A marketing plan is a plan that outlines your full marketing strategy for the coming year. It will include who you are marketing to, how you will market to them, and the strategies you will use to connect with customers and attract sales. The goal of the marketing plan is to outline how you will present your products and services to your target market.
Conducting a Situation Analysis.
1. Consider your company's goals.
The goal of a situation analysis is to look at your company's current marketing situation. From there, changes can identified and made. Begin by looking at your company's mission and goals (if your company doesn't have one, then, this has to be clarified before you start), and determine if your company's current marketing plan is helping to meet those goals or not.
For example, you may own a snow plowing and winter maintenance business, and may have set a goal to grow your overall revenues by 10% by adding more contracts. Do you have a marketing plan that outlines how you will attract those additional contracts? If so, is it working?
2. Examine your current marketing advantages and challenges.
What is attracting customers to your business now? What is attracting customers to your competitor's business? Chances are your strengths are attracting customers to your business, and knowing these strengths is an important marketing advantage.
Come up with concrete, definitive strengths and advantages that customers will find when they work with you. These are called internal characteristics of the company, and they're what determine a customer's level of satisfaction.
Potential strengths could be low cost, excellent customer service, user friendliness, or speed.
Distinguish yourself from the competition. This may be tied with your strengths, or it may just be a fact of doing business with your company. But if you want customers to choose you over your competitors, you'll need to figure out beforehand why they should do that.
You should also be aware of your company's potential weaknesses and shortcomings, as these are also internal characteristics that matter to consumers. Once you've identified weaknesses you should begin planning ways to address those issues. If you don't, those weaknesses could end up being a competitor's strengths.
3. Research your target market.
It is important to know precisely who are selling to in order to market to them. Knowing your target market and their needs allows you to determine where you should advertise and how you should advertise. If you do not intimately know your target market, you cannot effectively communicate how your products and services meet their needs.
Conduct demographics research. You want to know the age, gender, location, and even income of your customers. You also want to know the psychology of your customers. If you run a snow removal company, for example, and your customers are large businesses, what are the things they value most from a snow removal service?
Utilize official government data on both the market and industry. You may want to look at economic indicators like price and cost indices, as well as employment statistics in your state, county, and city.
If your budget permits it, you may want to consult with trade groups or institutions that conduct their own research and analysis of markets and industry trends.
You should also research your competition. The only way you will be able to offer customers something that the competition can't is by knowing what, exactly, your competitors' appeal is. Do they offer better prices? Quicker turnaround time? If so, how do they offer those features? Are they cutting corners someplace else in their business plan?
Knowing the competition's strengths and weaknesses is one of the best things you can do to help position your business for success.
4. Educate yourself on external opportunities and threats.
These are the external characteristics of your company, and they are determined by your competition, by fluctuating market factors, and by customers or clients. Your goal here is to look at the various factors that could affect your business so that you can adjust your marketing plan accordingly.
Begin by analyzing market trends, such as observable shifts in what consumers want/need, and what they expect from a company like yours.
Look at financial trends that may affect you, like the rise in virtual payment methods or current inflation rates.
If you own a snow removal business and cater to large public sector institutions (like government buildings) you may be aware that tight government finances are making your clients more concerned on cost. Your business strategy (and marketing plan) should focus on how you can provide the lowest-cost quality service.
Researching Your Strengths and Weaknesses.
1. Send surveys through the mail.
If you have a broad and dedicated client base, you may want to consider sending out surveys. This will allow you to poll your customers on your strengths and your weaknesses. You can then build your marketing plan around your strengths (and know what assets of your business to really emphasize), and you can also make efforts to work on what others perceive as your business's weaknesses.
Keep surveys/questionnaires short and simple. Your customers may have input, but they won't want to spend a lot of time and effort giving you that input. Aim for a survey that would fit on an index card or a half sheet of paper, but if you must go longer, make sure your survey comes in under two pages long at the absolute maximum.
Consider a short-answer format instead of a simple multiple-choice survey. You can certainly incorporate a few multiple-choice questions if you like, but provide open-ended questions, asking specifics like, "What do you like best about our product/service? What do you like least? What would you like to see us improve on?" You may also want to ask a question like, "Would you recommend our products/services to friends or colleagues? Why/why not?" That will help you gauge your existing customers' level of satisfaction while also gathering information on what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. You want to make the experience as easy and hassle-free for customers as possible.
Don't forget to estimate the cost of printing and mailing surveys (both ways), and factor that into your existing budget, if you decide to use this method.
2. Conduct email surveys.
These may be useful if you have a list of current customers' email addresses, which you might have collected anyway for contact purposes or for monthly newsletters. If you have your customers' email addresses, you may want to ask them the same questions as you would in a mailed survey.
However, the risk with email surveys is that they might be relegated to the customer's spam folder. There's no way of knowing how many of your emailed surveys were actually received by your customers and no way of guaranteeing that your customers will bother to fill out the survey even if they are received.
3. Conduct phone surveys.
This may be a touchy subject for some, as many people feel annoyed when they're called on the phone at home. But if your business relies on person-to-person communication, it may not be out of the question to conduct a phone survey.
You can ask many of the same questions that you would in a written survey, asking customers what they see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not your customers would recommend your business to others.
The downside to a phone interview, aside from potentially disrupting or annoying the people being called, is that you won't have the customer's responses in front of you like you would with a written survey.
If you plan on conducting a survey, you'll need to have a fast writer/typer to transcribe your customers' responses over the phone. This may require hiring additional personnel to conduct the interviews and write down responses, which will then need to be compiled into a spreadsheet or catalog of feedback.
4. Conduct personal interviews.
This doesn't have to be anything too thorough. You can simply chat with customers as you're ringing out their order or assisting them as you normally would. But face-to-face communication could be a great way to poll clients and learn what they'd most like to see improve within your business.
Much like the phone interview, a personal interview will still require you to make some written account of what your customers said and what feedback they offered. This doesn't make it an ineffective or impossible plan to implement; it just means you'll need to plan ahead if you decide to go this route.
Brainstorming Your Marketing Plan.
1. Gather your information.
Review any surveys you've conducted, and determine how you'd like to grow your business.
Compare this with any real-world obstacles, including current and projected market trends, forecasted expenses that might arise in the near future, what geographic region and demographics you have had the most success with, and any competitors who also operate in that region or target the same demographics.
2. Assign roles.
As you move forward with your marketing plan, you'll want to assign specific roles to everyone responsible for the marketing of your business.
Determine who would be the best fit for each role within your marketing plan, and define what that role's responsibilities will be.
You should also determine how you will measure success for each role's responsibilities.
3. Declare your marketing goals.
What do you hope to achieve by building a marketing plan?
Is your end goal to broaden your customer base, to let existing customers know about new services/promotions, to expand into a new region/demographic, or something else entirely?
Your goals will guide the creation of your plan.
Your marketing goals should fit within your larger business goals.
When developing your marketing goals, make sure your goals are tangible and measurable. Otherwise, it will be difficult to interpret your sales, and you may not be clear on what approaches and strategies were effective
Use outcomes like increased sales dollars, increased number of units sold/manufactured, increased public awareness, or number of new accounts with clients.
For example, your goal may be "Increase new contracts by 10% or increase social media presence".
4. Determine how to reach your prospects.
Your strategic plan should target all three customer prospects: cold prospects (those who don't know your business at all, reached through advertisements and direct marketing), warm prospects (those who are familiar with your business, or at least have been exposed to your ads and marketing in the past), and hot prospects (interested customers/clients who know your business and are prepared to work with you).
You'll need to brainstorm how to reach all of your prospects, which may play a role in determining which marketing strategies you employ.
For example, you may opt to use social media, radio ads, signs, or flyer distribution to reach cold prospects.
Potential clients who have shown interest or worked with you in the past could be actively contacted by salespeople who are trained to use the information from your research to convince the customer that your product or service is the best solution to their problem.
5. Develop marketing strategies to meet your goals.
Once you've decided on your marketing goals and prospects, you'll want to follow through on that thought process to determine what you can actually do to meet your goals and reach your prospects.
There are many different types of marketing strategies, but some of the most common ones include:
Corporate or in-store events are a great way to bring customers in. This could be a dinner, a social activity, or any other event that will impress clients, motivate/unite your staff, or increase your exposure to potential customers/clients.
Social promotions are almost always successful. That's because they promote your business while getting customers excited about your products or services. These contests can be done in-store or through social media, and typically involve offering some type of minor "reward" in exchange for frequenting your business or following you on social media.
Consider paying for a short-term sponsorship from a reputable person or group of people who use your products or services. These endorsements can even be done entirely online through social media. It may not fit into every business's budget, as it can be an expensive option, but it's been proven to work for many businesses around the world.
Don't overlook the value of clever or catchy advertisements.
Finding your business's voice and visual style in a given campaign can be highly effective.
6. Consider the role of social media.
Various social media platforms can be a highly effective and inexpensive means of advertising your business, and should be a component of your overall marketing plan. Social media can be useful for advertising specials, discounts, doing promotions and communicating with your target audience.
Being active on social media keeps your business on the minds of customers. Consider writing blog posts or posting links about problems your customers may have, and how your business can provide a solution.
Discussion topics, promotions, and surveys can be ways of involving your customers in your business while simultaneously learning more about their preferences and deepening their relationship with your brand.
7. Set a budget.
You may have some spectacular ideas about how to market your business and reach out to customers, but if your budget is limited then you may need to rethink your strategy. Your budget should be realistic and should reflect both the current state of your business and the potential growth you see in your business's future.
Assess your current finances. You want your budget to be realistic, and that means taking into account what you can afford to spend right now. Don't blow your budget on the hope that your marketing plan will bring in a flood of new business, because if your plan isn't that successful you may find yourself hemorrhaging money.
Start small with allocating your marketing funds, and work within your means. Go for tried and true advertisements that you know have the highest success rate with reaching new clients.
Don't be afraid to stray from your plan. If things aren't working in one area of advertisements (say, for example, that your newspaper ads aren't reaching the right people), then try reallocating the time and money you would otherwise invest in that faltering avenue into other, more productive means of advertising.
Writing Your Marketing Plan.
1. Start with an Executive Summary.
This section will include basic information about your product or service, and will provide a general summary of the entire document in a paragraph or two. Writing this first can help you broadly overview the more detailed sections you are about to write.
This is helpful to give your employees, advisors, and colleagues and overview of your plan.
2. Describe your target market.
The next section will use your research to describe your target market.
This does not need to be complex, and simple, bulleted steps will work fine.
You can begin by describing the demographics of your market (include age, gender, and location, or occupation if relevant), and then describe their preferences relating to the products or services you offer.
3. List your goals.
This section should be no longer than a page.
Here, you will list all the marketing goals for your company in the upcoming year.
Remember to apply the SMART acronym to setting your goals -- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
A SMART goal would be "Grow overall sales to public sector customers by 10% before the end of 2018"
4. Identify your marketing strategy.
This section answers the "how" of your plan, and it will outline your overall strategy for marketing. Your goal here is to focus on your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP) which is the main advantage your business has. This should be more clear after brainstorming and planning your marketing plan. Your strategy will sell your USP.
In this section you want to describe how you will reach customers (attending trade shows, radio ads, cold calls, online advertising), and the general approach you will use to convince them. Here, you will want to focus on what you identified your customers needs to be, and how your USP can help them meet their needs.
The key in this section is to be as specific as possible.
5. Write the budget.
In this section you will want to include the total amount of money you have to spend as well as how those dollars will be spent. It is best to divide your expenses into categories, and list the total amount spent per category.
For example, you may spend $5,000 travelling to trade shows, $5,000 on radio ads, $200, on flyers, $1,000 on a new promotion, and $2,000 on optimizing your website.
6. Maintain an annual plan (at least).
Don't anticipate that your plan will go off without a hitch. Most marketing specialists recommend that a business revisits its marketing plan at least once every year. This will help you review what's been accomplished, assess how things may continue to progress based on current information, and determine whether any changes need to be made to your marketing plan.
Be objective with your annual reviews. If something isn't working or if someone isn't performing up to your company's standards, you may need to discuss why things aren't working or why an employee isn't meeting his tasks.
Or, you may need to rethink your company's entire marketing plan if things are really going off the track. This is where it may be helpful and worth the cost to hire an independent consultant.
A consultant can review your plan and assess its success or failure, and may be able to help you restructure your plan as needed.
Remember to integrate the needs and ideas of every department (and every employee, if you feel comfortable with it) into your marketing plan. It’s also highly important to make sure that this plan integrates and meshes seamlessly with your business plan and your mission, vision, and core values statements.
Include any charts, graphs, etc. that you may have completed as a part of creating your Marketing Plan, as well as all charts, graphs etc. that are necessary to explain or expand upon any of the sections above.
You should evaluate your marketing plan at least once every year to determine if your strategies are successful and reassess any components of your plan that have not been successful.
Many factors critical to the development of your marketing plan are dynamic. As these factors change over time, you will need to update your marketing plan.