Do independent retailers need a marketing plan?

Sep 06, 2017

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

Many independent retailers have never considered a marketing plan unless they had to file for an SBA loan.

If you don’t have a marketing plan, you really haven’t focused your attention on who your customer is or how you’ll reach them. One of the greatest benefits of doing so is that, once its developed, all of your planning becomes easier.

The good news is that creating a plan for your small business doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. But “build it and they will come just” doesn’t work in 2017.

Five questions to ask in forming a plan:

  • Who am I?: What makes your small business better? What makes you unique? How is what you do different than your competitors? Better yet, why do you do what you do?
  • Who are my customers? You can’t market to everyone effectively. That’s like shooting a shotgun into the air and hoping you hit something. Yes, you will have many types of customers, but stay focused on just three different ones, or “personas.” The smaller and more focused your audience, the less you will spend to reach them. 
  • What are my goals? This is part of knowing whether your campaign is successful or not, so choose your goals to be black and white results, not a feeling.
  • How much can I afford to spend to achieve these goals? Your budget will keep your marketing expenses from spiraling out of control or running out of money when you really need to be visible, like during the holidays. You don’t want to spend $1000 to get $500 in sales, so be realistic.
  • How exactly are you going to reach your target market to meet your goals? The simplest way is to work backwards from your goals to develop strategies (what’s your logic) and tactics (how you’re going to do it). Then plug them into a calendar.

And just for the record, word-of-mouth is not a marketing plan. It’s the bonus, the pink frosting on the vanilla cupcake.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Of the questions listed in the article, which are most challenging for independents to answer? What components should independents include in their marketing plans in 2017?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"If indies can narrow down a vision including what they want to be and how they’re going to get there, that’ll give them a direct path to follow."
"Most of all, you must understand the art of outstanding customer service and engagement..."
"Until you answer the questions Bob outlines above — and many more — you should not invest a dollar in real estate."

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18 Comments on "Do independent retailers need a marketing plan?"

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Phil Masiello

All businesses, small or large, need a marketing plan if they want to be successful.

Without a marketing plan, a business is not doing the research to understand their customers. And many times, especially in the food retail world, location covers many sins. The business prospers because of a great location. Until competitors who are better arrive, and then panic sets in.

Unfortunately most business owners do not understand the cost and value of marketing programs.

Charles Dimov

YES — to answer the opening question. Every retailer, large and small, needs a marketing plan with the points Bob outlines. I would add: measure everything, then go back and review what you are going to do again and what you will STOP doing. Too many marketers just “do stuff.” Getting things done is good. Getting the right things done differentiates good marketing from bad.

Max Goldberg

The most difficult question is also the most fundamental — who am I? Many small businesses have trouble accurately defining what they do. That along with the question of why it matters are the questions that can bring down an independent retailer. Marketing plans don’t need to be complex, but they should address: who am I, what do I do, who do I do it for, why does it matter, and how am I going to spread the word? Start there and then begin to fill in the details.

Meaghan Brophy
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
4 years 8 months ago

A marketing plan is just as crucial for independent retailers as it is for any other business, if not more so. “Who am I?” and “What are my goals?” are the most important and most difficult questions. Of course, every business’s goal is to make money. But goals need to be specific and measurable. I see many small retailers who try to sell everything to everyone in their local area. What ends up happening instead is they become a go-to destination for no one. If indies can narrow down a vision for their business including what they want to be and how they’re going to get there, that’ll give them a direct path to follow and give their store an identity.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Knowing who your customer is offers answers to key related questions such as what they need and want, what motivates them and how this group can be expanded. These answers point to supply and services approaches as well as communications plans and campaigns. The life-blood of the independent grocer is their presence in the community, so marketing elements that support community health and growth will have a high return on investment.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The marketing plan of every retailer out there must be able to answer and implement answers to Sam Walton’s recipe for how to compete with Walmart: “What can you do that Walmart is not doing?” It is virtually impossible to beat Walmart and Amazon on two of the four Ps — Product and Price.

All five questions that Bob raises are a good foundation for a marketing plan, but if the retailer can’t answer the first question about differentiation the rest are moot.

The Retail Doctor rightly concludes that: “word of mouth marketing is not a marketing plan,” it is the outcome. To achieve that outcome requires a plan that creates experiences that customers deem worth of talking about and sharing. Perhaps there is another key question about how to engage customers and get them to share their experiences.

Today’s marketing plans are not so much about selling more things today. Success is earning relationships that create lifetime value for both the retailer and the customers.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Strategic planning can be simplified into three questions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

In my marketing strategy text I have several rules that I recommend independents follow:

  • Know what business you are in;
  • Get and stay close to the customer;
  • Know your playing field;
  • Know who you are playing against;
  • Focus-focus-focus;
  • Concentrate your resources and use the element of surprise;
  • Be mobile, advance and secure.
Tony Orlando
Absolutely! I know who I am and, for many years, many small tweaks have been put in to enhance our business. Now more than ever, knowing what gets customers excited about your store is vital for survival, as you can not be all things to all people. We are not all Walmart or Amazon. Build the niches that make your store profitable and stay ahead of the learning curve or risk failure. Social media is extremely valuable but, again, it takes skill, hard work and staying fresh with your material online, or customers will not check in to see what you have going on. Most of all, you must understand the art of outstanding customer service and engagement, which my dad pounded into my brain from a very young age. That is probably my biggest advantage over any store and I’m always trying to come up with new ways to offer products that engage all the senses of my customers, which — believe me — leads to more sales and better retention. Old-fashioned great service… Read more »
Celeste C. Giampetro

It goes without saying that every business needs a marketing plan. And even more importantly, a skilled marketer to develop and execute that plan. Many companies rely on the founders to “do marketing” and wait to hire a marketer until much later. The best advice to young companies is to get a marketer involved early to not only answer these questions but to think about, and push you to think about, what your brand is/endeavors to be and how to find the best customers.

Dave Bruno

Do you need a marketing plan? How can you proceed without one is the better question! Until you answer the questions Bob outlines above — and many more — you should not invest a dollar in real estate. Until you know who your customers are and how to reach them you shouldn’t think about spending a dime on inventory. Otherwise, how can you answer follow-up questions like: What are you buying? Who will want to buy what you present? How much can I charge?

Understanding your customers’ motivations, tastes, budgets and expectations is the first part of the marketing plan and nothing should proceed until those questions are answered.

Sterling Hawkins

Every retailer does need a marketing plan! And having the right pieces in place to achieve that plan can be challenging. Key as part of that mix are tools to gather, understand and use information as a foundation on the path to achieving the goals.

Shep Hyken

The most challenging question for an independent is to define who they are. Too many times retailers try to compete with others on their terms or by copying them. Define who you are and ask yourself another question: Why should a customer do business with me instead of my competitor? What do you do different? What really sets you apart? Do you specialize in an area? Do you have a line of products that is exclusive to you? What are the big noticeable differences? The answers to these questions will give you the answer to the question of, “why you and not them.”

Kiri Masters

In a world where independent retailers cannot ignore e-commerce, the question around “who am I?” rings the loudest. How will you differentiate yourself from the convenience and selection of online marketplaces like Amazon?

There are many good answers, such as: artful assortment curation, events and community-building, in-store services like fashion stylists and product repairs. It’s definitely possible to differentiate on factors that marketplace behemoths cannot.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Absolutely — every business needs to not only have a unique value proposition but constantly review and update it to ensure they are viable.

Cynthia Holcomb

Limited resources = thinking, acting and being resourceful. It is easy to throw money at a project. It is much harder to execute a vision, touching the intended customer emotionally.

Jeff Miller
Yes, all retailers and businesses of all shapes and sizes need a simple marketing plan and then more importantly, need to actually implement it, measure what is implemented, and then assess and tweak. Far too many retailers I work with confuse a marketing plan which outlines many of the great questions here with marketing tactics and more commonly, simple media actions that are usually sold to them and not looked at with how it matches up with the plan and goals. These 5 questions are a great start but I would add some qualifiers and additions like: Specific goals. Easy to state a goal like “grow sales” or “increase brand awareness.” Better to say “grow revenue by 10% over last quarter, month, etc.” Try to find ways to measure what you are doing so you can do more of what is working and stop activities that are not working. Does not need to be perfect, just consistent. Sharing your goals, marketing plans and all of this info with your entire team so that they are… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

“How exactly are you going to reach your target market to meet your goals?” Audience awareness is everything. Why are your stores so compelling that shoppers will drive past others to shop at yours? Create awareness of your differentiators by employing the “Great Equalizer.” That’s right, the internet. You have the same opportunity as the big guys and gals to make a lasting impression on social media and drive brand value and recognition.

Dave Wendland

Yes. But it cannot sit on a shelf and the owner be proud that they checked that box off. Independent retailers must activate the plan and allow it to guide their business. Fail to plan (and implement) and plan to fail.

"If indies can narrow down a vision including what they want to be and how they’re going to get there, that’ll give them a direct path to follow."
"Most of all, you must understand the art of outstanding customer service and engagement..."
"Until you answer the questions Bob outlines above — and many more — you should not invest a dollar in real estate."

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