For something so critical to the success of businesses, marketing can be difficult to pin down. At its core, it’s a way to tell target consumers about the companies, products, and services that are relevant to their interests, but seasoned marketers will tell you it’s so much more than that. Having a product that someone wants to buy is half the battle. Unless you find a way to build trust and authority through your marketing, it becomes virtually useless.

Marketing isn’t just about the customer. It’s about your brand and what it stands for. Customers don’t connect with goods, they connect with your ideas, and if they’re moved strongly enough, they’ll share them with others. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve stayed on top of marketing strategies and trends for the last few years, and managed to put together a simple guide for anyone looking to restructure their current marketing plans, or craft the best campaign possible from the get-go. While the tools and technologies used to do the following might change, the foundations will always be essential.

Getting started

Before you begin planning, you need a team. This won’t be limited to marketers. You’ll need your accounts person to define your budget, a sales/customer service person to give a rundown of what customers are saying, and if you’re selling a product, the person responsible for production to determine if you have the resources to make necessary changes. As a small startup or sole proprietorship, all of this may be done by one or very few persons. If your business is new, you can formulate a temporary marketing plan to get the ball rolling, but you’ll want to revisit it once you have this information at your disposal.

Step 1: Know What You’re Selling

It’s one thing to be able to describe your product or service, but that alone won’t win over your customers. What is your unique selling proposition? How does your product or service measure up to the competition? What do customers get from your brand that they won’t anywhere else? Knowing your product means knowing what about it customers will be drawn to, and what, if any, improvements need to be made.

Step 2: Know Who You’re Selling To

This can be as broad as ‘someone who needs a purse’ or as specific as ‘someone who needs a way to charge their phone while camping.’ Once you define your customer, you can begin to build a customer profile, i.e., outline the kind of person they are, what would make them purchase your product.

Step 3: Know Where to Sell

It’s unlikely that you’ll get many leads for your vegan products by advertising on YouTube videos about grilling, or that you’ll get many sales for senior in-home health care by advertising on Snapchat. This is one of the most difficult steps and may require A/B testing, but done right can give you larger returns.

Step 4: Set Goals

How much do you hope to achieve based on what you spend? Organic marketing is free, but it’s also more difficult to navigate, and sites like Facebook and Instagram are making it harder for you to be seen without paying for it. What realistic number of sales and leads do you want by the end of your campaign?

Step 5: Measure, Inform, Adjust, Repeat

It’s important to write down your marketing plan from start to finish so that once a campaign is complete you can go back and see what worked, what didn’t, and compare future strategies. Be sure to see whether you met your goals, share the information learned with your employees, reframe, and begin from Step 1 with your next strategy.