If you believe that a comprehensive marketing plan is only for large, multinational corporations, you’re doing your small or medium-sized business a disservice.
About marketing plans, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you supposed to get there?” In other words, a carefully crafted marketing plan is the most effective way — and probably the only reliable way — to achieve your goals for marketing your company and its products or services.
In a recent marketing trend watch survey, however, barely half of the small companies polled (fewer than 50 employees) have a marketing plan; whereas more than 80 percent of large firms (1,000 or more employees) do.
So how do you think those large firms got where they are today?
They did it with effective marketing, which they achieved by following a marketing plan.
Fear not; this isn’t a silly question. In fact, many small business owners don’t know what an internet marketing plan is, let alone how to develop one.
Essentially, a marketing plan is an extension of your business plan that gives you a practical strategy for achieving your goals. It provides clear direction for you and your staff for how you will get from point A to point B, including what you’ll do, when you’ll do it and how much you will spend for it.
A marketing plan lays out your key opportunities as well as any potential threats to your success (i.e., your competition). It requires global thought and planning as well as figuring out the smallest details of how you will accomplish each objective.
Your marketing plan is like the owners manual for your Blu-Ray or DVD player. It has step-by-step instructions for setup, easy-to-read charts and graphs for ongoing operation, and a troubleshooting section if something goes wrong.
You need a marketing plan because clearly laid-out strategies bring focus, and better focus leads to success.
Would you ever try to drive to a specific location with only a general idea of where it was? Would you try to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture without the diagram? Sure, you might get lucky. But you might also end up in another state, or with a bookcase that resembles a brontosaurus.
Have you ever fielded a call from a local media outlet trying to fill some remaining advertising space? These last-minute pushes to sell out their ad space (or airtime) can come with particularly attractive pricing. You accept on the spur of the moment, then scramble to put an ad together.
Even if the ad rate was dazzlingly reasonable, the last-minute decision means you’ve spent money that either 1) you don’t have to spend or, 2) you had already budgeted elsewhere. Your hurriedly put-together ad probably won’t look so great or align with your marketing goals. And as a result, you’ll either get no response or no conversions, which sours you on spending money on marketing.
Assuming you don’t have unlimited time or financial resources, you need a solid plan —a roadmap — to market your business effectively. Plus, this makes it easier for you to tell the pesky ad sales people that your marketing budget for the quarter has already been allocated.
Although different companies have different elements to their marketing, you can start with a few basic components that every business needs.
Targets, Prospects & Customers: Most marketing experts will tell you that you must know basic demographic info, like age, income etc. We will tell you that you should identify absolutely everything you can about your potential customers, from where they live to what magazines they read to how they take their coffee.
Use this opportunity to humanize them for yourself and your staff. Walk yourself through a normal day in their lives, and you’ll quickly see how your products or services fit in, and what problems you can solve. This costs nothing but your time, but it will pay off as much or more than almost anything else you can do.
The Competition: Who else does what you do for the customer profile you have identified? What is their Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? How are you similar to each one and how are you different? How do they market themselves? Are they successful? How will you market so that you differentiate your firm?Know your competition as well as you know yourself and your customers, and you’ll stay one step ahead of the best.
Marketing Strategy: In business school, they teach MBAs to use the Marketing Mix, otherwise known as the “4 Ps of Marketing,” Product, Price, Place and Promotion. In other words, what are you selling, how much are you selling it for, where are you selling it, and how are you going to tell your potential customers about it?
But you don’t need a degree to put this magical mix to work in your marketing plan.How about an example?
Let’s say you’re in the small kitchen appliance manufacturing business. So your product is a high-end blender/juicer. Your price is $269 MSRP with adjustments for seasonal sales and bulk purchase by retailers. Your place is brick-and-mortar retail outlets like Target, Macy’s and Costco, as well as online retailers like Amazon and your own website. Your promotion is TV commercials, magazine ads and online marketing that includes your website and landing pages.
Your Marketing Goals: Ensure that these are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable and Time-bound. These should mirror your business plan goals, but with more detail.Continuing our example above, let’s imagine that your business plan calls for increasing your net income by $200,000 next year. Your marketing plan goals will break that down into how many blenders you must sell each month, and at what profit margin, to achieve that objective.
Marketing Budget & Timeline: This is where you’re going to get specific for each aspect of your Promotion category above — how many TV ads you will run each month, on what channels, at what times and how much you will spend for each one. For your online goals, how many unique visits do you need to convert enough sales to meet your sales goal? To attract those website visitors, will you use Google AdWords campaigns, SEO, content marketing and social media? How many landing pages will you need? You’re getting the idea now, right?
Goal Tracking: Even though you have goals in your marketing plan, include a section for how you will track them. Specify that your manufacturing and sales teams will submit monthly (or weekly) reports to you every Thursday by 9 a.m. and the team will meet on Fridays at 2 p.m. to review goals. Identify who is accountable for meeting your goals and how you will address shortfalls.
When you lay out your tracking approach in this much detail, you will succeed in holding yourself and your staff accountable for monitoring — and meeting — these critical objectives.
As we are fond of saying, you can’t take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to marketing. And the more limited your resources, the more important it is to consult and — if necessary — revise your plan regularly.
Once the plan is finalized, make copies for each of your key players and everyone involved in your marketing efforts. Insert the plans in a three-ring binder (yes, we’re going old-school here) and ensure everyone keeps them close at hand. If your plan is solid and you follow it religiously, you will see results.
Whatever you do, keep tracking your progress. If you are meeting or exceeding your goals, you’re on the right track. If not, assemble your brain-trust and figure out why.
You will probably need to make some adjustments along the way, because of market changes, new developments in the industry or larger economic shifts. So don’t stress too much if you’re falling short with your sales at Target but knocking it out of the park at Costco. This just means you may need to reconsider your placement a little next year.
At the end of the year, look back to see what worked best and what didn’t. That will guide you in setting your plan for the next year.
You can find reliable assistance for developing your marketing plan, but approach any potential assistance with caution if it involves a high price tag. Before you hire a marketing consultant or online service who doesn’t really know your business anyway, check out some free (or almost free) resources.
For example, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides valuable information on its website, including how-to guides for marketing and business plans.
Even more helpful is the Service Core of Retired Executives, or SCORE. SCORE is an all-volunteer force of retired business executives who provide advice, mentorship and assistance to small business owners. The program is sponsored by the SBA, and all services are provided for free, or for a small fee. SCORE also offers a wealth of free tools, tips, templates and even workshops and training courses.
You can also contact the marketing department at your local university. Ask for recommendations for marketing majors or MBA students who are in the latter stages of their coursework. Most students will be happy to have the real-world experience of assisting you in developing a marketing plan for a small stipend or a letter of reference.
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