Creating a successful marketing plan is as much about asking yourself questions as it is analyzing the marketplace. It can help streamline your operation, boost brand awareness, and solidify your place in the market, especially for a small business. Here are five cornerstones any successful strategy should possess.

Mission statement

Your mission statement is at the core of everything you do as a business, this is your chance to boil the essence of your organization down into a simple and poignant statement that will resonate with your audience. When developing your mission statement, keep it clear and concise, and to get you started here are a few things to consider:

  • Your brand’s message
  • What differentiates your product or service from the competition
  • What you guarantee to your customers (i.e. your value proposition)

Strategy breakdown

While your mission statement will be clear about how your product and customer service outperform that of the competition, your strategy will breakdown your tactics. Are you going to implement an omni-channel marketing strategy, or are you going to focus only on targeted channels? In other words, will your strategy include all of the pillars of digital marketing (search, social, content, mobile), or are you going to limit yourself to one or two?

To help you craft the perfect strategy, you’ll need to know who you’re marketing to. That brings us to the next element.

Target audience

This is who your product or service will appeal to based on your value proposition. To learn this ask yourself who your customers are, where they live, and what they do. If you’re selling a new industrial combine your target audience will likely be large commercial farms in agricultural areas. Or maybe you’ve designed a sleek new UX solution, so your targets would be medium-to-large-scale businesses in cities with a pronounced tech industry.

Then, to reach them, you need to find out how they consume their media. Pew is a good resource to glean information about demographic activity. Ask yourself what these potential customers want, and what challenges they face in getting it. Does your product or service solve their problem and give them this thing they desire? Does your price point align with what they are willing to pay? Learning all this will help you accurately define that coveted target audience.

But it goes even deeper. You can define your target beyond a general audience, right down to the individual. It’s called “segmentation.”

Consider its benefits: targeting individuals helps you to focus your resources on those potential customers most likely to convert. That corresponds to prioritization of opportunities in your sales funnel, which in turn allows you to find the customers who are the best fir for your brand. In turn these customers will (in all likelihood) closer faster and remain more loyal. They’re also more likely to become evangelists for your brand, singing its praises on social media and product-review pages.

How do you go about this precise targeting? To properly segment down to the individual, you will need to find those customers that match certain criteria aligning with your value proposition. This is called the “ideal customer profile.” No matter your industry, you will likely include certain criteria, such as:

  • Geographic
  • Demographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioral

The geographic and demographic criteria are similar to how you would go about defining a broad target audience (Where do your target customers live? What do they do for a living?). Where it gets more precise is on the psychographic and behavioral end of things. Who are these people beyond what they do for a living? Are they teenagers who like horror movies and fast food? Maybe middle-aged moms who go to College football games with their families. The point is to learn as much as you can about their attitudes and beliefs so you can see them as an individual and not as a broad target.

Getting into these details will tell you fairly accurately how they make their purchase decisions. It will tell you whether their values as a consumer align with yours a business. Mostly, creating an in-depth customer profile will tell you if your sales and marketing teams are targeting the right customer, or simply wasting time on those who’ll likely never convert.

Competitive market analysis

Properly segmenting your target audience down to the individual will help you to perform market analysis of your main competitors. It will also reveal how you stand out in the market. Again you’ll want to ask yourself questions. The principal question should be what makes your brand unique? Who are your competitors and what are their weaknesses? Can you capitalize where they’ve fallen short?

Also, you’ll also want to look critically at your own operation. What marketing challenges do you face? Are there any tech disruptions on the horizon that could impact your brand or, even more dire, render you obsolete? Outside impediments to your brand’s success include your competition, but it also includes every other external influence on your business.

Labor delegation

Your strategy needs to be clear about who is in charge of what. If you have a business partner, discuss the designation of marketing resources with them. If not, delegate jobs on your own. Again, answer some clear questions: who’s in charge of what project and initiative; who’s running the sales end of things; does your marketing team need to be trained in new tactics or strategies; does your team have all the tools at their disposal to implement a successful marketing strategy?

Any business strategy is only effective when everyone has properly defined roles and clear objectives.

Budget

As a small business you’re likely operating with limited capital, which is why crafting a detailed budget is crucial. You don’t want all those marketing costs to skyrocket unexpectedly after just a month or two.

To start, fire up a spreadsheet program like Excel and make sure each marketing activity you’re planning has its own budget. If you’re unsure of how much certain channels and activities will cost, add 25% to your estimate. This budget should allow for everything, including internal staff time, external outsourcing, and all out-of-pocket expenses.

Conclusion

After implementing your marketing strategy, the next critical step is to track its effectiveness. Schedule regular meetings with your sales and marketing teams and get feedback and tweak the strategy. Remember, marketing plans aren’t set in stone—they are guidelines subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and should be adjusted to reflect that.