Marketing Plan or Business Model?

This article is about the advantages of building your marketing plan into your online business model. Right from the start.

In the world of bricks-and-mortar, you can often get away with starting a business before you have the marketing plan fully in place.

Imagine you decide to build garden furniture out of scrap aluminum. Let’s say you live in a part of the USA where the Air Force has acres of dead airplanes lined up in the desert. Cheap aluminum. Bit of history. Great for garden furniture, because there’s no rust problem.

So you think, “Cool, I can build low-cost garden furniture and sell it at a premium because of the history of the scrap I use.”

A small business is born.

Offline, you now have a bunch of marketing and advertising avenues from which to choose. You could sell wholesale to retailers. You could create a catalog and sell your furniture direct. Or buy some direct mail lists. Or advertise in gardening magazines. Or try to get a mention on Oprah.

In other words, in the offline world, this business could be started without any really clear idea of how its products were ultimately going to be marketed. In fact, the owners could try a number of different approaches or a combination of several. But when you create that business online, that separation of production and marketing can be the death of you.

How come?

Because online, the business environment itself – the Internet – is also the marketing medium.

Let’s look at two approaches to marketing our aluminum furniture business online.

Plan A

First, we’ll look at a traditional, expected approach that separates production from marketing.

We have a complete lineup of products, and now we’re going to market them. We’ll buy some banner ads. As much as possible, we’ll buy these on sites where people have an interest either in gardening or in airplanes.

Then we’ll sponsor some newsletters. Again, we’ll target opt-in email publications that reach gardeners or USAF aircraft enthusiasts. And to spice things up a bit, we’ll run some contests. “Guess which aircraft this table was made from, and you could win $5,000!”

With this plan, we’ve made our products, and now we’re using the online media to promote sales.

Plan B

This is the plan where we recognize that our place of business and our marketing medium are one and the same thing.

We’re going to ride the network and build our business and products accordingly. Before we even begin production of our aluminum garden furniture, we’re going to build our marketing plan deep into the business model.

First, we’ll create an expanded affiliate relationship with some key sites. For instance, if you do a search online for B52 bombers, you’ll find hundreds of web sites. Let’s instigate a relationship with a few of the highest traffic sites. They can promote our furniture to their visitors, and we’ll pay them a royalty on products sold.

Let’s go a little deeper and build some customized entry pages at our site that welcomes visitors from our major B52 partners.

Now let’s go back to our production area and build furniture for these customers only from scrap aluminum that actually comes from a B52. Then we can create similar relationships with Phantom II fighter enthusiasts.

Perhaps these guys love the idea of owning something that is made from a scrapped Phantom – but garden furniture just doesn’t do it for them. So let’s go back to the production area and start a line of aluminum attachi cases – made from a Phantom.

In this model, manufacturing and production are responding and adapting to the feedback of the network. The marketing is driving the business model.

And the more we think about this model, the more relationships we can form – and the more our production will take its lead from our marketing.

Does every small business online have to operate in this way?

I guess not.

But if you’re doing business on the Internet, it makes sense to take advantage of those strengths that make it unique.

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