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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Using direct marketing - checklist

Direct marketing is a targeted marketing option that lets small businesses make the most of limited resources. But a clear message and a quality mailing list is essential to get the best results. Here are the steps to follow.

  • Decide what your objectives are: for example, making direct sales, maintaining customer relationships or generating new enquiries.
  • Decide on a method. Whether you choose a leaflet drop, a mailshot, SMS marketing or an email, ensure it is the most effective for your budget and is the method most likely to get the desired result.
  • The benefit of sending an email to your target audience is that they are only one click away from your website. If they have bought from you previously, you can structure your email so that the customer is directed to related products.
  • Leafleting is simple and relatively cheap. However, it has a lower response rate than other types of direct marketing as it is less targeted. 'Blanketing' involves dropping leaflets into every building in an area.
  • Identify your target audience, typically similar to your existing customers.
  • Establish your budget; consider how much each response will be worth to you, and the likely response rate.
  • Build your own mailing list and keep it up to date; keep records of enquiries and existing customers, and ask existing contacts for new leads.
  • Consider renting a mailing list; clearly specify your target audience, how many names you want and whether you intend to re-use the list. Ensure that the list has been cleaned to remove any names that have 'opted-out' of receiving mailings.
  • Ensure that your use and storage of personal data complies with the Data Protection Act.
  • Write a clear, attention-grabbing message selling the benefits of your offer and a clear call to action (CTA). Don't bombard the recipient with too much information - work out what result you are hoping to achieve and keep your message limited to that one topic.
  • Design the communication to be attractive; personalise it as far as possible, and avoid the appearance of junk mail or spam.
  • Encourage responses: make responding easy (eg with a pre-printed reply card if posting) and consider offering an incentive to reply promptly.
  • Plan the timing of the mailshot; avoid holiday periods, and ensure that mailings that are linked to a specific event arrive in good time.
  • Use test mailings to establish likely response rates, and to compare the effectiveness of different mailshots or mailing lists.
  • Decide how you will handle the response and make any necessary preparations: for example, train employees how to deal with enquiries and ensure you have adequate stocks.
  • Send out the mailing; consider using a specialist mailing house to handle large mailings.
  • Analyse the response; record which contacts have been mailed and their response. Update your mailing list for any mail 'returned to sender' or email bouncebacks.
  • Reinforce your message. Once you've streamlined your target recipients and the purpose of your message, you should consider using several 'touch-points' - in other words, contacting the customer several times in different ways.

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