertisers start. Now that you've made it the last step you'll find that you have better ideas that will be easier to get approved. Your objective, target , identity and plan will reinforce the validity of the creative and how best to carry it out.

This is a high-altitude view of something that needs closer examination to execute to its greatest potential. Think of these as keystones. Each must be placed so you are able to align everything else. Try this on one project, and I promise you will never do it any other way. Because it works.

Bart Cleveland is partner-creative director at McKee Wallwork Cleveland in Albuquerque, N.M.

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