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A roadmap to success

By Scott Harris
Article written for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.

Last month we addressed the importance of a marketing/communications strategic plan and how to take advantage of a down economy and timid competition. We stressed that a good strategic plan is simple, powerful, fluid and, most of all, easy to use. We discussed the first two of four cornerstones to a good plan: Goals and Audience. Today, we are going to discuss the second two: Message and Vehicles.

Once the Audience(s) has been identified, we have to establish the message we want to deliver. Think strategic, not tactical. Creative headlines and well-written copy will come, but for today, we focus on what we want to say, not how we want to say it. This step requires that you identify your key sales message, one that will be delivered consistently, by everyone on your team: management, administration, sales, manufacturing, service and support. While many claim it, no company in history has actually offered the “highest quality” product, with the “best possible service” at the “lowest price” in the market. Make an honest assessment of what your company, and your product and/or service, do best. If you have one, identify the Unique Selling Point, something you have that no competitor offers.

I always ask my clients a simple but important question: If your prospective customers could know one thing – and one thing only – about your company/product/service, what would it be? Answer that question and you have the foundation for the final answer. Look at the answer from the perspective of the person you’re selling. A great way to find out is to call your current clients and customers and ask why they do business with you. Is it pricing, service, quality, reputation, convenience, a product feature or benefit, availability? If it’s possible, call a few ex-customers, too. Ask them why they no longer do business with you. Very few business owners actually know why customers do, or do not, buy from them. When you have those answers, you can use that information to focus and hone your Message into something that is important to the recipient, is what they need to hear and has proven in the past to work. Now, you have a Message.

The fourth and final component of the strategic plan is Vehicle. We have established Goals, identified the Audience and developed a Message. Now we have to find the best way possible to reach the Audience, deliver the Message and achieve our Goals. I have always felt that independent third parties develop and implement stronger strategic plans. Granted, it may be because I am an independent third party, but I also think it’s because one eliminates prejudices, blind spots and preconceived notions that come from being too close. However, an open-minded person can certainly do the first three steps (Goals, Audience and Message) if they so choose. The fourth, Vehicle, requires an in-depth knowledge of media and communication options to make the right choices. You need to be able to weigh and measure the value propositions of print media, electronic (web, TV, radio, DVD, etc.), billboard, direct mail, door-to-door, trade shows, phone banks and a variety of other options.

With all of the work you’ve done on the first three steps, you want to maximize your chance of success by selecting the most efficient, cost-effective ways to reach your customers and potential customers. Again, a great way to determine the optimum Vehicle to reach your Audience is to ask them. Do they read newspapers or trade publications, use the Internet, belong to industry associations, attend trade shows? If you have successful competitors, find out what they are doing. Don’t assume they’re right, but use your observations as a starting point. Pull together all of the options and rank them based on the research you’ve done. Now, create a matrix based on your budget (you do have one, right?) and you’ll know which direction to head.

That’s it. You should now have a complete document that includes your Goals, Audience, Message and Vehicles. Combine it with your budget and start working. Sleep well knowing that you are way ahead of the competition. You will come through the rough times quicker and stronger than your competitors and hit the good times (yes, they are coming) running.

Congratulations and good luck – you have a marketing/communications strategic plan and, most important, a roadmap to success!

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