Why do you need a marketing plan? Making your mark is hard enough when you know what you are doing; trying to do it without a plan makes this impossible barring an amazing stroke of luck.
An effective marketing strategy starts with a marketing plan. It is basically a roadmap outlining the steps for attaining the desired end, such as more sales or better brand recognition. In most cases, a marketing plan stretches over a few months to three years.
The reason for such a short span is that your marketing plan has to be dynamic. It is more a work in progress than a static plan. Much can change in a few months, and this can significantly affect your strategy and even your objectives. Setting your goals and strategies for more than three years usually doesn’t work very well, so that’s a lot of effort down the drain.
That said, making a marketing plan is actually not that complicated. You just need to focus on 5 essential parts of a marketing plan that can help you keep on top of market trends, changes and demands while keeping your eye on the ball.
Overview and analyses
The first thing you need to do in creating your marketing plan is putting it in context. Your business does not exist in a vacuum. Your marketing strategy will depend on the position of your business with respect to your competitors as well as current economic, political, natural, technological, and demographic factors that might affect your business.
You can find out what you can and cannot do by making a rigorous and objective SWOT analysis. It is simply a listing of your strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats. Here is a great guide for making your own. To find out what external factors may affect your business, you can do a PEST analysis.
Once you have these two analyses completed, you can use them to establish the foundation for your marketing plan. You now have a clear-eyed view of where you are with respect to your competitors, and your value proposition that can differentiate you from others in your industry. It may be quality of the product or service, unique features, low prices, free delivery, and so on.
Product and target market
Your marketing plan should provide a detailed profile of your target market. No matter what product or service you provide, the success of your marketing rests on identifying your main buyers and gearing your efforts towards attracting, appealing, and engaging them. You are not going to please everyone, and trying to do so will lessen the impact of your marketing efforts, and potentially waste your resources.
To best identify the people you should target, you need to understand the benefits and features of your product and/or service fully. Ask yourself if your product or service caters to one or more of three basic reasons way people buy: solve problems, satisfy a need, or make them feel good. You will then be able to narrow down the people that are most likely to become your customers.
Your target market, or buyer persona, may be an individual, company, or a market segment differentiated by gender, age, culture, education, income, social class, lifestyles, or region. The important thing is to define it and pour all your efforts into marketing to that specific target audience.
Goals and activities
Goal setting is an essential part of any plan, and marketing plans are no different. However, having goals are not enough. Your goals have to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited.
For example, aiming to be the “best in the business” is not a SMART goal, because it is so vague there is no way to find out if you have achieved it. A better goal may be to “acquire 1% more sales than the nearest competitor within one year.”
Setting goals are just one part of the equation. You also have to list down activities you will carry out within a certain period to help you achieve your goals. The activities will depend on the goal, of course, so one follows the other.
Every action requires an actor, so your marketing plan should specify a person responsible for each marketing activity. Assigning tasks to specific people not only ensures execution according to plan, but promotes commitment to the plan.
People are more likely to strive for desirable results within the prescribed time if they are specifically accountable. It is also much easier to measure progress, and analyze results when someone is on top of it at all times.
Make sure that when you assign a task that the person has the skills and knowledge to carry it out effectively. It would be disastrous, not to say unfair, to expect an unqualified person to execute a task well. Remember that the results will depend largely on the person executing it. If you must, outsource tasks you cannot do effectively in-house. For example, if you need professionally written copy, you might want to get professional essay services to do it for you.
Review and revision
A marketing plan should include “save progress” levels, so to speak, where you track progress, check metrics and review and analyze results to see if your strategy is working as expected or not. If it is not, you have to analyze what is not working and adjust your strategy to accomplish your goals. You may even find that your goals are not SMART after all, and adjust that.
The metrics you measure will depend on your goal and activity, but essential marketing metrics include traffic, conversion, revenue, cost per lead, and churn rate. Check these regularly so that you know where you are at any given moment and maximize your marketing ROI.
These five essential parts of a marketing plan entail quite a bit of work on your part, but they are necessary for marketing success. Things are changing so fast nowadays that your marketing plan is often the only thing that keeps you on track. Make the time to make a good one, and continually review it so that you can achieve your goals.