Marketing is an activity that is critical to the success – even survival – of every business.  Yet in the day to day cycle of business operations, it is one of those functions that can fall to the wayside, be out of date or just plain out of touch with where your business is headed.

If you can devote some time and headspace to thinking about marketing, try checking against our list of warning signs to see where you might be going off course. If you are, we have some suggestions for how to get back on track.

Warning Sign #1: You Don’t Have an Up-To-Date Marketing Plan

This applies to you if:

  • You’ve never had a marketing plan or strategy; OR
  • You had a consultant in five years ago to design you a plan that sat in your bottom desk drawer; OR
  • You went out and bought a heap of marketing best sellers a while back but have not yet cracked the spine on any; OR
  • Your marketing plan is “in your head.”

Why it’s important:

A marketing plan not only sets out what you are aiming to do with your marketing; it also tells you how to get there.

Most people would not even consider travelling to an unknown destination without a map (be that virtual in the form of GPS navigation or the old-school paper version). And yet it’s surprising how many people think they can achieve their business and marketing goals by just “winging it.”

How to fix it:

  • Your marketing plan should be aligned closely with your business plan. If you don’t have a business plan, or at least a one to two-pager that sets out your key business goals and strategies, start there.
  • Align your marketing goals to your business goals. You should be able to articulate exactly how your marketing goals will help you achieve your business goals. If they don’t, revise and start again.
  • Next, you need to develop some key strategies that will help you arrive at your marketing goals. Often, it helps to think in terms of what processes you will need to put in place to help you get there.
  • Identify how you will track your progress and ROI. What metrics will you need to measure regularly?
  • Sometimes, business owners and managers are too close to the business to be able to plan objectively. If this sounds like you, it might be worth considering bringing in some outside help.

Warning Sign #2: You Have No Idea Who Your Ideal Customer Is

This is you if:

  • You think anyone with a heartbeat is in your target market; OR
  • You “don’t have time” for market research; OR
  • You thought you knew who your target market is supposed to be, but they’re not buying any of your products or services; OR
  • You couldn’t describe to someone else in depth what type of person your most valuable customer is.

Why it’s important:

Defining your ideal customer (also often called an avatar or customer persona) helps you target your efforts with laser precision rather than take a scattergun approach, thus maximising return on your marketing investment.

How to fix it:

  • It’s time to conduct some basic market research. If your sales data and information are sufficient to allow you to build up a detailed picture of your customer base, then by all means start there.
  • However, most firms will need to collect additional information by way of customer surveys or focus groups. Social media can be a great way to get started with surveying customers if you need, but there are many other channels as well.
  • Once you’ve zeroed in on your most valuable customers, consider constructing a detailed profile that will allow you to target your marketing efforts with more accuracy.

If you need some help: John Lee Dumas of EOFire has a fantastic step by step resource for defining your avatar. We highly recommend you head on over and check it out.

Warning Sign #3: You Haven’t Embraced Content Marketing

This is you if:

  • You think the term “content marketing” is more woo-woo marketing mumbo-jumbo; OR
  • You know you’re supposed to “do” content marketing but you don’t know where to begin; OR
  • You think content marketing is just for online businesses and you don’t understand how it relates to a business which is primarily offline; OR
  • You don’t understand how creating blog posts, email newsletters or e-books relating to your product or service could possibly help you make more sales.

Why it’s important:

Content marketing is one of those trends that has taken the business world by storm. And the evidence suggests that it might be here to stay.

The world of marketing is transitioning to a much more personal, relationship-based style based on establishing trust with potential customers. One of the most effective ways to do this is to engage them with valuable content that will help them solve their problems and address key needs.

How to fix it:

  • Define your ideal customer and determine what their burning needs are (the things that keep them awake at night)
  • Ensure your products and solutions are well aligned to solve these problems
  • Regularly produce engaging content related to these problems that will enable prospective customers to find and connect with you online.

Warning Sign #4: You Are Not Tracking Results Via Metrics

This is you if:

  • You’re not really sure what metrics are, or think perhaps they have something vaguely to do with converting inches to centimetres; OR
  • You know you should be tracking website “stuff” via Google Analytics but the dashboard looks too scary; OR
  • You just know that the business is going really great, so why even bother tracking; OR
  • Words like “metrics” and “analytics” sound like uncool corporate-speak to you, and you started your own business so you could “stick it to the man”, man.

Why it’s important:

Recording your results regularly and accurately is the only way you can know how you are tracking over time with regard to your marketing.

It’s a bit like budgeting: if you don’t keep track of what you spend, you can easily get to the end of a month and have no idea where your money went, or even if it was worth it.

Marketing is very similar. It’s easy to spend buckets of money on marketing without even being sure that all the time and effort is worth it.

How to fix it:

  • Know what your marketing goals are, and work backwards to see what processes you need to put in place to get there;
  • Determine what key metrics you will need to collect at regular intervals to track these processes;
  • See if there is any way you can automate collection of the metrics (through Google Analytics or social media dashboards etc).

It’s easy for your marketing strategy to become obsolete or irrelevant, almost before you realize it. But don’t despair if you recognize your business in these warning signs – it’s never too late to turn the ship around. Try out some of the strategies we’ve suggested and you’ll set things to rights in no time.

Parker Davis is the CEO of Answer 1, a leader in the virtual receptionist and technology enabled answering services industry.  He believes that the application of data analytics, investment in technology, and fostering a positive company culture together create highly efficient and scalable growth companies.  In 2016, Answer 1 will achieve record revenues while also being awarded the Top Companies to Work For in Arizona award.  Parker is also the Managing Partner of Annison Capital Partners, LLC, a private investment partnership.