Using the RACE framework to create a simple Digital Marketing Plan for your Small Business

Structuring a Winning 5-part digital marketing plan

Using the RACE framework to create a simple Digital Marketing Plan for your Small Business

When I first started advising businesses on planning for digital marketing in the mid 1990s, when we still called it Internet marketing, many were saying that it was 'quick, cheap and easy'. That was definitely the appeal, but I never claimed this, you have to be realistic about the competition to succeed. Although I knew there were some great free marketing techniques like Search Engine Optimisation and Email marketing, it was clear that you needed outstanding content to get cut through, whatever the channel since it was competitive. The algorithms that affect engagement mean this is even more the case today and it's why it's essential today to have a planned approach for digital marketing.

From talking to thousands of small business and startup owners since then, I know that they just want to know what works and where to focus by setting goals, that's strategy and what we'll focus on here. The details don't matter in a plan. Detailed tactical plans and 90-day plans are where the details should go.

In this essential guide, I will give you a simple structure to follow to create a digital marketing plan which you can fill in on our free digital marketing planning template you can download as part of our free membership resources.

The structure we recommend for the plan uses the RACE planning framework which I created for Smart Insights members back in 2010 based on my experience of consulting and training on digital marketing in many businesses. It has since been used by many marketers in different types of businesses around the world to create their plans. RACE stands for:

  • Reach: This means finding ways to get your message to the right people. It’s about making sure your target audience knows about your business.
  • Act: Once people know about your business, you need to engage them. This is about creating content and using social media or email to connect with potential customers. This also include lead generation like signing up for a newsletter or a webinar.
  • Convert: After engaging with people and generating leads, you want them to take action, like buying a product . This step focuses on turning interested people into actual customers.
  • Engage: Once someone becomes a customer, it’s important to keep them happy. Engaging with existing customers through great service, loyalty programs, and personalized experiences can lead to repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations via social media.

So that’s RACE, there is also an initial plan phase which we’ll come back to. Let’s now look at why it’s so important to have a digital marketing plan.

Here's a visual summary:

Race Planning Framework

Why is digital marketing so important for small businesses and startups

It's obvious, budgets for marketing are lower in businesses that haven't been established a long-time where owners are often bootstrapping. More established brands can invest in paid media, but digital channels offer good low and no-cost options for businesses.

Low-cost digital marketing channels can be highly effective for small businesses looking to maximize their online presence without breaking the bank. Here are some of the best low-cost digital marketing channels that you must factor into your plans:

  1. Content Marketing: Creating valuable and informative content through blog posts, articles, infographics, and videos is a cost-effective way to engage and educate your audience. High-quality content can drive organic traffic to your website and establish your authority in your industry.
  2. Social Media Marketing: Utilizing platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X, and LinkedIn allows you to connect with your audience and promote your products or services without significant advertising costs. Organic social media posts, engagement with followers, and user-generated content can be low-cost strategies.
  3. Email Marketing: Building and maintaining an email list is a cost-effective way to nurture leads, retain customers, and drive sales. Email marketing platforms offer affordable options for sending targeted campaigns and automating follow-up emails.
  4. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimizing your website for search engines is a long-term, low-cost strategy that can significantly increase organic traffic. Proper keyword research, on-page optimization, and regular content updates can improve your search engine rankings.
  5. Content Distribution: Sharing your content on platforms like Medium, LinkedIn Publishing, or industry-specific forums and communities can help extend your reach without additional advertising costs.
  6. Google My Business: If you have a physical location, optimizing your Google My Business profile is crucial for local visibility. It's a free tool that can help you appear in local search results, which is essential for brick-and-mortar businesses.

As your business grows you can use your budget for paid media where paid digital marketing channels are generally lower in cost compared to traditional offline channels for several reasons:

  1. Targeted Advertising: Digital marketing allows for highly targeted advertising. Businesses can specify their audience based on demographics, interests, behavior, and location. This precision reduces wasted ad spend by ensuring that marketing messages reach the most relevant individuals.
  2. Reduced Overhead: Traditional offline advertising often involves substantial overhead costs, such as printing, distribution, and physical space rental. In contrast, digital marketing eliminates many of these expenses, making it more cost-efficient.
  3. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Models: Many digital advertising platforms, like Google Ads and social media ads, operate on a PPC model. Advertisers only pay when users interact with their ads by clicking on them. This ensures that you're charged only for actual engagement, optimizing ad spend.
  4. Flexible Budgets: Digital marketing platforms accommodate a wide range of budgets, making them accessible to businesses of all sizes. You can start with a modest budget and adjust it based on the results you achieve, providing financial flexibility.

Let's now look at how to structure your plan using the RACE framework.

1. Plan (P) Strategizing Your Approach with an annual and 90-day plan

The "Plan" stage within the RACE planning framework is where the blueprint for your entire digital marketing strategy comes to life. This phase is all about setting the direction, defining objectives, and devising a well-thought-out strategy that will guide your efforts throughout the entire marketing journey.

To begin, you'll need to clearly define your goals and objectives. These objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Whether it's increasing website traffic, boosting social media engagement, or driving conversions, having clear objectives is essential for tracking progress and success.

Next, you'll need to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your objectives. KPIs provide measurable benchmarks against which you can gauge the effectiveness of your strategies. These might include metrics like website traffic, click-through rates, conversion rates, or customer acquisition costs.

With objectives and KPIs in place, you'll determine the tactics and tools required to achieve your goals. This involves selecting the most suitable digital marketing channels, content types, and technologies. It's also the stage where budget allocation is crucial, ensuring that resources are distributed effectively among various marketing activities.

Furthermore, a well-crafted digital marketing plan includes a timeline or schedule that outlines when each tactic will be executed. This helps in managing resources, maintaining consistency, and ensuring that marketing efforts align with seasonality or specific promotional periods. We recommend creating an annual plan, but first start with the free 90-day plan template which we designed for small businesses like yours.

In essence, the "Plan" stage is the foundation upon which your entire digital marketing strategy is built. It provides a clear roadmap, ensuring that every subsequent action is purposeful and cohesive, ultimately increasing the chances of achieving your business objectives in the digital realm.

2. Reach (R) - Attracting Your Audience

The second step in the RACE framework is Reach, which focuses on attracting your desired audience. This stage involves understanding your target market in-depth and creating a tailored strategy to reach them effectively. Key components include defining detailed buyer personas - see our free Marketing buyer persona template and checklist download, completing simple market research, and assessing your competition through SWOT analysis. This ensures that your marketing efforts are laser-focused and aligned with your audience's preferences and needs. Or blog and member resources cover all of these.

Selecting the right digital marketing channels is another critical aspect of the Reach stage. Social media, content marketing, and paid advertising are just a few of the channels that small businesses can leverage to extend their reach. Content creation and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies play an integral role in attracting organic traffic, as high-quality content optimized for search engines can draw potential customers to your website.

3. Act (A) - Engaging Your Audience

Once you've successfully reached your target audience, the Act stage comes into play, focusing on engaging them to interact with compelling content and strategies. Crafting content that resonates with your audience, such as blog posts, videos, and infographics, is essential to keep audiences interested. Building a strong social media presence and maintaining a content calendar to consistently engage with your audience on various platforms is equally crucial.

E-permission marketing can be a highly effective strategy for generating leads for a small business that's in line with data protection guidelines. Here's how it can work for you:

  1. Offer Valuable Content: Start by creating valuable and relevant content that addresses the needs and interests of your target audience. This could be in the form of blog posts, ebooks, webinars, or exclusive offers.
  2. Create Opt-In Opportunities: Place opt-in opportunities strategically on your website and marketing materials. This can include sign-up forms on your website, landing pages for specific offers, or checkboxes during the checkout process.
  3. Provide Clear Value Proposition: Clearly communicate the benefits of subscribing or providing contact information. Let potential leads know what they'll receive in exchange for their permission, whether it's informative content, special discounts, or updates on your products and services.
  4. Segment Your List: As you collect leads, segment your email list based on factors like interests, demographics, or behavior. This allows you to send targeted and personalized messages to specific groups, increasing the chances of conversion.
  5. Nurture Leads: Use email marketing to nurture your leads over time. Send them relevant and engaging content, such as newsletters, educational materials, and special offers. The goal is to build a relationship and keep your business top of mind.
  6. Measure and Optimize: Continuously monitor the performance of your e-permission marketing efforts. Track metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Use this data to refine your strategy and make improvements.
  7. Engage with Leads: Actively engage with your leads by responding to their inquiries, comments, and feedback promptly. This shows that you value their interaction and can help build trust.

4. Convert (C) - Turning Prospects into Customers

Conversion is the ultimate goal of any marketing strategy. In the Convert stage, businesses set specific conversion goals and implement strategies to turn prospects into paying customers. This involves optimizing your website for conversions, creating effective lead generation strategies, and using email marketing for lead nurturing.

Remarketing and retargeting tactics come into play here, allowing businesses to re-engage potential customers who may have abandoned their journey towards conversion. A/B testing and conversion rate optimization (CRO) are essential techniques to fine-tune your strategy and maximize conversion rates.

Email marketing is another powerful tool in the Convert stage, enabling businesses to nurture leads and guide potential customers towards conversion. User-generated content, customer reviews, and proactive interaction with your audience help build trust and encourage engagement. Encouraging feedback and addressing customer inquiries promptly creates a positive brand image and fosters customer loyalty.

5. Engage (E) - Retaining and Delighting Customers

The Engage stage focuses on retaining and delighting existing customers. It's essential to understand that customer retention is just as crucial, if not more so, than acquisition. Businesses should provide exceptional customer service, create a memorable post-purchase experience, and implement loyalty programs and incentives to keep customers coming back.

Collecting and utilizing customer feedback and personalization techniques enhance the customer experience and strengthen brand loyalty. Leveraging social proof, such as testimonials and reviews, can further solidify the relationship between the business and its customers.

In summary, the Smart Insights RACE planning framework offers small businesses a systematic approach to digital marketing. By following the stages of Reach, Act, Convert, and Engage, businesses can create a comprehensive and effective digital marketing plan that not only attracts and converts customers but also builds long-lasting relationships, fostering sustainable growth and success in the digital landscape.

Summary - Small Business Digital Marketing FAQs

We hope you found this suggested structure simple and easy to follow.

We recommend creating an annual plan for which we have templates and a learning course available, but first start with the free 90-day plan template which we designed for small businesses like yours.

Finally, as a summary, here are 10 frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Smart Insights RACE planning framework tailored for small business owners:

1 What is the Smart Insights RACE planning framework, and how can it benefit my small business?

The RACE framework is a digital marketing model designed to help businesses attract, engage, convert, and retain customers. It's particularly valuable for small businesses as it provides a structured approach to maximize online marketing effectiveness.

2 Is the RACE framework suitable for small businesses with limited resources?

Yes, the RACE framework is adaptable to businesses of all sizes, including small ones. It can help you make the most of your resources by focusing on targeted and efficient marketing efforts.

3 Where should I start when applying the RACE framework to my small business?

Begin with the "Reach" stage by identifying your target audience and market. Understanding your audience is crucial for tailoring your digital marketing efforts effectively.

4 Do I need to be tech-savvy to use the RACE framework?

No, the RACE framework can be applied without deep technical expertise. It provides a strategic approach, and you can enlist the help of digital marketing professionals or use user-friendly tools.

5 Can the RACE framework work for brick-and-mortar businesses, or is it mainly for online businesses?

The RACE framework is applicable to both online and offline businesses. It helps businesses build a strong online presence, but its principles, such as customer engagement and retention, are valuable for brick-and-mortar establishments as well.

6 How can I measure the success of my digital marketing efforts using the RACE framework?

The RACE framework emphasizes setting clear objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) at each stage. You can measure success by tracking metrics like website traffic, conversion rates, social media engagement, and customer retention.

7 Do I need a big budget to implement the RACE framework effectively?

The RACE framework can be adapted to various budgets. Small businesses can focus on cost-effective strategies, such as content marketing and social media, while gradually expanding their efforts as they grow.

8 Is the RACE framework a one-time plan, or should I revisit and adjust it regularly?

The RACE framework is an ongoing process. It's important to regularly review and adjust your digital marketing strategies as market conditions, customer behaviors, and your business goals evolve.

9 Are there any tools or templates available to help me implement the RACE framework for my small business?

Yes, Smart Insights and other digital marketing resources offer templates, guides, and tools that can aid in implementing the RACE framework effectively.

10 Can I get support or guidance on using the RACE framework for my specific small business?

Yes, you can seek guidance from digital marketing experts or agencies, many of who use RACE for structuring their plans.

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