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Five marketing questions to ask to grow your business in 2012 Add to ...

As 2011 comes to a close and 2012 opens up a slew of new challenges and opportunities, it's important to look back at how you handled your marketing to see what lessons can be learned for how to move forward in the year ahead.

Asking yourself key marketing questions can help decide what programs and strategies worked, what didn't, and what changes you need to make in 2012.

Here are five questions to ask:

Was social media worth the investment?

From Twitter to Klout and Facebook to HootSuite, a growing number of social media tools are being put to use by small businesses.

But has the investment been worth it?

While social media fanatics and consultants will say yes, entrepreneurs with little time and an endless array of strategies at their disposal need to decide if they get a sufficient ROTI -return on time investment - to warrant what they put into it. That can be measured by new business opportunities generated, connections with influencers made and how you raised your profile within your targeted community.

What were your objectives? Did social media help you to achieve them? Can you demonstrate that? Were there other tactics you could have used that would have gotten you the same results? Should you have handled your social media efforts differently?

Look back and decide how social media worked for you, what you might change -- and for those who haven't yet dipped their toes into the social media waters, is this the year to do it?

What did my marketing dollars do to grow my business?

How much did you spend on advertisements, direct mail campaigns or sponsorships? Were they all for brand awareness, or did they actually help your business grow?

Small businesses can't afford to spend money strictly on brand awareness. Leave that game to the big boys with bloated budgets.

Small businesses need to see real business opportunities arise from their marketing investments.

If no new leads or sales resulted, you need to rethink how and on what you spend next year.

Go back and tally what you spent money on that resulted in a new relationship, access to a new market or earned you a new client. Then tally everything that didn’t bring results. Get rid of all the tactics that were nothing but a sinkhole in your marketing budget. Put more into those that brought you business.

How focused were my efforts?

While mass collaboration is in, with the widespread adoption of social media, mass marketing is out, with the amount of noise and options it creates in the marketplace.

Companies have so many choices that they sometimes miss out on appealing to the people who can benefit the most from what they have to offer.

Make your marketing efforts smaller, more targeted and more direct.

Look at how focused your efforts were in the past year. Did you send out e-mail blasts to 2,500 people? Consider instead sending them out to 25 people with whom you can build a relationship.

Did you create content that was applicable to anybody? Consider, instead, creating targeted content directed toward a specific industry facing a specific problem.

Avoid generic pieces that apply to many. Talk to individuals, not mailing lists.

Think of all the ways you can better focus your efforts. Small businesses need to do that to get the right people to come to them for the right reasons.

Was my approach a science or an art?

Small businesses that hang onto the mindset that creativity is everything in marketing will surely limit their ability to grow a business.

While creativity is nice, it's not the most important piece of the puzzle.

Marketing is a science, not an art. It's measurable and repeatable and quite simple once you've figured out what you did to score success.

If 2011 was all about creativity and not so much about the numbers, make 2012 about the numbers, measurement and quantitative improvement.

Model out all your marketing activities: What tactics did you use, how did you use them and what specific results did they bring?

Every time you execute, you can test the effect and effectiveness of the response. You can follow up after 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours. You can test the impact of a headline or what happens when you send out at a a particular time.

Understanding the impact throughout the entire process makes it easy to make decisions and, most important, repeat success.

What programs did I add that made an impact?

How many marketing programs, strategies or activities did you undertake in 2011 that you also ran in 2010? What programs did you add in 2011 that you did not have in 2010?

It’s easy to become comfortable with what you’ve used in the past and become comfortable with, so there’s a tendency to continue to keep doing so year after year.

But sticking with what you know isn’t always the best plan.

Look back at what you did that was the same old thing, and what was different. Again, figure out what did and didn’t work.

For 2012, ditch the marketing programs and activities that are no longer adding value to your company. You will know if you’ve taken a scientific approach to marketing and watched the numbers. Invest in building new strategies, programs and activities that will positively affect your top line.

It might be a new content strategy or the development of a referral program. Whatever it is, add it to your arsenal and measure the effectiveness of it year after year.

Successful entrepreneurs ask better questions and so they get better answers and better results. Asking these questions of yourself will help uncover improvements and innovations for your business.

It's how to get different, and better, results.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Ryan Caligiuri is a Winnipeg-based growth strategist who works with companies in hyper-competitive marketplaces that want to increase leads and demand to fill their pipeline, that need help breaking into or taking control of already established markets when there’s a need to create more revenue streams, or to become more influential in the marketplace.

Engage with Mr. Caligiuri on Twitter.

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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Follow on Twitter: @RyanCaligiuri

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