2017 is officially coming to a close, and 2018 is just around the corner. For small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs, this means the end of Q4, and the beginning of a new quarter, new year and new opportunities. As we look toward 2018, there are a variety of approaches to consider for moving your business forward. Articles everywhere scream, “Look at these marketing trends for 2018!” and “How to grow your business fast next year!” You click frantically, hoping to find the “next best thing” to take advantage of and accomplish your business goals.

But, here’s the thing: trends change every year. That “next best thing” changes every year. And while it is important to stay on top of current marketing and business movements, one single thing is not going to magically explode your business growth. Consistent growth takes time, effort and a plan that can be reevaluated and implemented consistently year after year. Rather than looking toward 2018 and thinking, “What’s one thing I can do different next year?” look toward the future and think “What strategies can I put in place that will continue to grow the company five, ten or twenty years down the road?”

New marketing strategies for your business must involve evaluation of old strategies. Elizabeth Smith of Bizfluent says, “Evaluation is an important part of marketing: It helps your company eliminate ineffective strategies and develop an overall plan that helps build your business.” How can your business implement consistent strategies for growth year after year? Let’s examine how evaluating your marketing, determining your mission, identifying your vision and clarifying your brand can help your business pursue your goals through 2018 and for years to come.

Evaluating Your Marketing
Before you can implement new strategies, you first need to evaluate your past marketing strategy and its effectiveness. See what worked well, what didn’t work well and where you can find improvements. Look at your past marketing goals. Have you reached them? If so, consider what got you there; if not, review what held you back. We’ve generated a few approaches to keep in mind when evaluating the success of your 2017 marketing plan:

  1. Plan Components—When evaluating past marketing, first ensure your strategy had all the necessary components of a solid marketing plan. A complete marketing plan should identify the service or product you sell, your target audience and overall goals, along with a competition analysis, pricing guidelines and investment budget. Inspect your past marketing strategies and see what holes exist, then fill them in your upcoming 2018 plan. As you go throughout the year, the plan can continually be adjusted or redirected to meet different marketing needs.
  2. Customer Feedback—According to BrightLocal, 88% of people read reviews online to determine the quality of a local business. Seventy percent of people read these reviews before ever even deciding to make a purchase. Therefore, Consumerist suggests it’s a good idea to include customer reviews or comments in your marketing strategy on different channels. How do you get these reviews, though? By asking, of course! Your current customers were once the main targets of your marketing strategy; they should know just how well your marketing strategy did—or maybe didn’t—work. Talk to your current customers, ask how they heard of your business, why they decided to try you, what first piqued their interest, etc. The more you know about what has worked with your marketing strategy in the past, the more you can determine how to move forward with your marketing strategy in the future.
  3. Measurability—Geoffrey James of Inc. Magazine says, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. If your goals are vague, you have no idea whether your tactics are achieving them.” Maybe you feel like your past marketing strategies have completely failed you; or, maybe you feel like they’ve done exceptionally well. But how can you actually know that unless your marketing plan is measurable? Put a distinct number and timeline for each of your goals moving forward with your marketing plan. For example, instead of “Become a thought leader in our industry” as a marketing goal, try, “Produce two in-depth blog articles per month on industry-related topics.” While thought leadership is a nice goal, it’s not exactly measurable. Having a number and timeline on the goal makes it more achievable moving forward.
  4. Tangible Steps—Your marketing strategy should also include tangible steps for how you want to accomplish those goals. So often marketing strategies fail for small businesses or startups because they are contingent upon outside forces, rather than actionable from within the team itself. Teams come up with a solid marketing goal, such as “Produce two in-depth blog articles per month on industry-related topics,” then don’t move forward on accomplishing the goal with steps. Who will write the articles? Where will you share the articles? How will these articles move your business forward toward increased revenue? Perhaps your 2017 marketing strategy struggled because no real steps were put into place to accomplish it. Looking toward 2018 and future years, consider solid steps toward accomplishing your goals, then put take them.
  5. Return on Investment—Return on investment is “a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiency of a number of different investments.” In this case, the investment would be your marketing efforts—e.g. cost to hire a marketing team, cost to run a Google Adwords campaign, cost to share a Facebook ad, etc.—while the return would be any new customers or revenue generated from those marketing efforts. Evaluate your past marketing strategies and see how the return on investment compares. If it’s not very substantial or some avenues are more profitable than others, then the marketing plan should be adjusted to fit accordingly.

Determining Your Mission
Once you have reevaluated your marketing strategy, it’s time to determine your mission. Current business channels and trends are less important than your overall messaging—and the greatest message your business can send is your mission. OnStrategy says: “A mission statement defines the company’s purpose. It is a single statement of why something or someone exists. The question to ask to determine purpose is: In light of all the needs we see, why do we exist as an organization?” What is your purpose as an entrepreneur, startup or small business? Why do you exist? This message, your mission statement, sets the tone for all other business decisions and marketing efforts moving into 2018 and years to come. Whether or not your company already has a mission statement, it’s never a bad time to reconsider whether (1) your business still fits the mission or (2) the mission still fits your business. If they don’t, then perhaps it’s time to adjust one or the other. The turn of the year is the perfect time to reevaluate your mission statement and see if it still applies, or if you need to adjust it.

According to Small Business—Chron, there are nine main characteristics of an effective mission statement. These include the function of the business, target consumers, target region, values of the company, any essential technology, relationship with employees, strategic positioning within the market, financial objectives and public image. Your mission statement spotlights what the company is working on and the customer needs it strives to meet. A great mission statement should be well-written, clear, concise and consistent. It explains who you are and why you exist.

For example, Google’s mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Here, this mission statement easily identifies the function of the business (organize information), target consumers and region (the world) and values (universal accessibility). It states Google’s purpose exactly in a clean, clear and concise manner. As you look toward implementing a new marketing strategy for 2018 that can be readily customizable for future years, determine how your mission statement fits and what message you want to send to potential consumers.

Identifying Your Vision
Separate from your mission is the company’s vision statement. Phil Shawe, CEO and Cofounder of TransPerfect, a translation services company, says in a Business News Daily article, “A vision statement, no matter how big or small the company, should serve as a description of the company’s overarching aspirations. It encompasses the big picture and envisions where the company is heading long term.” Then, what exactly is the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement?

While mission statements are present-based and designed to convey a sense of why the company exists to both employees and consumers, vision statements are future-based and meant to inspire company stakeholders about where the business is going. Why does your vision statement matter? According to Forbes, when a company has a meaningful vision statement, employees have engagement levels of 68%, which is 19 points higher than average.

Your messaging matters. So if your mission is the message you primarily send to consumers, your vision is the message you primarily send to employees. A vision statement is critical to your business strategy moving into 2018 and for the future. The most vital question to ask is this: if your company accomplished everything it set out to do, how would the world be different? Cast your vision around that image, then share it with team members to inspire their engagement. Once your marketing strategy and mission are set, it’s vital to reevaluate your vision statement and see if it fits in with your current business plan.

Clarifying Your Brand
Finally, as we close out 2017 and head into 2018, be sure to clarify your business brand. Brand strategy—while similar in some ways—is slightly different from your marketing strategy. Carly Stec from HubSpot defines brand strategy as “… a plan that encompasses specific, long-term goals that can be achieved with the evolution of a successful brand—the combined components of your company’s character that make it identifiable.” Your brand is not your product, your logo, your website or even your name. Instead, your brand is much more. If marketing is the messages your business sends, branding is who your business is.

Determining your business’s brand for 2018 sets you up for success as we move forward throughout the year. Keep in mind these seven key components for a comprehensive brand strategy:

  1. Purpose—Understand why your business exists as something deeper than just money.
  2. Consistency—All of your messaging should be consistent with the brand you want to portray. Creating a style guide allows you to define and agree upon what makes up your brand’s image.
  3. Emotion—Build emotional relationships with your customers through your brand. Connect on a deeper, more emotional level.
  4. Flexibility—If old branding tactics don’t work anymore, don’t be afraid to switch it up. Remain flexible to stay relevant.
  5. Employee Involvement—Team members should be well versed in how to communicate with customers and represent the brand through the company’s values.
  6. Loyalty—Reward customers for their loyalty to your brand with a thank you… or go above and beyond with something more.
  7. Competitive Awareness—Tailor your brand positioning based on what works or doesn’t work for your competitors.

Your brand strategy is vital to your business’s vision statement, mission and marketing strategy—the final piece of the puzzle that makes everything else function properly. Recognize your current brand strategy from 2017, and reevaluate it to see how best to represent your brand as we move into 2018.

Pursuing Your Goals
As we close out 2017 and look toward the upcoming 2018, it’s easy to get caught up in all the new marketing trends and features. However, while one new trend or feature may be helpful, it isn’t going to sustain or grow your business for more years to come. What matters most is consistent, clear and compelling messaging—messaging to your employees (vision) and messaging to your customers and potential customers (mission). The way you in which you communicate this messaging is your brand. The method and channels you chose to communicate within is your marketing strategy. By evaluating these components at the end of 2017, you can build and implement an effective marketing plan. Method Mark can help you reevaluate and pursue these goals. Set your business up for success as we head into 2018 and continue to expand into the future.

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