*this information is adapted from the IRS newsletter Issue Number: Tax Tip 2023-15 *this information…
How to Create a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan can take many forms. At the most basic level, it is a commitment to engage with your customers and potential customers in a specific way (or set of ways) on a regular basis with the intent to sell them your product and/or service.
The concept of “engaging with your customers” takes many different forms in the modern era. You will no longer be successful with just a hardcopy/print brochure or a static (as in, unchanging or not regularly updated) website that explains your products and/or service. Now you must cut through the noise and regularly communicate, respond and react to your customers, creating a community in person AND online. It’s tough work and can take an entire dedicated resource or team of resources—which sounds daunting.
The first step to creating your marketing plan is asking yourself several questions and then analyzing your answers. For each question, there are detailed sub-questions and a sample pole-related scenario.
Ideally, a marketing plan is something you do before you start a business, but that is not always the case. Perhaps you’ve been in business a while and finally have time to think strategically about your business. Or perhaps you are starting a new business line and want to market it in a more structured way. There never is a “wrong” time to start thinking strategically about your marketing!
Who is your audience? If you are a new business—who is your intended audience? Are you selling to a specific type of person? In a specific industry? What do they look like, sound like and act like? It can be fun to come up with different customer profiles! The better you understand whom you imagine using your product and/or service, the better you can sell to them. If you have an existing business, analyze your sales data to see who your customers actually are. Are you selling more to wholesalers or direct to consumers? Your presumptions about your customer(s) may be different then who is actually spending time and money with you. Always keep reviewing and updating your data so you truly know your customer.
Example: you are the new owner of an existing studio. You know you already attract a lot of women local to your area, and now you have decided the studio will be co-ed and you would like to attract men as well. First, you should analyze what kind of female student you are popular with in your current incarnation—is she sporty or sexy?— and then determine what kind of male student you would like to attract. Would these customers be in the same classes? Or separate? Will they co-mingle in your waiting area? How do these groups interact?
What are you selling? This sounds like a simple thing to know but be very clear in what you sell and your options to buy. Are there discounts for bulk ordering or ordering early? Payment plans? Price flexibility can be appealing to clients/potential clients, however it can also be confusing. If you decide to start selling lots of different things, you may consider offering them through different channels and/or business entities rather than trying to sell everything. If you do sell everything, find a way to connect it all together. For instance, Wal-Mart sells lots of things but really what they sell is low prices (more on this in the “why” section).
Example: your newly reopened studio is really starting to appeal to men! Hurray! You have decided to offer men’s apparel for sale and not finding what you like in the existing marketplace, you are designing and sewing men’s shorts yourself. They are flying off the shelves and you think you could sell them to other studios or even direct to other consumers. Your studio brand may not be relevant or powerful outside of your existing customers; so you may want to start a new company/brand specifically for your men’s apparel.
Where is your offering? Is it available only in a specific geographic region or accessible anywhere in the world such as on a digital download or Zoom class, accessible online? What language or time zone issues might you deal with in serving your customers?
Example: your newly reopened studio serves a rural community in South Dakota and has a lot of success there. So much so, that you consider doing online lessons and it turns out you become hugely popular in Mexico! Do you re-shoot your videos in Spanish? Hire bilingual instructors? How do you sell to this new market who speaks a totally different language? Focusing on your existing, local customer base—are their relevant events you could attend in your local area to promote your studio such as a bridal event to attract bachelorette parties? Maybe you could advertise in your local newspaper. These paths cost time and money to investigate and serve properly, review all your options and associated costs before committing to a course of action.
When do you engage with your audience? When are your customers looking for information? If they are in different time zones, how do you address issues when you are asleep? Make a regular commitment to engage with your customers and then follow that commitment consistently. Consistency breeds trust which encourages your customers to believe in you and eventually to give you money for your product and/or service.
Example: There are many tools (some in the “how” section) that tell you when your customers are engaging with your information. These same tools also allow you to schedule marketing information to publish such as social media posts and digital newsletters so you can sleep while your clients are receiving your information. Set a specific schedule that is different per tool and then keep it. Some recommended frequencies are included in the “how” section.
Why should they choose you? What is your unique selling proposition? In the “what” section we mentioned Wal-Mart—they differentiate themselves not by selling fishing equipment next to sewing kits but by offering something that transcends a product or service; they sell low prices. It is not enough to sell a cute pair of shorts or a pole lesson (online or at a studio); you must explain why you are different and answer a need your customer may not have known they even had!
Example: Maybe you are the ONLY pole studio in your rural South Dakota community and people have no other choice to visit you, right? Wrong. You have to make your offering appealing AND relevant to your intended audience (that’s the “who”). Are you helping people find confidence in their own sexiness? Or will they find an extreme fitness challenge when they walk through your door? Are they looking for adult friendships or just a place to sweat? You don’t “just” have a studio; you have a special and unique offering that goes beyond putting up a pole.
What are the tools you use to engage with your customers? Are you hiring an outside consultant or firm to help you? Are you or a staff member going to implement all the marketing? Do you need to buy a new tool or service? Here are some of the most common tools and associated frequencies.
Printed Material: it is still common to have printed material to share at your physical location, at any networking events you might attend or for people you run into in the grocery store. These materials may include business cards and brochures or postcards that explain your basic offering and have contact information on how to buy. Update your printed material design and style once few years, reprinting as needed.
Digital Material: you must have a website and it can be a “digital brochure” with the same basic information in your printed material or it can be a more robust way to engage with your customers such as including blogs, forums, videos and more. Have a digital newsletter with information about your new offerings, sales, events, highlighting testimonials from happy customers using your product/service and send that out at the same time once per month. Most newsletter services such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and MyEmma allow you to schedule newsletters and will show you analytics such as open rates, time of opening and most popular areas or links by clicks and views.
Update your website design and style every few years. If you do have a forum or blog, update new posts on a regular schedule such as weekly. Update your newsletter design to match any updated web design and send that out monthly or as you have new announcements or content. Beware of getting too excited and posting too frequently to start, it can be hard to consistently come up with content.
Social Material: despite shadow-banning, social media is still a great way to connect with your customers in the modern era. Determine what platforms are most relevant to your customers such as Instagram and Facebook and then set a schedule for how regularly you will post information. Social media can be time consuming so make a schedule you can actually keep such as posting once a day or every other day. Similar to newsletters, most platforms allow you to schedule posts and will also capture useful analytics you can use to improve your materials. Don’t forget to actually ENGAGE with your customers—don’t just post things make sure to answer your customer’s questions, cheer on their successes (especially when they mention your brand) and publicly address (as relevant) concerns or issues they raise.
Every social media platform is different. Generally Instagram and Twitter have better success with more regular postings such as two or three times a day, compared to Facebook that may only have one post per day. Find the rhythm that works best for you. There are new social media platforms appearing (and disappearing) all the time. Test what works for you and stick with it. As platforms change, reevaluate every quarter or at least every year to see if you are getting any value from posting. Paid advertising can also be an option.
Example: in reopening your studio, you have revamped your look to better address your new customer base and that style is consistently shown through your printed material and your website. You are not ready for the commitment it takes to have a blog, but you love social media and have noticed a lot of your customers taking photos and videos of themselves in class. Repost your students success on your Instagram using a hashtag specific to your studio. Do this at least daily and if you don’t have a student success to repost, post a note about an upcoming event, sale or highlight the products such as apparel and grip available for purchase at your studio. Generally, if someone has a public profile and has tagged your studio or brand in the post, they are allowing you to repost. NEVER repost private content. If you are concerned about reposting content, reach out to the person first and ask if they are ok with you reposting them. Do this in writing such as through email or a direct message.
Once you have asked yourself all these questions and really explored the answers, you’re ready to create a plan. Populate your plan against a real schedule identifying holidays (good times to have sales), key events (like your own vacation schedule or busy times at your day job) and regular marketing efforts (such as social media posting). Next, determine what help you might need in executing this plan (such as a staff member or a tool) or scale back and start small.
Remember to always keep your customer in mind—the who—reinforcing why they should choose you and engaging with them in a way that is relevant (how). Sometimes the choice is not between you and a competitor, but you and not choosing anything at all. Keep talking with your customer!
Ready to create your own marketing plan? Use this template.