by Lori Prosio

We all probably have encountered plenty of marketing campaigns that haven’t been successful because they missed the mark, offended an audience or were poorly executed.

Marketing failures because of poor judgment (Google “Tyler the Creator/Mountain Dew” and see the numerous negative media stories) or creative risks are easier to identify than the ones that fail because they were poorly planned, didn’t speak to the right audience, had no strategy or were woefully short on budget. While a successful PR or marketing campaign can be creative, first it requires skill, solid strategy and some planning. Don’t waste your time, money and opportunity, or worse, negatively impact your brand or your bottom line simply because you didn’t take the time to plan your marketing.

When planning to market your business:

Set goals and objectives early

Remember that goals are long-term things that you want to accomplish, while objectives are specific achievements that can be attained by following a certain number of steps. For example, if your business goal is to be the best sandwich shop in town, it makes sense to set a media relations goal of being first in the minds of local food critics and food bloggers.

Differentiate objectives from goals with the SMART test: Objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed. If you are launching a new product for your business, creating media awareness about that product is a realistic and common marketing objective. To then increase that awareness and influence buyer decisions (both of which should be objectives) ­— send samples of your product to the media or relevant bloggers and help increase awareness of your product before you launch it to the public.

Develop a plan

Draft a plan of action that outlines any marketing tactic you want to implement. Are you trying to build a brand, increase sales, repair your image or all of the above?

Ask yourself some key questions: What advantages do you have over your competition? What are the challenges you might face over the next year that should drive your marketing strategy — if you have one (and no, sending out one news release every month is not a marketing strategy). Who is your target market, and how can you best reach it? The answers to these questions will help set the foundation for a successful marketing effort.

Take an honest look at your situation and analyze what you have already done and what you still want to accomplish, and then build your plan. Like Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”

Identify your target audience

To ensure your marketing effort is successful, you need to talk to the right people, at the right time. Determine who will be most affected by your product and or service and speak to them directly.

For multiple audiences, tailor your messaging and often your marketing approach. You wouldn’t likely reach senior citizens on a mom’s blog, nor would you reach teens through an article in the local daily newspaper. Providing relevant and timely information about your business or product in the right medium will help influence consumers to engage with your brand in a meaningful way.

Commit to a budget

One mistake I see a lot of small businesses make is giving marketing effort whatever is left over in their operating budget — or worse, never establishing a budget to begin with. Marketing can’t be an afterthought; it requires dedicated thought and effort, which means a dedicated budget. Committing to a budget upfront will help you define more realistic goals and objectives and help you stick to your plan. While money for operations, sales, and administration is essential to your success, if you don’t have any demand for your product or service because no one knows about it, none of that will matter.

Use metrics to measure success

To know if your marketing effort is effective, create measurements and benchmarks for the tactics you implement and monitor these results regularly. If you find a quarter of the way through that something is not working, you can refine the program and increase your chances of success. The worst thing you can do is wait until post campaign to get your first look at whether it worked or not.

Seek outside counsel

Still lost? Hire a consultant who can help you lay out a plan and offer solid advice on implementation. Even if you don’t have the budget to hire someone to implement the marketing effort for you, getting the advice of a professional in the planning stages might help you from going down the wrong path and wasting valuable time and resources, or worse, risking a mistake that could hurt your brand in the long term.

This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2013 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.