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Tips for Creating a Well-Rounded Retail Marketing Plan

by Alf Nucifora

No retail business can be truly successful without the guidance of a marketing plan. There are any number of retailers who do quite well generating sales revenue and profit. But, what they fail to realize is that, without a marketing plan, they lose dollars to competitors.

There has to be an up-front realization that most small retailers cannot afford to spend heavily on marketing support. A marketing commitment of $10,000-$20,000 annually can represent an enormous investment. But, even a limited marketing budget should be invested according to the dictates of a strategic action plan.

What are the plan elements?

Smart marketers develop their marketing plans according to a proven road map which includes these elements:

  • Distinct positioning
  • Defined target audience
  • Quantifiable goals
  • Detailed tactical elements
  • Budget, timetable and responsibilities
  • Measurability and accountability

It is the totality of the exercise, from realistic setting of goals, to fanatical measurement of performance and results that defines an effective marketing plan and its execution. Let's review each of the road stops.

Distinct Positioning: "Positioning" in marketing terminology is nothing more than what you stand for in the mind of the customer. In the best marketing case studies, that imagery is immediately recognized and clearly defined. For example, if one hears the words Ritz-Carlton Hotels the immediate image that the brand name conjures up is one associated with luxury, superior customer service, classiness, etc. The compelling issue, however, is that the response is both visceral and immediate. When somebody mentions the name of your store, is there the same degree of clear recognition as exists in the case of Ritz-Carlton? In fact, do you, your employees and your customers clearly comprehend and believe what you stand for as a brand and a business and is that positioning unique and sustainable within your marketplace, versus those with whom you compete?

Remember, incidentally, that establishing a positioning doesn't necessarily mean running an expensive ad campaign telling the world who you are and what you stand for. Much of that imagery comes not from external communications, but from the internal, experiential touch…what customers feel when they walk into your store and what they relay to others about that experience. Strong positioning can and should be the end result of favorable word-of-mouth. In fact, that's what happened with Ritz-Carlton Hotels…a brand that has never been supported by a heavy advertising budget.

Defined Target Audience: Most retailers can't be everything to everybody…not unless they're marketing soda, hamburgers, or other items with mass consumer appeal. Your job, therefore, is to identify that grouping, sliver or cohort that is primarily interested in your product and choose marketing tactics that allow you to zero-in on that defined target audience. For example, an online email solicitation may make more sense for a Gen-X prospect vs. a hard copy direct mail piece for a senior.

Quantifiable Goals: Put some teeth into your plan. Establish goals that must be met and that provide a return on your marketing investment. Examples include:

  • Growing sales revenue (generating more customers and more dollars per customer)
  • Enhancing profitability (Analyzing product margin and concentrating on those products that deliver the greatest profitability. In most cases, it involves implementing an effective pricing strategy or overhauling your existing one.)
  • Generating leads and increasing customer count
  • Adding new products or services

There are other goals that may be more appropriate to your business, but the key is to quantify or specify a target. Without the target, there can be no accountability.

Detailed Tactical Elements: Not every marketing activity will make sense for your business. Nor, for that matter, will you have sufficient funds to execute every available tactic in the marketing arsenal. Therefore, select those programs which make the most sense in terms of meeting your budget requirements and being compatible with the tenor and style of your business. The list includes:

  • Print Advertising, particularly niche publications
  • Low-cost broadcast advertising, e.g. cable television, to support promotional events
  • Direct mail including catalogs and newsletters
  • Online activity including web marketing, web storefronts and e-newsletters
  • Consumer expos
  • Promotional event sponsorships
  • Partnership marketing with non-competitive products and services that cater to the same marketplace
  • PR and media coverage
  • Delivering speeches and seminars
  • Community/not-for-profit involvement
  • Effective in-store merchandising
  • Yellow Pages advertising

Budget, Timetable and Responsibilities: Lay out a 52-week program and schedule your activities according to what makes sense for your business, your marketplace, and your product or service. For example, this means identifying which weeks your advertising will run, when and where you will seek media coverage for an important event, on what dates you'll drop your direct mail campaign, which months you'll send out an email newsletter, or whatever activity you have planned for the annual calendar. But, be very specific as to date, cost and responsibility (who does the work, where does the buck stop).

Measurability and Accountability: The biggest crime perpetuated by marketers is their inability or unwillingness to measure the results of their efforts. Don't join the criminal class. Understand that every marketing dollar spent must be measured in terms of its ROI (return on investment). If the program doesn't pay-out, you need to know why so that you don't repeat the failure in subsequent years. Track information feverishly. Always ask customers how they heard about you. Track coupon redemptions religiously and calculate the sales revenue that can be attributed to the individual redemption. Ask your media representative to provide a post-buy analysis, i.e. how many people saw your advertisement. Always run advertising with a call-to-action, a coupon or other device that prompts the reader or listener to tear out a coupon, visit a web site, etc.

Good marketing planning is not brain surgery. It's nothing more than understanding the basics, setting goals, establishing priorities and executing with discipline and appreciation of the value of marketing dollars and the need not to waste them.

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