Marketing is the set of activities your business engages in to acquire and maintain a relationship with your customers. A solid marketing operation is based on a written document, a marketing plan, which includes: market research, a study of your customers, competitors and industry and a marketing strategy, a plan for maximizing resources on the greatest opportunities.

Market research is the process of obtaining detailed information about potential customers, competitors, and industry trends. As part of the study a profile of the ideal customer should be compiled including: age, gender, profession, income, and residence. By reading between the lines these attributes can tell you a lot about your customers' preferences and consumer habits. These potential customers, referred to as a target market, can be grouped, or segmented, according to their geographic proximity or their demographic characteristics. Knowing who your customers are helps you direct your resources toward those most likely to patronize your business. Here's an an example of demographic segmentation.

Knowing your competition is just as important as knowing your customers. One approach to competitor analysis is to build a profile of each of your major rivals. At the most basic level this should include a look at each competitor's background, finances, products, markets, facilities, personnel, and strategies. The point of this exercise is to observe strengths and weaknesses of your competition so you can position your business relative to your rivals.

The business landscape is constantly shifting as consumers change their habits and values, the economy ebbs and flows, and technology reshapes the way we live our lives. Staying on top of these trends is critical if a business intends to remain relevant.

A number of consulting and marketing firms publish demographic profiles, industry reports, or are available for hire to produce personalized studies. A number of these publications are available online at sites like If you are interested in hiring a firm to conduct a study for your business, a publication of the American Marketing Association.

Once the business has a robust understanding of the market at-large it can proceed with developing a marketing strategy. The core elements of a marketing strategy are product, price, placement, promotion.

Effective product strategies for a small business may include concentrating on a narrow product line, developing a highly specialized product or service or providing a product- service package containing an unusual amount of service.

Placement, sometimes referred to as distribution, is how the product gets to the customer. Is the product available at the right place at the right time.

Determining price levels or pricing policies is the major factor affecting total revenue. Generally, higher prices mean lower volume and vice-versa; however, small businesses can often command higher prices because of the personalized service they can offer.

Promotion includes advertising, salesmanship and other promotional activities. In general, high quality salesmanship is a must for small businesses because of their limited ability to advertise heavily.

Each of these elements can be adjusted, as part of an overall marketing program, to satisfy the needs of costumers as well as maximize the performance of the business.

A number of services are available to help the small business owner develop effective marketing plans including:

  • American Marketing Association  
    The American Marketing Association, one of the largest professional associations for marketers, has 38,000 members worldwide in every area of marketing. For over six decades the AMA has been an essential resource providing relevant marketing information that experienced marketers turn to every day.

  • Appalachian State University Center for Entrepreneurship  
    Promotes education, research and service collaborations with other organizations involved in entrepreneurship and economic development.

  • Charlotte Chapter of the American Marketing Association  
    Promotes education and assists in the personal and professional career development of marketing professionals. Benefits include: Networking with your marketing peers, Meeting and learning from fellow Charlotte Marketing Professionals at monthly meetings, hearing expert speakers present on hot marketing issues, and receive a newsletter.

  • Green Book: The Guide for Buyers of Marketing Research Services  
    This website provides information regarding hiring a firm to conduct a study for your business consulting.

  • Marketing Plan Pro  
    A marketing-planning software available onsite at the Institute's Resource Center to assist you in creating a professional, complete, and accurate marketing plan. 

    A website which publishes demographic profiles and industry reports. Other marketing research information and publications are also available.

  • PrizmNe Demographic Segments
    Provides a list and descriptions of market segmentations.

  • Small Business and Technology Center (SBTDC)  
    Provide research and marketing support services for SBTDC clients, primary research on small business needs and economic impact, and special projects such as small business incubator feasibility studies.