Taking several months to consider how marketing can support your overall business and building a plan to accomplish that is a good idea in any year.
In a year that requires many businesses to recover from a pandemic by pivoting to new product lines or service areas or more clearly differentiating themselves from the competition, creating a thoughtful and comprehensive marketing plan is more critical to the bottom line than ever.
The following 12 steps to developing an actionable marketing plan are the place to start if you want to grow your business or get your company’s name established within your market. A well thought out marketing plan will put things in perspective and serve as a guide to achieve your goals.
Research to know as much as you can about your customer, competitors, the industries you serve and trends that may be game changers for your business. Some of this information you’ll know just from looking at what’s growing and what’s declining in your own business, and from feedback from your customers and sales team.
Consider doing a customer survey, spending some time looking at your competitors’ marketing, and talking to new customers who may have heard several of your competitors’ pitches and chosen you.
All of that is helpful information to have, and the more current the better. It is important that your business remains relevant.
Define your goal and what you want to accomplish. Is it a certain percentage increase in revenue? Or overall profit? Is it to hit a certain dollar amount?
Be as specific as you can with all the goals you have, even down to the number of new customer relationships needed, customer retention rates, growth by market segment and so on.
Know your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis so that you can weigh your strengths against those of your competitors to uncover your competitive advantages.
Analyze your weaknesses to determine where you may fall short and vulnerable to your competition. And look at your market to see what kinds of opportunities there might be for growth, as well as what might cause the market or your market share to contract.
Develop a competitive position that defines your niche and positions you within your marketplace. Know your unique brand and create a competitive advantage that is memorable and can make you standout.
The stronger and more unique this brand position is, the more effective your marketing will be. Before you spend any money on advertising or graphics or anything like that, spend the time to make sure your brand and competitive position are solid. They are the foundation of marketing.
Objectives in a marketing plan identify obstacles you need to overcome to achieve success. This could include things like expanding market share, enlarging your geographic footprint, developing new products, earning more market recognition, streamlining or identifying new processes and so on.
Think of objectives as the “path” or “stepping stones” and your overall goals are the destination.
Define your target market. Where is the growth you need going to come from? What types of customers? And what types of products or services will they be buying from you?
If you did a good job defining your goal, you will have a great perspective on what will drive future growth. Understanding market share, industry growth sectors and customer share will drive how you need to target market.
Plan your strategies. Define the vision for establishing and owning your competitive place in your industry.
For example, if your goal is to increase revenue by 15 percent by adding new customers who are buying your new product that you’ve never offered before — and your research and target market information tells you that these customers tend to be younger and prefer to do as much of their browsing and purchasing online — then your strategy might be to refresh your website and invest in SEO/SEM and inbound/content marketing to capture these new customers.
The strategy is the path to the customer.
Define your tactics. These are individual action steps that are leading to your strategy. If your strategy is to undertake a robust digital push to capture online shoppers in your target market, a tactic would be to identify keywords your target customers might use when searching for products like yours and then to invest in a Google Ads campaign based on those keywords.
Establish a timeline to guide the implementation of your plan of action. Make a list of all the tactics or action steps, including who is responsible for them, and prioritize them quarterly and then monthly.
By setting deadlines and benchmarks, you’ll be able to adjust when things happen faster or more slowly than you’ve planned for.
A marketing budget is necessary to drive business growth, and every company should have a defined marketing budget as a part of their business growth plan — period!
What is a reasonable marketing budget? It depends on your industry, your company and your goals. Some B2C companies spend as much as 30 percent of their revenue on marketing, if they are a startup or in a very competitive industry or in an aggressive growth phase with many new product launches.
Other companies spend between 2 and 5 percent if they are a mature company in a mature industry or where they have a lot of market share and few competitors.
Tracking will help you to determine which tactics are working and which are not. Couponing, surveying call-ins, traffic counts, percentage of sales increases, number of inquiries and web-driven leads are some of the common forms of tracking.
Ideally you can A/B test and check which messages and offers are driving the most response. For example, if you are doing an email offer, randomly divide your list into two groups, and use two different versions of the subject line. Then track to see if one subject line performed better than the other. If so, you can use that information when you write subject lines for future email campaigns.
You also may discover that marketing made the phone ring, but sales suffered because internal execution was a problem. It’s important for you to know what’s working and what’s not. It is equally important to understand the science of marketing — pulling out too soon can be pouring money down the drain.
Defining performance milestones and measurement guidelines to evaluate the degree of your plan’s success monthly or quarterly will help you avoid acting prematurely or waiting too long.
As you evaluate, you can change course or modify your tactics or strategy depending on what you find is working well or not working at all.
A marketing plan is the key to successfully growing your company. Invest quality time in planning and it will pay off.
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