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Taking Stock for 2013

January 2013 Zipnet's gift to you

The fact is that a brand association is being created for your business right now – the question is, are you directing it, or is it being created randomly by chance?

Taking stock of inventory is something many of us can relate to – whether it’s a cupboard full of office supplies or a warehouse full of products for shipping, we understand that businesses need to keep track of what they have and what they’ll soon need in order to keep the business running smoothly, and to plan expenses for the future.

Another form of stock-taking we’re familiar with happens at the beginning of each new year. It’s a tradition many of us observe, as we look back on the previous 12 months of our lives and review the good and the bad; then we make new resolutions for the year ahead. It’s the reason gym memberships rocket and alcohol sales slump in the month of January.

The New Year is an ideal time for another type of stock-taking: taking a moment to look back at the vision for our business to see where we were and how far we have come. It’s valuable to review what we had planned to achieve and how much of that got accomplished, and then make new plans for the coming year.

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If the goals we set the previous year were specific and measurable, it’s pretty easy to check. For example, did we succeed in increasing our customer base by 20%? Or, were we able to reduce marketing costs by 10%? More importantly, were we able to track which of our marketing efforts produced the best results? What exactly was our Return on Investment, or ROI?

There are many things to consider about a business’ profitability and success, but one very important measure that is sometimes overlooked is the relationship of marketing to sales. With the proper marketing, sales can be easy. Just think about it from your own experience. Why did you pick that particular laundry detergent over the others? Or, why did you choose the brand of jeans you wear? Or, the car you drive? It was likely a decision you made about the desirability of that product. It seemed relevant to you in some way.

One very important measure that is sometimes overlooked is the relationship of marketing to sales.

That is the job of marketing, and it’s important to see how well you are making your products and services desirable to your ideal clients. The fact is that a brand association, or company reputation, is being created for your business right now – the question is, are you directing it, or is it being created randomly by chance?

So given the importance of marketing to your brand, it’s not just a good idea to take stock -- it’s essential. Even if you didn’t have a clearly laid out vision from last year, you can still go back and take stock by looking at the numbers. What methods did you use to let the world know about your business over the past 12 months? How much did each cost? And, what results did they produce?

Having even a basic plan is better than having no plan.

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, then that in itself should be addressed. Having even a basic plan is better than no plan. And you won’t know how well you’re doing unless you have a way to measure it. There are several methods available for tracking marketing effectiveness, from the simple to the complex.

Start by taking a look at where your money was spent: Yellow Pages, magazine/newspaper ads, radio, TV, flyers, industry conventions. Try to identify which methods produced the biggest ‘bang for your buck.’ Did a particular promotion lead to a spike in sales or increased visits to your website? By going through this process you can get a feel for which areas have been working for you.

Start by taking a look at where your money was spent and try to identify which methods produced the biggest ‘bang for your buck.'

If you’ve identified your goals clearly, it’s much easier to see how far you’ve come. It’s best to state your goals in a way that is easy to measure in time. For example, “By the end of 2013, we will have 10 new projects worth at least $50,000 each.”  By making that declaration, you can start to look at ways to achieve it. You can also learn by looking at the past. Say, in 2012, you created the goal of having $350,000 in sales, but you only achieved $225,000. Think about what you could do differently this year that will improve your chances of achieving it.

Of course, it’s important to be realistic about your goals. Do you have the time, in-house resources and expertise needed to make your vision a reality? A vision without attainable goals is in danger of becoming more of a fanciful dream.

If you don’t have the resources to achieve your goals then consider hiring an external marketing agency. A good agency will have the knowledge and expertise to find the most powerful and effective ways to achieve your objectives.

And by allowing an outside agency to handle your marketing, you can stay focused on what you do best, and what’s ultimately the most effective ‘advertising’ for your brand - providing your customers with great products and services.

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