How to create a marketing strategy for an SME

With limited resources and a business organization that sometimes does not give the right importance to marketing, navigating through things to do, tools and platforms to create an effective strategy for promoting the brand, products and services of an SME can be difficult. However, there are some best practices to consider when setting up an effective marketing strategy, both online and offline. We have summarized them in 10 points.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are often referred to as the backbone of the European economy, providing high potential for employment and economic growth.

In 2018, the number of SMEs in EU-28 countries exceeded 25 million, of which 19% were micro SMEs. According to European data, SMEs represent 99.8% of all companies in the non-financial business sector (NFBS) of the EU-28, generating 66.6% of employment in the sector.

It is therefore evident that SMEs play a fundamental role in the industrial fabric at an international level.

And SMEs, like all companies that really want to be competitive, have to create a marketing strategy to communicate their brand, products and services.

The problem in this case is that marketing is often reduced to the simple production of information material, merchandising and participation in trade fairs, underestimating its potential, especially at a digital level, and entrusting its management to people who are not very competent in the field or with other duties that are given priority.

Therefore, a change of mentality is necessary and, in some cases, a reorganization of the business as well, as marketing is a discipline in itself, which requires training, a lot of practice but above all time and dedication. And with the exponential growth of the digital world, its continuous evolution and the potential it offers, it is important that marketing, in particular digital marketing (does it still make sense though to speak of marketing and digital marketing as two distinct disciplines?) becomes an integral part of the branding, promotion and sales strategies of a company, especially SMEs, which can exploit several tools and take advantage of their accessibility even with low budgets.

There is no single winning strategy. Each company is unique and it must take into account many factors, exogenous ones, as well.

However, there are some best practices to consider to set up an effective marketing strategy, both online and offline:

1. Define brand and positioning

The first thing to do (and that, let’s face it, we often take for granted) is to define the brand and the positioning we intend to occupy within the market, especially with respect to competitors.

Defining the brand means identifying our goals, outlining the personality, values and tone of voice of our brand and creating symbolic representations (a logo, a payoff, a story) to which people can relate and which make our brand recognizable and distinguishable.

Let’s observe our competitors, not only to analyse their strategies but also, and above all, to understand how we want to position our brand with respect to them: in fact, the positioning of a brand in the mind of consumers is based on its differentiation from competitors.

Let’s also analyse our reference market to understand its needs and get to know our potential audience better, which not only comprises potential customers but also shareholders, partners, sponsors, etc.

To do this, a very useful exercise consist in creating Buyer Personas, that is, invented but realistic figures that help us identify the needs of our audience. In short, they are the potential customers or stakeholders of the company – and I speak in the plural not so much to highlight the plurality in quantitative terms, but rather to emphasize the diversity of potential needs. Our task is to identify ourselves with our audience, identify the different categories of consumers and define the objectives, wishes and needs for each category.

Here is an example of a Buyer Persona for a business consulting SME.

Once we have defined the Buyer Personas and made explicit their needs, we just have to identify the solutions we can offer to meet these needs and set up a strategy that clearly communicates these solutions, with relevant messages for the audience we intend to involve.

2. Create a corporate identity

By corporate identity we mean the set of graphic elements that make our company recognizable. It is a visual communication that passes through images, graphics, logos that recall a single style (colours, shapes, fonts…).

The corporate identity must be adapted to all corporate tools, both offline and online. This means on the website, on social networks but also on letterhead, business cards, information and advertising material, merchandising, packaging, company uniforms and so on.

Corporate identity is important because it helps conveying a coherent and professional message, as well as making our company recognizable at first sight.

So, let’s create a corporate identity in line with our brand and values, and let’s use it for all corporate communication.

And as banal and simple as it may seem, it is better not to improvise: if we do not have the necessary skills, it is better to rely on a professional who knows how to visually translate our values. Otherwise, the risk is to associate the name of our company with a visual communication that doesn’t truly represent it and to continue to perpetrate this mistake for years.

3. Create and update the website

The website is perhaps one of the first (if not the first) touch points, that is the first point of contact with our company for a potential customer.

It will seem trivial in times like these to have to emphasize the importance of having an updated website. However, there are still many companies, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not own their own website or have an abandoned one, with outdated graphics and outdated content.

The website allows you to be easily found, to strengthen the corporate identity and the online presence, to communicate up-to-date information, to sell, to directly interact with customers and to establish a common thread with the other touch points, both online (i.e social networks) and offline (for example a brochure that invites our customer to visit the site to learn more about our company and all the services offered).

It is therefore essential that the website is clear in its content and structure, user-friendly and functional to our objectives.

Users who navigate our site must be able to immediately understand who we are, what we do, what services we offer. They need to be able to find the information they need quickly and easily.

In terms of content, we have to avoid abstract concepts and the usual “market leader” claim. Rather, let’s give users a concrete idea of what we do and why they should choose us, getting straight to the point.

When it comes to websites, it is also very important to take into account SEO, that is search engine optimization. It is a marketing discipline that encompasses all those activities aimed at improving the organic ranking (therefore not paid) of our website on search engines. In this article we have summarized some best practices to be implemented immediately to favour a good ranking of the site.

4. Create a social media strategy

Social networks are undoubtedly an effective tool to promote our company online, with both organic and paid content.

However, managing a company’s social networks is not the same as posting updates from our personal profile: it is a job in all respects, which requires time, perseverance and the utmost attention to what we write.

In fact, if it is true that social networks contribute to breaking down the communication barriers that we would find in more formal contexts, it is equally true that a false step could generate a negative impact on the corporate image, also fuelled by the sounding board and exposure that offer social networks. This is not an exaggeration and no one is safe from this type of mistake, including the big names: do you remember the fiasco of the Dolce & Gabbana advertising campaign for China or the recent controversy over the promotion of the movie Cuties by Netflix?

What is certain is that on social networks we must use a tone of voice that is consistent with the brand. Even if we choose a more informal tone, never forget professionalism: we are still speaking for a company.

However, this does not prevent us from taking a stand and supporting certain social events or causes, or from adopting a truly unexpected communication strategy such as that of Oreo, which has made humour and irony its trademark.

Furthermore, let’s also remember that just because there are several social networks, it doesn’t mean that we have to open an account on each platform. In fact, each social network has its own features, rules and above all its own audience: it is better to concentrate time and resources on the channels that offer formats suited to our communication goals and that allow us to reach our target. For example, TikTok is definitely popular at the moment but if our target is not Generation Z, it is better to avoid promoting our brand there.

Whichever platform we choose, we will be able to increase brand awareness, engagement, web traffic, as well as reach a really wide audience and collect new leads.

How do you put all this theory into practice? Here you will find an article that explains just how to set up an effective social media marketing strategy.

5. Communicate with newsletters

Newsletters are one of the most effective tools to stay in contact with our audience.

Email marketing costs are generally affordable and some professional platforms such as Mailchimp even offer a free version.

Through newsletters we can bring our audience up-to-date with the latest news, generate web traffic, promote our brand and convey the image of an active and professional company.

When sending newsletters, one factor is of fundamental importance: consistency. We must not overwhelm our audience with messages, especially if they do not offer added value. However, we can’t neither send a newsletter every 2 months: with 2.9 billion emails sent every day, our audience could forget about us, not even opening the newsletter or, even worse, unsubscribing from it.

Creating a mailing calendar and identifying possible topics to be discussed is the first step in setting up an effective email marketing strategy. To know more, read our complete guide on how to create a successful newsletter.

6. Do content marketing

Doing content marketing means crafting valuable and useful content for our audience and who better than us knows their reference sector, the importance of what we do, the advantages of our products and services?

Therefore, let’s take on the role of disseminator, demonstrating our experience in the field and making our public understand the real advantages that our company provides; let’s communicate the practical value of what we do and offer useful resources that could help our audience solve any problem. In short, let’s educate our audience to make a conscious choice.

The tools and formats to put all this into practice are truly manifold: blog articles, social posts, lead magnets, infographics, images, videos, webinars, podcasts, live broadcasts. Through them we can interact and create an emotional connection with our audience, increasing the awareness of our brand and what it represents.

To understand which contents to craft, Buyer Personas come to our rescue once again: it will be precisely for their needs that we will have to provide a solution – solutions that we will have to communicate through adequate contents.

Practical tools such as Google Trends or Answer The Public can also help us understand people’s current needs: just search for a keyword to understand the doubts, needs and questions related to it.

TO KNOW MORE: How to create great content: The science behind Viral Marketing

7. Offer active support

Customer care, that is the set of support services before, during and after the purchase of a product or service, is of strategic importance for every company.

In a world in which the consumer is increasingly aware and competition is constantly increasing, it is wrong to believe that we are simply selling a product or service: we are also selling the experience linked to it. And part of this experience is dictated precisely by our ability (or not) to offer adequate and timely customer service, technical support and assistance.

In the digital age, customer care takes place also online. For this reason, especially if we can count on a consolidated online presence, with active social pages, we cannot fail to pay attention to those requests received through comments and messages on social networks.

Not only that, we can (and must) be proactive in providing direct online communication channels, which also help to halve response times, precisely because they are more immediate: chats, perhaps implemented with chatbots, contact forms and dedicated numbers for sending messages as well, such as those made available by WhatsApp Business.

The Messenger chat handled by a chatbot of the Tommy Hilfiger’s page.

8. Invest in advertising

We might wonder why a well-known and established brand like CocaCola spends astronomical budgets on advertising campaigns. After all, everyone knows CocaCola, right?

Yet, although CocaCola is aware of its global success, it is probably also aware of how important it is to consolidate the brand’s image; how essential it is that people continue to remember the brand, associating it with certain moments and emotions.

If we want to keep being competitive in our reference market, we too must aim at consolidating our brand, making our name known and conveying the values and prestige of the company.

Most likely we don’t have the same resources as CocaCola, but that doesn’t preclude us from running advertising campaigns.

For instance, technical magazines offer great visibility in our reference sector, allowing us to reach a highly technical and specific target.

On a digital level, we have several options to choose from: advertising on search engines, on social networks, DEM campaigns.

What matters is to think of a coherent and ongoing advertising strategy, in line with the adopted communication strategy.

A Google Ad by Nike.

9. Collaborate with influencers

We already talked about what influencer marketing is, how it has evolved and how our purchasing decisions have always been influenced by the opinion of others.

In recent years, the phenomenon of influencers has made its way into the digital world. Influencers are people who have great popularity and are often recognized as an authoritative and expert source on a given topic.

More and more brands are exploiting the popularity of these people to promote products and services.

In particular, collaborations with micro and nano influencers (people who generally have 1000 to 100,000 followers) have often proved effective. In fact, these “niche” influencers ensure a greater return on investment: not only collaboration costs are generally lower but micro and nano influencers can usually count on higher audience engagement rates, favoured by personal contact with followers and from the direct management of their own accounts.

When I speak of influencers I am not referring only to famous people on social media, with whom it is perhaps easier to establish a collaboration if we are a company operating in the B2C sector. Each sector, even in B2B, usually has a reference person, someone recognized as authoritative and expert, with whom to establish a collaboration.

10. Measure the results

Whether we are talking about newsletters, social networks, advertising, influencers or simply online and offline presence, if we want to have a clear picture of our performance, understand what works and what we should fix instead, it is important to measure the results.

In fact, any marketing and communication campaign is based on planning as much as on performance analysis: keep planning and investing time and resources on a campaign that does not give the expected results is counterproductive. Better to take note and think of another strategy.

All online tools and platforms collect data and statistics that we can analyse to draw our own conclusions.

What we need to do is setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Therefore unambiguous, verifiable objectives that we can actually achieve in a determined period of time and that are truly important for the company.

If you have reached the end of this article you may have realized that there are so many things to do. However, if we dedicate the right time and the right resources to build a marketing strategy, we will be able to achieve our communication and sales objectives, consolidate the brand and generate leads.

What matters is not to get caught up in the rush and try to do everything at once. Identify the strategies that best suit you, plan what you need to do, in which time frame and according to what priority, and set up an editorial calendar that allows you to organize operational work: these are the first steps to take in order not to be overwhelmed. And if you need support to set up an effective marketing strategy for your SME contact us!

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After graduating in Languages at the Università degli Studi di Milano, my interest and curiosity towards the digital world led me to pursue a career in this field and to get a Specializing Master in Digital Marketing. Today, I am responsible for the definition and application of marketing and communication strategies for both EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I travel, I read a lot and I binge-watch TV series. A place to visit at least once in your life: Oman. Must read: Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini. What you should binge-watch next: Mr. Robot.

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