What Is a Marketing Plan and Does Your Independent Retail Store Need One?

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Whether you are about to open a retail store or have been running one for years, if you don’t have a marketing plan, you really haven’t focused your attention on who your customer is or how you’ll reach them.

A marketing plan helps you understand who your target audience is - and who they are not. That's really important especially if you're trying to reach Generation Generic - the Millennials.

It also helps you effectively reach them and gives you a tool to boost your retail sales.

One of the greatest benefits of developing a marketing strategy is that once you have one, all of your planning becomes easier - not just your marketing.

But many independent retailers have never considered a marketing plan unless they had to file for an SBA loan. If they did, they may have felt they needed an exhaustive and expensive one.

Maybe you yourself have reviewed a few online, small business marketing plan examples hoping that you could simply copy and paste, or you’d buy some computer program to help you, and voila you’d have your marketing plan.

But it doesn’t work that way.

The good news is that creating a plan for your small business doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.  

But build it and they will come just doesn’t work.

And just for the record, word-of-mouth is not a marketing plan. It’s the bonus, the pink frosting on the vanilla cupcake.

A marketing strategy helps you streamline your efforts because you know who you are talking to in the first place.

Whenever I do business makeovers I ask, “Who is your customer?” The clients invariably reply, “Everyone.”

That’s a lazy answer; you can’t market to everyone effectively. That's like shooting a shotgun into the air and hoping you hit something and instead waste your effort.

Is everyone old people who like to skydive? How about teenagers who are constantly on their iPads wearing earbuds? Boomers who are far-sighted? Engineers who value knowledge over low price?

There are many segments of shoppers, but most aren’t applicable to your specific business, and I’m here to help you get yours down pat.

Spend some time thinking

When you spend the time thinking about your specific customer, you’ll toss away many ideas that will not reach those particular people. You’ll save time and money and realize your goals more quickly and efficiently.

This doesn’t have to take a long time to do. Grab pen and a pad of paper. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, or if it’s after hours, a glass of wine, and develop your marketing plan in an hour or less.  

Just answer these five questions

Who am I?

Not you personally – your business. The answer has to go beyond your company name and some generic description of the services you provide or the products you sell. What makes your small business better? What makes you unique? How is what you do different than your competitors?  

Better yet, Why do you do what you do? Answer these correctly and everything else fits perfectly. If you struggle with it, I guarantee your customers will struggle and your marketing will fail miserably.  

Who are my customers?

One of the most important steps in marketing is to be able to target your messages as narrowly as possible. The smaller and more focused your audience, the less you will spend to reach them. Who is your ideal customer? How old are they? Where do they live? Where do they work? Why do they buy from you? Look for the obvious signs…

What kind of cars do you see in your parking lot? Do they come in once a month or once a year? Do they pay cash, or charge, or ApplePay?

And yes, you will have many types of customers, but stay focused on just three different ones.  In online marketing we refer to these as buyer personnas so that when we write, we envision one of those key groups.

For myself, I write posts like this one for independent retailers, others for larger brands, and others still for C-level executives. They are all concerned about similar issues but have different needs.

Don’t become discouraged if you do not know some of the answers to these questions or your answers at first seem generic. As you spend time with your plan, you’ll have insights because you will really get to know your customers.

What are my goals?

I tell my small business makeover clients, if you don’t know where you’re going, anywhere will do. And if you don’t prioritize your goals, chances are you will never get there.

Creating a goal is setting the bull’s eye for the target; your goals help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing activities. Set measurable and realistic goals you wish to meet within the next 6-12 months.

This is part of knowing whether your campaign is successful or not so choose your goals to be black and white results, not a feeling.

How much can I afford to spend to achieve these goals?

Your budget will keep your marketing expenses from spiraling out of control or running out of money when you really need to be visible, like during the holidays. You don’t want to spend $1000 to get $500 in sales so be realistic. If you want to have an event, it should still pay for itself in sales. Don’t forget to budget for Facebook sponsored posts or for your costs to acquire high-quality images for your regular newsletter.

On the flip side, remember many manufacturers have a set amount of co-op advertising funds. A lot of that money goes unspent each year because retailers simply don’t ask about it.

How exactly are you going to reach your target market to meet your goals?

The simplest way is to work backwards from your goals to develop strategies (what’s your logic) and tactics (how you’re going to do it.) Then plug them into a calendar.

An example would be:

Goal: Increase customer traffic by 25% weekly

Strategy: Customer traffic currently increases by 10% with each E-newsletter. Increasing the subscriber base to the E-newsletter by 15% should result in a 25% increase in weekly traffic.

Tactic: Create a counter card offering free widget to every new E-newsletter subscriber during the month of September. Train every employee on why this is important. Have a contest for signups. Track all new submissions to see if they came back after an email.

You get the idea.

See also, Can You Know If Your Marketing ROI Is Working For Your Retail Business?

In Sum

Your retail marketing strategy drives product purchases and let’s you know how much you pay for attracting new customers.

Even a brief and simple marketing plan on a napkin can act as your roadmap to increase your retail success.

The key is to just start. Waiting gets you nowhere.

Follow these tips and you’ll not only find your marketing delivers more, but you’ll be able to buy merchandise that more closely aligns with your target customer, which limits markdowns and out-of-stocks.