[ad#Google Adsense]Ever since marketing consultant Paul Smith devised the SOSTAC Model of marketing, it has found extensive application in online business.
It is a simple and straightforward model that follows a sequence of steps that must be included in any good marketing plan.
At the same time, it avoids complexity, excess and unnecessary expense.
SOSTAC is an acronym for six elements of a marketing plan:
- Situation – Where you are at this point in time
- Objectives – Where you want to get to
- Strategy – How you are going to get there
- Tactics – How you will execute the plan
- Actions – Who is in charge of carrying out each step, and deadlines for doing so
- Control – How the will process be monitored and measured
Even a casual glance at this outline will show how powerful and effective such an approach can be to working towards your online business success. It’s the closest one can get to a ‘fill in the blanks’ approach to developing a winning marketing strategy.
However following a SOSTAC approach requires faithful adherence to the plan. Failing to implement a strategy after developing a great plan will only end up becoming a list of wishes and dreams that never comes true. That’s why we will be addressing each element of the marketing plan in order in this article.
Situation Analysis – Where Are You Today?
Right at the heart of any business plan lies a realistic analysis of the current situation. It is mandatory to know where you stand today, and analyze your present position from various perspectives in order to plan out your future strategy, and then implement it effectively.
How is your online business doing right now? Look at your sales and profit, your costs and assets, your clients and suppliers, and other elements of your business that are relevant to this assessment.
What makes your business unique? Every business, online or off, has something that sets it apart from the competition. What is it about your business that is special and that attracts new customers to you?
How well does your marketing work? You are doing some things today to promote your online business. Take a look at them, critically evaluate their impact on your business and see how well each element of your marketing works.
Are you targeting the right audience? In any business, there are different categories of clients and customers. A small segment of loyal, high-value customers usually account for the bulk of your profits. Are you reaching that section of your customers? How well are you doing it?
Is your business efficient? While marketing your product or service to your prospects, are you using the most appropriate, cost-effective and functional channels? Are you efficient in your delivery as well?
How well is your business protected against adverse trends and disasters? Imagine that there is a technological innovation or disruption in the way things are done today. Will it harm or destroy your business? Can you survive, adapt, and even thrive under such circumstances?
Setting Objectives – Where Do You Want To Go?
After assessing your current standing, it is time to set out your goals and targets to reach in the future. And like the first step, this one too involves working through a series of questions spanning different facets of your business.
What is your mission? Any business has a reason for its existence. What is yours? How clearly can you define it? Often you’ll find that this is the answer to the question: “Why am I in business?” or “Who am I serving by being in business, and how am I doing it?”
What are the objectives of your business? Are your online business goals limited to making more money, or is there another purpose? What targets and goals do you intend to hit? Who will be the clients you serve? How will you do it?
What marketing objectives are your highest priority? To grow your business, you will need to attract new clients, serve them better and nurture their loyalty. All of these are marketing tasks, and need clear objectives for executing flawlessly.
What are the objectives of your marketing communication? You may seek to bring in many new leads, or pre-qualified prospects, or only ideally suited referrals from your marketing efforts. Each approach will require uniquely tailored marketing messages and channels.
Once you have finished going through these stages and have a set of objectives to focus on, you’ll have to run one last test to see if they are SMART!
S – Are your objectives SPECIFIC?
M – Can they be easily MEASURED?
A – Do they lend themselves to specific ACTIONS?
R – Can you achieve them REALISTICALLY?
T – Are there deadlines and a TIME scale for each of them?
Strategy Setting – How To Get There?
For many online businesses, this step might be novel or revolutionary. Very few business owners ever devise a formal strategy, or are serious about it.
The first thing to address is market segmentation. Regardless of what your product or service might be, there is no way your business is going to serve every section of your market. That is why it is important to segment and divide the broader market into niches, so that you can go after one or more of them.
Targeting your audience is the next decision to make. Which niches of the bigger market will you target? What makes them ideal segments to target?
Once you have narrowed down your market, you will then have to come up with a positioning strategy that determines the way you will be perceived by your audience.
Tactical Planning – How To Implement Your Strategy?
Once these steps are taken, the success or failure of your marketing strategy will boil down to how effectively you implement your plan. Your tactics will span a series of activities, all of which must be executed flawlessly for the best results.
Decide which communication tools to use. There are many choices when it comes to marketing online. While it may be tempting to use as many as possible, you’ll get the best results by focusing on only a few and using them well.
Plan the way you will use these tools. There are many approaches and styles to putting the same tools to work. Your results will be optimal when the ones you work with are synergistic with other elements of your business and personality.
Choose your marketing message. Be sure to telegraph it effectively and consistently throughout your promotional activities. A confused prospect rarely makes a buying decision. Make your message clear and direct.
Ensure consistency in your message across a range of marketing activities. Some of your prospects will be reached by your marketing across different channels. You must ensure that the message still remains consistent.
Allocate a budget that is adequate to cover your expenses. Think about other resources that will be needed and make provision for them in your marketing plan.
Your Action Plan – Assigning Roles and Deadlines
At this stage, you have a pretty clear idea of what needs to be done. Your action plan elaborates on this by assigning clear roles to each member in your team.
Who will be in charge? You must decide who will handle each component of your online business marketing plan.
When will they get it done? An important step is to set deadlines by which different components of the plan get done. Otherwise you could end up meandering aimlessly for months or years without reaching your goals.
What qualifies each person to do their task? Do they have the skills and resources necessary for execution? If not, where will they find them?
How will you know they are doing a good job? Metrics to measure and monitor the progress and achievement of each team member must be outlined at the beginning, and then tracked consistently.
How and where will you record progress? A visual feedback mechanism that shows exactly how your business is working through the marketing plan can be helpful in getting team members enthusiastic and excited.
Staying In Control – Monitoring and Measuring Progress
While taking control may sound exciting, you need to constantly be aware of the relative importance of different things to ensure that you are monitoring and measuring the right indexes.
Are you measuring performance on things that are relevant to your goals? If your primary objective is making more sales, then that is the figure to keep track of rather than your advertising budget or the number of visitors reaching your website.
Who will carry out the measurements? With online businesses, most statistics are automatically compiled by scripts and recorded in databases. But you must assign the task of compiling and analyzing the data to someone on the team who can spot trends and identify problems before they become critical risks.
How often will you monitor data? This is crucial because it is easy to get carried away measuring and monitoring data to the point that you ignore other components of your plan. Weekly analysis is sufficient for most data, while others may need monitoring on a more frequent basis.
What tools will you need for measuring relevant data? The need for sophisticated and expensive software, scripts and services will vary from one business to another. Decide how extensive your needs are and identify the best tools to get the job done effectively and at the lowest cost.
How will you analyze the information that is collected? Data without a plan to analyze it is as useless as not having the information at all. Decide how your measurements will be used to guide decisions about future activities.
How will you manage variance? If things don’t go the way you expect them to, do you have an alternative plan in place? How will you implement it? Who will make the decision to change? When will it happen? You cannot plan for all contingencies. But having a broad set of alternatives can help get your online business through difficult periods or help you tackle unexpected disasters.
It is true that a detailed SOSTAC analysis can be intense and time-consuming. But if you go through the guidelines and address each of the components we discussed in this article, you will have a solid and functional plan for marketing your online business.
The only thing that’s left is to assemble your team and implement the plan efficiently and smoothly.
PS: A special thanks to Dave Chaffey (CEO and co-founder at Smart Insights) for his excellent support to the Internet marketing community. He is a best-selling Internet Marketing book author. I consider Dave Chaffey as a “God” in Digital Strategy and Internet Marketing Planning!