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How Small Businesses Can Prepare for Marketing in 2017

Play your marketing cards right, and 2017 can be a banner year.

This story originally appeared on PR Newswire's Small Business PR Toolkit

The best way to prepare mentally for marketing in 2017 is to start fresh, with a clean slate. For the moment, forget about what you accomplished and failed to accomplish with your marketing in 2016; set aside all the baggage of frustrations and disappointments you picked up along the way. Think as if you are starting from scratch and ask yourself: What is the one thing we must accomplish with marketing in 2017?


That is really the key question. Small businesses have limited resources -- limited funds and limited time -- so focus is of the essence! Many small businesses go around in circles with marketing because they dabble, trying to do a little bit of everything instead of trying to do one thing really well. Avoid this trap and you’ve already got a leg up on the competition going into 2017.

Where to focus: new business

If you’re not sure what the “one thing” is, let me be so bold as to offer a suggestion: The “one thing” to focus on is new business generation -- sales leads and/or e-commerce revenue. Here are the advantages of focusing on new business generation:

  • Marketing goals such as brand awareness, customer engagement and reputation building are all well and good, but for small businesses, they are unaffordable frills if the business isn’t bringing in an increasing amount of profitable revenue.
  • Goals for new business generation can be established with precision. Soft targets like brand recognition usually leave small business leaders perpetually wondering whether their marketing is doing any good.
  • New business generation marketing performance can be evaluated accurately. At the end of 2017, you’ll know how much you spent on marketing and how much you made on your investment.
  • Because business generation can be clearly defined and assessed, marketing campaigns can be continually reviewed and improved throughout 2017 by testing different prices, offers, marketing channels, website content -- whatever variables your data, customer feedback and gut instincts tell you is important.

Goal setting, budgeting and customer value

Once you’ve established a clear objective for your 2017 marketing, the next steps are to set a goal and to determine how much to budget for marketing campaigns in support of it.

At this point it’s critical to consider the lifetime value of your customer. If, for instance, an average customer buys $1,000 a year and you keep customers an average of five years, the lifetime value of a customer is $5,000.

Another trap small businesses fall into is maintaining a transactional mindset -- for instance, considering a marketing campaign a failure because it was designed to sell a $10 widget and sold 10 at a cost of $1,000. However, if those 10 sales represent $50,000 in lifetime revenue, the $1,000 investment looks a lot better, doesn’t it?

Of course, I’m simplifying things to create a planning framework, and there are nuances to all of this particular to your business you must account for. Nevertheless, the question to answer at this stage is: How many new customers do we need to make from our marketing campaigns in 2017?

Once you answer that question, budgeting becomes a fairly simple exercise. If you need 50 new customers at a lifetime value of (sticking with our example) $250,000, how much can you invest in marketing in 2017 to get them? An annual marketing budget of $10,000 probably won’t be enough; a budget of $200,000 is clearly too much.

When establishing your new customer goal, be realistic. If your marketing efforts to date account for only a handful of new customers a year, shooting for 50 in 2017 may be an overreach. If you’re not sure how many new customers your marketing has brought in, start with a modest goal -- you can always increase it when you see your marketing is working.

Planning your 2017 campaigns

With a clear goal of new business generation, you are now in a great position to look back at 2016 and deal with your existing marketing campaigns. The types of questions to ask:

  • Social media is fun, and we seem to be getting engagement, but no new business. Should we stop social media, or can we alter our content to produce sales leads or e-commerce revenue? Can we offer periodic “Twitter-only” promotions and see if it makes a difference?
  • Our SEO campaign is bringing in traffic, but we have very few sales leads coming through our website. Should we redo our keyword research and identify and target terms with high conversion potential, such as longtail keywords?
  • Our email campaign is well received by customers and prospects because it’s full of useful information. How can we take it to the next level by offering special deals to subscribers that are too good to refuse?

The point of these questions is to develop campaign tactics laser-focused on bringing in new customers. Shed activities that don’t contribute; ramp up ones that do. Quarterly reviews and assessments are very important: It’s good to try new approaches, but putting them on autopilot for a year can easily cause a fatal crash. Also, it’s more prudent to tweak your existing campaigns and monitor them than to scrap something in its entirety by taking too laser of a focus.

A few final details for 2017 success

To make everything come together in 2017, you’ll need to have a few basic things in place for your marketing. Here they are:

  • Make sure you are able to track website form submissions and phone inquiries back to their marketing sources. You need to know whether your online visibility, email, etc., generated the lead in order to evaluate how well your various campaigns are working. Many companies fail to track phone calls.
  • Make sure you separate true sales leads from non-leads; we call this process lead validation. Example: Many form submissions (about half, actually) are spam, customer service inquiries, etc., rather than genuine sales leads; if you lump them all together, you’ll have the illusion your campaigns are working better than they are.
  • Make sure you track marketing leads through the entire sales process. This is especially important for companies with a long sell cycle; for them, a lead generated in January could turn into a new customer in October, and must be credited to the marketing campaign for an accurate evaluation.

Whether 2017 turns out to be a boom year or a bust, small companies with clear goals, a budget and tactical plan to achieve them, have the deck stacked in their favor. Play your marketing cards right, and 2017 can be a banner year!

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