The Marketing Strategy of Your Retail Business Plan

Define who your customers are and how you'll advertise to them

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The marketing strategy section of the business plan describes who your customers are and what ways you'll reach them about the goods and services you offer. If the consumers don’t know about your business, you can’t stay in business very long. Besides, a breakdown on who you’re selling to, also explains the competitive analysis of your business.

When writing the marketing strategy, be sure to include the following information.

Define Who Your Customers Are

Like every section in the marketing strategy, you need to be very specific. It's just not possible to reach a demographic of 25 to 75 years old. Generations buy differently, they shop differently and they get their information differently. This makes it too costly for you to reach all of them at once. It's best to focus on a more narrow demographic when you start out, then expand as you grow. 

Who Will Buy From You?

Get to know the "lifestyle" of your target customer group. Is the group made up of socially minded and connected people? Are they interested in the environment? What magazines do they read? How do they spend their time?

This will help you identify and plan various events, promotions, and sales you can run in store. For example, health-conscious of older customers may come in if you offer free in-store health and wellness screenings. Or, you may decide to offer special promotions for college students. If your customers are socially minded, you may want to do pet adoptions in your store. When I had my shoe stores, we had a cat in each store from a local shelter. A customer could adopt them from the store and we would pay the fee. It was a win-win for all of us.

How Will You Advertise to Your Target Market?

As discussed earlier, this is where it gets tough, unless you've done a great job of defining your customer.

You can go the traditional route by advertising on the radio or in a newspaper. But these can be very costly, and you may be limited in who you reach, so you may want to consider social media.

While you will reach a broader audience, keep in mind social media costs money, time and energy. You have to be able to set up and maintain social media profiles on different platforms, and ensure you're keeping on top of your posts. If you aren't posting regularly, then it just won't work. Similarly, if you aren't getting the right kinds of posts out to your audience, you'll just fall by the wayside and people won't take notice. Make sure you ask around or look at how some of the successful brands are doing their marketing online. You can also speak to a social media consultant about how to use it to help you advertise effectively.

Go Online

Social media is just one side of online marketing. So don't forget creating your own website. Almost everyone goes online to do some sort of shopping at some point, even if it's just to window shop. So you'll need to be able to attract attention in the virtual world. A great domain name that is catchy and ease to remember is the first part. Then think about design and ease of use for your customer. You don't want them to have to work through your website to get to the end.

You'll also need to consider how you'll appear in searches. If you're selling shoes, you want to be able to come up at the top of a search. You'll also want to consider what keywords you will use in order to help drive traffic to your site. So you'll want to come up with a keyword and a search engine optimization strategy.

Another thing to consider is whether you'll take out paid ads online. There are programs available that small businesses can use to enhance their visibility. Do a little research and make note of the best ones — and how much they cost to run.

Consider Your Competition

There are two parts to this section. My book "Culturiffic!" discusses the two types of competition — visible and invisible. The visible competition is obvious. For example, if you own a shoe store, it's other stores who sell shoes. That is, your direct competition.

The invisible ones can be a little harder to define, because they aren't necessarily competing with you directly. These are stores in town who compete with you on reputation and service. They don't sell shoes (continuing our example), but everyone holds them as the example of the "best" way to do retail or having the best customer experience.

Spend some time thinking about and investigating both types before you craft your vision for your store. And then articulate it in your business plan. It will serve you well. 

Setting Yourself Apart From the Competition?

This step is the one most retailers think is simple. But the truth is, it's where they fail the most. They use terms like "service" as though no other retailer provides it. This section has to be specific — not generic. This isn't to impress the bankers or investors you are trying to get to back you, but for the chance to survive. Are you providing a specific product that no one else already does? Will you give your customers a different experience?

There is a reason so many small businesses fail in the first few years. Not knowing what makes them different from the competition is the main one. 

Define Your Competitive Edge

Make sure you are considering online retailers as direct competitors in this section along with brick-and-mortar stores. Don't be so naive as to say, "We will have great customer service" as your strategy. That isn't enough anymore. It's the exact same line in your competition's business plan — think about that! 

The marketing strategy part of your business plan will include market segmentation, competitive analysis and all other selling strategies. It will require a lot of research. This section may require many pages as well as charts and graphs. Ads, brochures or other marketing materials can be included in the appendix of the business plan.