All posts by Jeff Stec

How to Develop and Implement a Marketing Action Plan

In order to do anything meaningful, you have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. You need a plan.

Having a marketing plan is imperative for the success of your business. Here’s how to develop and implement a marketing plan of your own. 

Create a strategy before tactics

Small business owners often quickly fall for the hot, new marketing tactic of the week. This is usually because they have no strategy.

The key element to making your marketing effective? A strategy-first approach.

Develop a marketing plan.

You need to build your strategy before you even think about the tactics. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you trying to sell to anyone and everyone?
Are you struggling to stand out from your competition?
Are you unsure of what tactics even make sense for you right now?

These are strategy problems and can only be addressed with strategy solutions.

You need to know your big picture business goals. Once you have those defined, then you put together the tactics it will take to make that strategy come to life.

Research your current customers

Talk to your current customers.

Your customers are an invaluable resource you can learn from to help shape your entire business, your core messages, your products or services, and so much more.

Knowing your customers can uncover the best ways on how to attract, reach, and better serve the right people.

Research your competitors

Conducting competitive research is a way to grow and evolve your business. It’s so much more than researching companies you consider to be your direct competitors - it’s taking a look at your entire digital competition.

Take a look at what terms your competitors are ranking for that you should be, what content they’re putting out on their blog, or what kind of ads they’re creating. This kind of research helps you:

  • Learn new ways to serve your customers
  • Understand why other sites are ranking higher than yours
  • Uncover the type of content you need to be creating
  • Use data to spot new opportunities
  • Seize new opportunities to gain customers

Promise to solve a problem

Nobody wants what you sell. People want their problems solved.

People buy better versions of themselves, not things. They want what they believe will help them feel good about themselves, achieve something higher, get relief from some level of pain or discomfort, avoid a sticky situation, or prepare themselves for the future.

It’s your job as a business owner to understand the problems people are trying to solve and match your offers to those very specific problems. Very few people in the world want the things, the services, and the solutions businesses sell.

You need to have an approach that is focused on a very specific type of customer, with a very specific need or problem, and a promise to solve that problem in a very specific way.

Map out the customer journey with the Marketing Hourglass

The customer journey isn’t linear. It’s our job to help guide buyers as they travel down the often-crooked path. The way that people buy today has changed so dramatically that instead of creating demand, we need to organize behavior.

A traditional marketing funnel might have the stages such as Awareness, Consideration, and Purchase. But the thing that the traditional marketing funnel neglects to address is that when it comes to lead and referral generation, a happy customer is your most powerful asset.

This is why Duct Tape Marketing follows the Marketing Hourglass approach. It consists of seven connected stages:

  • Know - one of the best ways to become known is through organic search. Start using content to spark interest.
  • Like - once someone knows your business, you need to nurture your leads during this phase by demonstrating your expertise, sharing knowledge, and giving them useful resources.
  • Trust - people buy from organizations they trust. Get your customers involved in content creation. This is where customer generated videos, case studies, stories, and social media are a major playing piece.
  • Try - this stage is where the audition happens. It’s where you need to really deliver more than anyone. Consider doing a free or low-cost version of what you sell.
  • Buy - time to show real results and keep the experience high in this stage. Think about how you orient new customers, exceed their expectations, and surprise them. The complete customer experience is measured by the end result, not what you did to get the sale.
  • Repeat - the best way to get repeat business is to make sure your clients receive and understand the value of doing business with you. 
  • Refer - turn happy customers into referral customers. Create a remarkable experience with your customers that exceeds their expectations so they are compelled to share your business with others.

Every business has these stages, but many aren’t addressing them all. You need to figure out what the journey is like for your ideal customer or people who are looking for the solutions you offer.

Use the Marketing Hourglass framework to map your customer journey. Then, the next step in the marketing action plan is to strategically use different types of content at the various stages of the hourglass.

Use content as the voice of strategy

Content creation is the hardest job a marketer has to do, but when you plan your content with your hourglass in mind, it’s the highest payoff work you can do.

Content has grown beyond just being a tactic - it touches all aspects of your marketing and your business. It powers the entire customer journey.

Your audience expects to be able to find information about any product, service, or challenge they face simply by doing a Google search. And if you aren’t showing up, you won’t be found. There’s a pretty good change they won’t move forward with you because you lack credibility in their eyes. People go with solutions they feel they can trust.

You must use content as your voice of strategy, and the best way to do this is to produce content that focuses on education and building trust at every stage of the customer journey.

Develop a list of quarterly priorities and live by the calendar

As a small business owner, you know there’s always plenty to do and never enough time in the day. But marketing needs to be viewed as a habit that’s ingrained in your daily routine.

Planning for what needs to be done and when - is how you can stay focused on the activities that will give you the highest ROI. Start by creating a list of the highest impact items you need to fix or implement for each quarter.

Then, live by the calendar. If you don’t schedule it, odds are it won’t happen.

Something that has worked extremely well for many business owners - who have been trained by the Duct Tape Marketing system - is adding monthly themes around your foundational marketing projects, breaking them up, and spreading them out over the course of the year. If you commit to an annual calendar, you’re more likely to follow it on a consistent basis

Measure what matters

There are so many things you can measure: sales metrics, social metrics, content metrics, conversion metrics, growth metrics, the list goes on. And one of the hardest things is determining what you should be measuring.

But you can’t measure what’s easy - you have to measure what matters. You can start by doing these 4 things:

  1. Create metrics that serve your priority objectives - whether it’s your goal to increase customers by X or grow your audience by X, you need to define what metrics make sense for the goals that you’ve set.
  2. Establish target goals for each objective - figure out how you’re going to gather the data you need to gauge whether or not you are on the right track.
  3. Select the tools you’ll use to track your progress - dashboards are an everyday reality for marketers. As a business owner, you need to be able to see what’s happening day to day.
  4. Use your results to make improvements - when you’re measuring the right things, you’ll start to see trends, why something happened, and what you might be able to do to make improvements.

Running your business without a fully fleshed out marketing plan is like driving without a map. Maybe you make it to your destination, but you might find yourself taking quite a few detours along the way. You can save yourself a lot of trial and error by developing and implementing a marketing action plan.

Would You Benefit from a Self-Study Course to Guide Building Your Own Marketing Action Plan?

The acclaimed Marketing Action Plan Program powered by Duct Tape Marketing is designed for DIYers who benefit from having defined structure and guidance to ensure plan completion.

For an affordable $199 one-time fee, you will have access to videos, task assignments, checklists, worksheets, and step-by-step guides for developing a Marketing Action Plan specific to your business that will direct your marketing activities moving forward.

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3 Aspects Of Website Security You Must Address Immediately

For many businesses, their website is their most important online asset.  It is where people just learning about their business will likely "land" first, and is the central hub of their online presence. But surprisingly, many small and medium sized business websites are lacking in one or more key aspects of website security.  Here are 3 ways your website may be putting you at risk for a security breach.

1. Secure Data Transmission

Secure data transmission means that data exchanged between your site visitors browser and your website is encrypted so that anyone intercepting communications to/from your website would only see garbage characters and not clear text.  In practical terms, securing data transmission means installing a "SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificate" on the website server (hosting account) that enables communications between the server and the visitors browser to use the secure (https://) protocol.  Depending on your browser, you may see an indication that SSL is active in the form of a lock icon, "Secure" label, or other indicator.

website security

SSL is important for any functions on your site that involve communicating personal data -- a newsletter sign-up form that has a user's name and email, for instance -- and especially any kind of eCommerce where credit card info is transmitted.  But even if you site doesn't have features that transmit sensitive data, SSL is important for one very big reason: Google started warning users about non-secure sites back in 2018.  While Google has looked at the presence of a SSL certificate as a minor ranking factor since 2014, the in-your-face scare that comes from non-SSL sites being flagged has caused most site owners to add SSL.

If your site still doesn't have SSL installed, do it now!  Most web hosting companies are now offering free basic SSL certificates and "one-click" installation.  After that, there are a couple of easy settings that need to be made on your website.  The entire process of adding SSL to your website should only take a few minutes, but if you're not comfortable doing it, find someone who is.  The benefits far outweigh the minor inconvenience of setting it up.

2. Secure Data Storage

The second consideration for security is data storage.  While this may not apply to everyone, chances are that it applies to many website owners who do not realize that their website is storing personal information.  If your website allows users to create logins, it is storing personal information.  If you have any kind of form (e.g. "Contact Us", "Join our Newsletter", etc.) on the site, it might be storing personal info, depending on how the form is implemented.  If you accept payments on your site, it also might be storing personal info, again depending on how the payment function is implemented.

Note that a data storage breach can have disastrous implications for any business.  Besides the loss of confidence in your business, there may also be legal penalties.  For instance, the medical profession is governed by the HIPAA laws which provide for a fine of $50,000 per violation (record) and jail time in cases of "willful neglect" where the firm knew they were at risk of a data breach and chose to ignore the problem.  In the case of a data breach, it is more likely that multiple records will be accessed, so a single incident HIPAA violation involving many records could easily put a medical practice out of business! 

Having secure data storage starts with the web-hosting provider, so this is why it is important to choose a well-known and reliable company that implements good security practices.  But secure data storage also relies on you keeping your site software up to date.  Even if your hosting company has everything locked down, outdated software might provide an opening.  Think of it this way, even if the doors of your house are locked tight, an open window makes it easy for a burglar to slip in.

3. Secure Site Software

This third security risk with websites is around the software that implements the web site and web server.  Just like with your PC, there are bad actors who are constantly trying to break into your site.  We implement security hardening and monitoring for a number of our clients and see multiple hack attempts every day!  While best practices such as using non-trivial passwords are important, just like with your PC, there are frequent software updates that must be applied to patch security holes as new "exploits" are discovered.

On the web server side, we are to a great extent reliant on hosting companies to implement strong security practices, so this is again why it is important to deal with a reputable hosting company.  I have actually had a customer support rep from one of the larger and immediately recognizable hosting companies admit to me that they intentionally don't upgrade their servers because doing so would increase the likelihood that their customers' sites may break if those customers aren't keeping up with updates on their sites as well.  To the hosting company, it is cheaper to deal with the occasional hacked website than to create  a lot of support issues for people who don't know better.  But for the business owner, a hacked site can be disastrous, even to the point of putting them out of business!

Sadly, for many business owners, their web site is "out of sight, out of mind".  Unless they are adding content regularly, many site owners rarely log in to their website's "back end" where the site software updates are made, so they may not even realize that an update is needed.  Missing a required update that closes a security gap can have extremely dire consequences!  For business owners who don't login to the admin area of their website (and don't want to), we offer Website Care Plans that take this off our clients' plates and give them peace of mind.

Have Peace of Mind

For Less Than a Cup Of Coffee a Day!

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Mid-Year Resolutions for Your Business

We’re half-way through the year now, so that seems to be a good time to look at your mid-year resolutions for your business. Wait. What? Mid-year resolutions?

We’re probably all familiar with personal new-year resolutions. You know, those promises bordering on vows that we make to ourselves around the first of the year to lose weight, get in shape, eat healthier, spend more time reading, etc. How are those working out for you? Yeah, me neither.

What about your business? Did you make new-year resolutions around growth or profitability goals? How about specific things to do to improve your marketing? Expand your portfolio? Tighten up your strategy? Implement some new tactic?

The middle of the year is a perfect time to revisit your goals and plans for the year with an eye toward making necessary adjustments to keep you on track for reaching the finish line in 6 months. And if you haven’t really set any goals or made and concrete plans, what better time to start than right now?

Here are a few ideas for things you can do in your business right now…

The best marketing you can do for your business will involve a solid strategy built around your Ideal Client definition, the Unique Selling (Value) Proposition of your business, and your core values. Resolve to commit a solid strategy to paper and then use it to drive all of your marketing efforts.

Once you have the strategy piece nailed down, map out the “customer journey” or experience you want your prospects and customers to have with your business. Looking at the interactions they have with your business through their eyes will give you the perspective you need to guide them down the path of know, like, and trust that leads to them doing business with you. What opportunities do you see to improve their experience and therefore position your business in the most favorable light?

Review your marketing materials to see if they are all about you and your business, or if they put your prospects at the center of the story. Hint: if you marketing materials use too much “I” or “we” language, they are less likely to connect with their intended audience. People are looking for solutions to their problems, so your marketing materials need to first let your prospects know they are indeed your target audience, then they need to connect on a solutions-to-their-problem level.

Examine the tactics you are using and be sure they are the right ones to connect with your audience, and if they are being used in the optimal way to do so. Meet your prospects where they are on social media, networking, searching for articles to answer the questions or inform them, etc. Keep in mind that different people absorb information in different ways (auditory, visual, experiential, etc) and be sure to have something for everyone you want to reach.

Pay attention to how the technology is changing, and how it can best be used to your business advantage. The world of marketing — especially “digital marketing”, “online marketing”, or “internet marketing” — is constantly evolving. What worked last year may no longer work today, and what is hot today may not have even existed last year. What adjustments do you need to make to your “marketing stack” to ensure optimal results as measured by return on investment of your marketing dollars?

For us, this website, launched less than a week prior to writing this blog article, meets one of our resolutions — that of modernizing our site and making it more visitor-centric. We still have a lot we want to do with it, but that’s the nice thing about approaching a marketing system as an ongoing, evolving process. Specifically, it doesn’t all need to be done at once. The key is to put a plan in place, map it out, and get going on it.

That brings us back to the point of this article. What mid-year resolutions have you made for your business, or more specifically your marketing?

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What’s in a Name? The Power of Branding Your Business

Branding PowerIn case you need a reminder about the power that your brand has in your marketing, consider the case of a crime fiction novel published in 2013 by rookie author Robert Galbraith called “The Cuckoo’s Calling”. Despite having positive reviews such as it being a “scintillating debut novel”, and “astonishingly mature”, it sold only 1,500 copies in hard cover form. Then things changed. The novel, you see, was really authored by J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame, in case you didn’t know).  Once that little tidbit came to light, sales of the novel took off.  It shot up the best seller charts and within days was in the top 3 at

There are many stories of great — and even superior — products that do not survive in the marketplace.  If this were not true, the “Tucker ’48” would have propelled the Tucker Corporation into the ranks of Detroit’s “Big Three” auto makers.  Microsoft and Intel would not be in the leadership positions that they are today, as they were second-runners when IBM was developing the first PC.  And those of us who are old enough to remember videotapes would fondly refer to the “BetaMax Days” before DVDs.

Inc. magazine published an article a few years back titled Why Better Products Don’t Always Win.  In that article, authors Karl Stark and Bill Stewart suggest that entrepreneurs “need to shed our rose-colored glasses and instead focus on building what the customer wants.”  While this is true, I would also suggest that entrepreneurs and business owners alike also need to focus on their brands.

Your brand is the visible and recognizable manifestation of what sets you and your business apart from your competition.  It stems from your core values and unique differences.  It becomes part of your very business identity and, over time, it conveys enough “Know, Like, and Trust” that what it is attached to gets an automatic leg up.  The brand itself becomes one of your most valuable assets and opens many doors.  Just ask J.K. Rowling.

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What’s Old is New Again – Direct Mail and Email Marketing

Email MarketingAs the saying goes, “what’s old is new again”. Constant innovation in marketing is to be expected. After all, how else can businesses “stay ahead of the curve” and not look “ho-hum” or “me too”? But innovation as it applies to Marketing does not have to mean that everything we know today will be useless tomorrow. In fact, the famous McGraw Hill “Man in the Chair” ad from 1958 is just as relevant a concept today is it was almost 60 years ago although the media used to deliver the message may have changed , as this short video from the Business Marketing Association illustrates. Two ways to deliver marketing messages, Direct Mail and Email Marketing, are making a comeback and may be worth another look for marketing your business.

A few years back, Direct Mail seemed to be dropping off as postage rates went up and the internet became increasingly dominant as the “go to” source of information. Now don’t get me wrong, the internet is still a huge player, and having a “Total Online Presence” for your business is an absolute must. But, the internet is not the only channel that savvy business owners use to market their businesses. Getting someone’s attention using an eye-catching direct mail piece should not be counted out. The US Postal Service has a product offering called “Every Door Direct Mail”, which allows businesses to target specific postal delivery routes at a very attractive rate (at the time this was written, 16 cents per door). This rate undercuts the rates charged by many door flier delivery services, and this affordability, coupled with the widespread availability of high-quality postcard printing at reasonable cost, is creating a lot of renewed interest in Direct Mail.

To be even more effective, rather than “sell” your prospective client, a direct mail piece should direct them to take action in order to learn more. This call to action could be a “mail back for more info” card, a phone number to call for info, or a suggestion to visit your website. The benefit of this two-step approach is that it not only gives you a greater opportunity to build “know, like, and trust” in order to move your prospect toward an eventual sale, but it also allows you to gather contact information in order to implement a “drip marketing” campaign. That brings me to the second “old is new again” topic, Email Marketing.

When Social Media began its meteoric rise, there were those who felt that the era of marketing via email was coming to an end. After all, who was going to bother with email when they could “connect” on Social Media? While leveraging Social Media in marketing definitely has its place, it is not the wholesale replacement for Email Marketing that many thought it might have become. For one thing, many people use “Social” for strictly that and ignore ads placed there. Furthermore, as the Social Media sites take measures to deal with the flood of traffic that their popularity has created, your posts are likely not being seen by all of your friends. So the possibility of something “going viral” — even if only among your friends and their friends — is decreased. Re-enter Email Marketing,

To be effective, Email Marketing must be done right. This means using good looking emails with the “right” content. It also means having them delivered via a reputable service that does not have capacity issues, that is “whitelisted” by Internet Service Providers in order to maximize deliverability, and that contains the features to keep you in compliance with Federal “CAN-SPAM” laws. When it is done right, Email marketing can help publicize special offers, or promote goodwill by getting the word out about your community involvement. It also has much to offer that is useful for implementing two-step marketing campaigns. Giving away a free report or some other value-added piece of content in exchange for contact information that allows regular “touches” via Email can pay large dividends. Email Marketing increases your “know, like, and trust” with your customers and prospects by educating them about you and your business and by keeping you top-of-mind so that when they are ready to buy they call you.

So the next time you want to “change up” your marketing to stay in front of your competition, consider another look at Direct Mail and Email Marketing. They might just break you out of the “same old, same old” and propel you into new growth.

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