A solid and well-informed marketing plan is vital to all businesses. While you may have a business plan in place, a marketing plan helps you to achieve the goals outlined in this and provides you with the insights and tools that can better allow you to succeed.
In short, marketing plans help to deliver results. However, they can only do this if they are researched, accurate and in-line with other aspects of your business. As Smart Insights explains, companies that have up-to-date and accurate marketing plans tend to outperform competitors, reach their goals and retain talent much better than those without one in place.
Failing to develop a marketing plan and to ensure it is still relevant as time goes on can mean that you miss beneficial opportunities and make incorrect decisions. All of this can lead to damaging your business – something that could have been avoided.
This is why you need to know the best way to create a marketing plan and how each step can impact other areas of your company.
The current situation
To start your marketing plan, you need to perform a situational analysis of your company to see where it currently stands. This will allow you to define both your company and the services or products it provides. Doing this, as Entrepreneur highlights, allows you to ascertain how your organization is different from competitors and specify what it is that sets you apart.
This doesn't just mean looking at how you are better than competitors, your situational analysis must also be an honest account of your company's weaknesses, ways it can improve and any threats it is likely to face.
The more information you include, the better your marketing plan is likely to be, which is why SWOT analysis is a good way to develop this part of your plan:
This allows you to analyze and work on the negatives and exploit the positives in order to distinguish your organization.
You'll get the most out of a SWOT analysis if you look at it from both an internal and external viewpoint, as there may be internal processes that are a weakness, despite a lot of external strengths. Marketing plans function best when every aspect of the business is aligned, which is why this analysis should be as complete as possible.
As every part of a SWOT analysis is likely to change over time, it is vital that you revisit this part of your plan on a regular basis to ascertain what has altered and how that might affect the goals - both marketing and business - that you currently have in place.
Your target audience
While you may think you know your target audience, many companies don't have the data to back up what they assume to be true. It may be simple to define your target audience based on the product you offer, but as Forbes points out, you need to take a more granular approach in order to get a real understanding of who you are selling to.
Understanding your target audience and splitting them into key personas as part of your marketing strategy allows for a more targeted approach. This ensures efforts are better focused, which can help improve your chances for success.
To do this, you need to look at the different people with buying power and decision making abilities, using tools like social listening and Google Analytics to ensure your results are data driven and not just guess work. This will allow you to create accurate personas that can result in differences in how products are sold or marketing efforts are presented. On top of this, your target audience personas can better help you to understand your competitors.
What are competitors doing?
In order to get a real idea of where you stand in comparison to other organizations in your sector, you need to carry out competitor analysis. It is vital to understand what competitors are doing, what their strengths are and where they are falling short in order to maintain or increase your market share. This will enable you to produce a marketing plan that really stands out, as you will know your competitors and use this to your advantage.
Marketing 91 highlights seven steps to competitor analysis in order to create the most thorough marketing plan possible. The first of these is to identify your competitors, meaning those who are working in your sector now and those who are likely to become competitors in the future and need to be watched.
Once you have your list of direct and indirect competitors, it is a good idea to carry out a SWOT analysis for each of them. This will give you a thorough understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, however, it is worth noting that there may be internal aspects of their businesses that you do not have access to and so your analysis will not be complete.
You can then use this analysis to create competitor portfolios, either for the businesses that are found to be the biggest threat or all of them. Just as with your own SWOT analysis, these will need to be updated regularly in order to reflect changes in the market that could affect your success.
Set achievable goals
Once you have a better understanding of what your company needs to improve and what it is doing well, along with how it stands beside competitors, you can begin to determine what your marketing goals should be. Ideally, you want to set achievable goals using your situational analysis to inform these. While it is good to be ambitious, taking this too far can mean that your marketing is overstretched and unlikely to succeed.
Director of marketing at Onboardly, Shanelle Mullin suggests choosing one or two main goals and then supporting these with three to five smaller goals. The supporting goals should work as stepping stones to your overarching ones, which should be set for the full year, rather than a quarterly basis. This ensures you have enough time to action them and achieve what you set out to do.
A good way to create the best possible goals is to make them:
SMART goals use your data and put a focus on how you are going to measure success in order to back up what you have achieved.
Be realistic about your budget
Once you have your company information, target audience, competitors and goals, you need to assess what your marketing budget should be. Just as with every other step when creating your marketing plan, you need to be realistic when it comes to budget.
Your focus should always be on ROI to avoid wasting your budget or not getting enough out of your marketing budget. The Whole Brain Group suggests spending at least one to five per cent of your top-line revenue depending on what your goals are.
This means using between one and two per cent if you want to engage current customers with simple tools, three to four per cent to maintain your existing audience and attract new prospects or five per cent or more to support complex marketing efforts. The amount you spend depends on what you believe you can get back - using previous data to support this - and how ambitious you are going to be.
Having a marketing budget doesn't necessarily mean you need to spend it all. It is also important to look at cost-cutting options, such as social media, in order to make your budget stretch further. This is helpful if it looks as though you are not going to reach your target by the set deadline, as your ROI will be slightly better and you can consider putting more money into a final marketing push.