Why Write a Marketing Plan?
There’s no doubts that an effective marketing plan is the best way to grow your business. Without customers, your business is likely to fail very quickly. Many businesses fall into the trap of wanting to reach as many people as possible, but if these people aren’t interested in what you are selling, you are unlikely to get far. A marketing plan allows you to determine who your target market is, boosting your customer base and increasing your bottom line.
An effective plan will enable you to create new products or services, or at least tailor your existing ones, to ensure they meet the needs of your target market, which in turn will increase your sales and productivity. At the same time, this will help your customers understand why your product and/or service is superior to others on the market and will solve all their problems. Developing a plan requires time and commitment, but it is extremely valuable and will significantly contribute to your business’ overall success.
If you’re wondering where to start with your marketing plan, it’s with the executive summary. This is essentially an outline that summarises each section of your marketing plan from brainstorming through to implementation stage. This means, it is also the place you finish your marketing plan as well. You won’t know exactly what goes into your executive summary until you have completed your plan, but by beginning with an outline of all the key points you aim to address throughout your marketing plan, it will help guide you through the process.
Consider the executive summary your overview. You want to give the reader (whether it’s an employee or a third party) a good insight into your business, what your goals are and how you see yourself reaching them. There is no need to go into great detail here, as that will come with the remainder of your marketing plan. When going over the executive summary, the reader should get a clear idea of what to expect from the rest of the marketing plan.
Situation Analysis – Why are we making this plan?
If you don’t know why you are creating a marketing plan, then it is going to be very difficult to get started. You need to stop and think about exactly why your business needs a marketing plan and what you hope to gain from having one in place. Is it just because you are simply following a process and have been told this is what you should be doing? If that’s the case, then you need to do some more research before getting started. With a clear motivation in place, your marketing plan will be much easier to form. Your business is much more likely to fail without a marketing plan in place. If you have no customers who see your products and/or services, then you have no money coming in, and essentially, no business.
You may already be spreading the word about your business through a number of different channels, such as online through Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Email, or via more traditional means, including TV, radio and newspaper ad, but do you know if are reaching the RIGHT audience with the RIGHT message?
Here are some of the important questions you need to ask yourself:
- Who is my target market?
- What are they interested in?
- How does my business and/or service meet their needs?
- Where can you find them?
- How do I reach them?
You may have looked at some of these questions when you put together your business plan, but addressing these key points is critical to your success. It is these questions and more that are answered in the process of your marketing plan, making it an integral part to growing any business.
There is no better place to start when it comes to formulating your marketing plan. If you don’t know who you are targeting, then you will have no direction for your business sales. You can segment and explore your target market based on a number of different criteria. For example:
- Demographics: age and gender
- Physiographics: their interests
- Geography: where they live
- Buying power: money they have available to afford your product/service
Once you determine who these people are, you will be able to delve into their needs and concerns much more deeply and work out how your product and/or service is catered towards them. Let’s take a look at an example: a cleaning products company is trying to determine who their target market is, so they look at the following:
- Demographics: they are likely catering to women between the ages of 25 to about 50.
- Physiographics: many women between these ages are mums, interested in keeping a clean home without too much effort.
- Geography: the company will need to determine the shipping limitations on their products to establish how wide they can target.
- Buying power: these mums are unlikely to want to spend huge amounts on cleaning products, and would be after a hassle-free option that saves them time.
Having established who their target market is, it is important to consider their needs and concerns to determine exactly how their company caters to their customers and stands out from their competitors. You can walk into any supermarket and purchase cleaning products for a reasonable price off the shelf. Why would they pick yours?
This is all part of determining your target market. Perhaps mums these days are looking for an eco-friendly cleaning option? Or are time-poor and want the cleaning done as quickly as possible? Market research is important at this stage. Once you know who your target market is, you need to reach out to them and ask all these important questions.
Find out what interests them, what their needs are (specifically related to your industry, ie cleaning) and from there, you will be able to create a new product and/or service that solves a problem for them. This will make it much easier to market your product and or services and beat out your competitors.
What is USP?
Having established your target market, the next crucial step is working out your USP – or Unique Selling Proposition. Before you can even begin to sell your product and/or service to those around you, you need to sell yourself on it. After all, there are very few one-of-a-kind businesses out there, instead, they all are variations of each other, doing things a little differently to stand out. This is one of the most effective techniques when it comes to selling your products and/or services. In fact, the entire concept was first proposed in the 1940s to explain a pattern of successful advertising. Essentially, these brands were making unique propositions to their customers, which in turn convinced them to switch brands. For example, some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service.
There are many different USPs you can choose to focus on with your business. It comes down to what marketers refer to as the ‘four Ps’ of marketing:
- Product characteristics
- Price structure
- Placement strategy
- Promotional Strategy
By manipulating one of these avenues, you can make yourself stand out from your competitors and offer something entirely new in an already saturated market. Your elements, do however need to be aligned in some way. For example, if we step back to our cleaning products example, they have the option of becoming an eco-friendly option, or instead looking at producing a budget option.
You do need to keep in mind that all these four Ps work WITH each other and not AGAINST each other. For example, if you want to place yourselves as budget cleaning options that won’t break the bank, but then price yourselves way above other brands, many customers will be turned off from purchasing from you. By exploring these four avenues and working out how you want to stand out, you need to then go back and ensure the rest of strategy aligns with this ideal.
So how do you work out a USP for your business?
- Firstly, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. By defining your target market, you can specifically pinpoint who you are selling to. In some cases, you may even find it easier to actually write a profile for this person. Who they are, where they live, what their lifestyle is like, etc. Too often businesses fall in love with their product, without considering how it is actually helping the consumer. Once you have this profile you can then delve deeper into what makes this person tick, what are their needs, what are they wanting? By exploring these avenues you will gain some ideas into how you can meet these needs and solve one of their particular problems.
- Know what motivates your customer’s purchasing behaviour
This is essentially looking into why they might buy your product. For example, women buy handbags for both fashion and practicality. People buy cleaning products in order to clean their homes. Why are people buying your products? You need to tap into this mindset and then work out what you can offer to solve this problem of theirs (for example, eco-friendly cleaning products) that will stand out from your competitors.
- Check out the competition
Still looking for ideas? Drop in or browse online and check out your competition. If they are doing well, it’s because they are offering something that their customers want. Find out what it is and how you can beat it.
Just remember, your product itself doesn’t have to be unique. It can be hard these days to come up with something completely fresh and new. But it does need to stand out from your competitors, so make sure you put the time and effort into working out your USP.
Start with a mind map and jot down any ideas that come into you. The further you delve into the headspace of your target market, the more likely you are to meet their needs and come up with a unique USP for your brand.
Now that we know who our target market is and our unique selling point, it’s time to start thinking about how we reach our customers and start making those sales. Your distribution plan will highlight how your customers will buy from you. For example:
- At local markets
- Through your website
- Through traditional advertising
- On social media channels
- From other retailers who stock your products
- Through a physical storefront
The most important thing to note is that you don’t need to focus on every single channel out there. While it is great that we have all these options available to us, it doesn’t mean we need to use them all. Otherwise, you may find yourself spread far too thin and not reaching anyone of value.
At this stage, it’s important to step backwards in order to move forwards. You have already established who your target market is and what your USP is, this will help you determine how you reach them. There are two ways you can determine the best channels for you and your business, and this is by looking at your goals and your budget.
You need to ask yourself one important question: which channels are most relevant for your target market? For example, if your target market is stay-at-home mums, then you can cross LinkedIn off your list of channels, as they are unlikely to be on a job platform. If your demographics are right across Australia, then a physical storefront probably isn’t the best option for you. If you are looking to wholesale rather than sell directly to the consumer, then your research time will be best spent looking at where you would like your products stocked.
Once you cross these off, you can begin looking into exactly where your audience is. For example, if you are selling a fashionable new bag and you have determined Instagram is the best place for this, then are you trying to sell directly to the consumer, or would you rather go through influencers and get photos of them using your bag?
This leads into determining your budget. Setting up, running and boosting social media channels costs money. Using influencers costs money. While we would like to do it all, it’s a fast way to run our business into the ground.
Instead, pick the avenues you think – based on your research – will be the most lucrative and test them out. See what the ROI is, and then compare with another channel. You will very quickly be able to work out where your audience is and what the most profitable avenue for you is.
One very important thing to note is how valuable your email lists are. While social media has such a large reach and there is lots of value building your audiences on a number of different platforms, these are all third-party platforms that don’t belong to you. If Facebook suddenly closes down for any reason, you have lost lots of potential customers.
On the contrary, your mailing list is yours and yours only, and can’t be taken away. Plus, anything you send out to them is received directly in their inbox for them to read. You can’t get much more targeted than this.
Finally, it is time to start promoting your business to these channels, so you need to determine exactly how you plan to go about it. Special deals are a great way to secure new customers or generate more interest in your product and/or services. These deals can run at any time throughout the year to coincide with holidays (such as Boxing Day, Valentine’s Day, etc), or sales events, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is important to note all these important days down in a marketing calendar, as the chances are, your competitors will be running sales on these days, and people will be out looking for a bargain as well. You don’t want to miss out on these opportunities because you didn’t know about them.
When businesses think of deals, they automatically jump to the sales. But there are many different deals you can offer your audience, including:
- Free trials of your products and/or services
- Free shipping
- Packages, where you combine a number of products or services into a special bundle price
- Discount offers
- Money-back offers
- Free product with purchase over a certain price
These promotions are a great way for you to reach new customers. By promoting them through your chosen channels (discussed above), you are able to work out which deals your audience responds to best and to promote these heavily. There is no reason you can’t run the same promotion at different times throughout the year if it works.
Execution, Marketing Budget and Timeline
Now it’s time to put your marketing plan into place and this where it is important to be specific as possible.
One of the best ways to plot it all out is with a marketing calendar. Set up a spreadsheet and start by noting down important dates in the year (Christmas, Easter, End of Financial Year) and marking what promotions you want to run with these events. For example, some businesses choose to run a ’12 Days of Christmas’ promotion in the lead up to Christmas. This isn’t something you can put into place last minute, it needs to be well thought out and organised in order to run effectively.
The next step is to determine your marketing budget. Once you have an overall budget for the year, you can break it down across your key promotions. You are ideally running these promotions in order to broaden your audience, so it is best to put some money behind them to reach as far and wide as possible. You will have already determined your best marketing channels (online, print, television, etc.) so can note next to each promotion where it will run. If you are looking at print or television, you will need these organised well in advance.
Often, a yearly timeline can feel a little too advantageous for your business. Depending how you operate, you may just want to put in place a six-month plan and work from that. As long as you aren’t working week to week, otherwise things will get missed in the process.
The key to a successful marketing plan is organization and research. You need to be thinking ahead at all times to stay one foot in front of your competitors. Yet, you aren’t able to do this unless you carry out in-depth research into your market, your UPS and the different marketing channels available to you, so you can deliver exactly what your audience wants to exactly where they are.
Once you have an effective marketing plan in place, it is all about fine-tuning it. If you don’t document your strategy and its effectiveness, then you can’t expect to improve on it over time. By keeping track on your marketing calendar of the return on investment of the different promotions you run and different channels you market through, you will be able to refine your plan for the next time period and narrow your market even further to gain a bigger ROI.
Your marketing plan is a continuing strategy for your business and should never be pushed to the side. It is important for it to be visible for all your employees, so everyone is across it and the plans you have for the business.
More minds are always better, so get your whole team across the marketing plan. Look at what worked, the previous year, what didn’t, and other promotions you have seen from competitors that did really well. How can you replicate these? The more ideas you have, the better.
You will be able to sit back and watch your business grow with an effective marketing plan in place. So do the hard yards now and reap the benefits in the future.