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Five Steps to a Simple Marketing Plan

A new year is a great time to sit down and write a marketing plan for your business. Although the task can seem overwhelming, it’s actually not that difficult if you approach it methodically. In this podcast, we’ll walk you through the five major components of a simple marketing plan.

As in all planning, you want to think in terms of strategy: how you’re going to get there, not where you’re going. What tactics will you employ to carry out your strategy?

It’s important to remember that you’re writing an action plan, not a study that sits on a shelf! So as you get started, consider who in your company needs to buy into your plan – that is, who needs to sign off on the plan, and who will help carry it out. If possible, get that person or people to help write it — it’s infinitely easier to get people to cooperate if they feel like they’ve been included from the beginning. The more people you can get to actively cooperate on the writing and execution of your plan, the more successful the plan will be.

The five components are: current situation, targeted audience, marketing goals, promotion channels, and budgeting. Let’s get started!

Section 1: Current situation

Basically, this is an overview of the current status of your business. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis can be helpful here. Remember, strengths and weaknesses are internal — that is, they describe the strongest and weakest parts of your business itself, focusing on such things as customer service, employee competencies, and products/services you provide. Opportunities and threats are external to your business, instead relating to such factors as the market climate, competitors, your industry and the economy overall.

Strengths

  • What does your business offer better than others?
  • What unique capabilities or resources do you possess?
  • What do others perceive as your strengths?

Weaknesses

  • What do your competitors do better than you?
  • What do you have the power/control to improve?
  • What do others perceive as your weaknesses?

Opportunities

  • What trends or conditions in the market or the economy in general may positively impact you?
  • Are there any changes in your industry or market (such as a competitor going out of business, or an improvement in technology) that might represent an opportunity?
  • What other opportunities might be available to you?

Threats

  • What market or industry trends or conditions may negatively impact you?
  • What are your competitors doing that may negatively impact you?
  • Are there regulatory changes coming that could have a negative impact?
  • Do you have solid financial support?
  • What impact do your weaknesses have on the threats to you?

Section 2: Targeted audience

You can’t have a successful marketing plan without knowing exactly who it is you want to reach – your core customer. Typically, a business will have more than one type of core customer, depending on the product or service you offer. When defining your core customer types, consider:

  • Where do your customers live and work? Are they local, national, international?
  • If you have more than one type of core customer, what percentage of your business is made up of each type?
  • What is your competitive advantage?
  • What is the reason each type of core customer would choose you?

If you don’t feel you know your core customer well enough, there are a variety of free research tools available online that can help. For business-to-consumer:

  • Get to know the neighborhoods your prospective customers live and work in.
  • Know what unique challenges they face and determine whether your product or service meets that need.
  • There is a wealth of demographic data available on the U.S. Postal website using the Every Door Direct mail tool, which provides targeted residential information by age, income and household size.

For business-to-business:

  • Maintain a running list of prospective clients using business publications, Chamber Directories, trade association publications, and online search engines.
  • Data from trade associations and publications can be useful.
  • Manta.com lists annual revenues (in some cases, these figures are approximations) for most companies, enabling you to narrow your focus to those prospects most likely to spend money on your product or service. (By the way — if you haven’t already, you should claim your own company’s Manta listing. Just find the listing and click on the appropriate link.)

Other research tools that can benefit both B2C and B2B:

  • Government sources of industry data include the Bureau of Labor Statistics and census information.
  • Data from academic institutions is sometimes paid info. On a related note, you can often arrange through a university’s business or marketing department for your company to become a class project – the results you get from this can be quite mixed, but you might get some great ideas while the students get some real-world experience.
  • Data from third-party sources, or research firms who do the work for you. There are exploitative market research services out there, so be careful when you select your firm.

You can even do your own research – this can be anything from:

  • Surveys of existing customers: SurveyMonkey is a way to survey customers electronically and anonymously.
  • Focus groups: Focus groups are groups of customers that gather at a neutral location, try a product or service, and discuss it with a representative. You’ll get qualitative rather than quantitative info. Full-scale focus groups require time to recruit participants, paying attendees, refreshments, location, a moderator and analysis time.
  • Product/service tests: This can be helpful when considering ways to broaden your business’ offerings. This type of test generally involves offering your new product or service for free or at a reduced cost.

Section 3: Marketing goals

Goals need to have some level of measurable specificity (e.g. Increase sales of product “x” by 20%). Essentially, what do you want to do, and how do you want to get there? A few points to get started in this section of the plan include:

  • Evaluate your marketing efforts of the past year or so – what worked, what didn’t? How can you learn from mistakes for a more effective future plan?
  • How will you measure your plan’s success? It’s a good idea to build in measurement for each tactic you employ. Examples of things that are easily measured: website traffic; foot traffic; social media interaction; sales volume; lead generation.

Another important issue as you consider your goals is whether you anticipate needing outside help to achieve them. Who is in charge of your marketing plan, and what competencies do they have? What competencies do you think you’ll need that you don’t have in-house? Options for getting outside help include:

  • A marketing firm (like Prime Design): Advantages include one-stop shopping for all areas of marketing, but going this route can be more expensive than some options.
  • A freelancer: You can hire freelancers to write, to build websites, design collateral and so on. This can be a good, affordable option for standalone projects (such as a new website). The disadvantage is that most people are specialists, not generalists.
  • Training for existing staff: In some situations, existing staff can brush up on certain marketing competencies through further education.

Section 4: Promotion channels

In this section, you map out specific avenues for marketing your business. Include specifics on which offerings are being focused upon, what tools/assistance is needed to execute the campaign, timeframes, and potential for follow-up. Again,be sure to indicate how you’ll measure each initiative’s success.

Major channels you might consider are:

  • Overall branding: Do you think your brand is doing a good job representing your company? Branding is, as we’ve discussed in a previous podcast, the overall way your company presents itself through your logo, colors, look and feel of all marketing materials, the language used in company communications, and even your company culture as expressed in everything from how your employees answer the phone to the type of holiday card you send. Branding is not something to be changed lightly – but it’s worth evaluating as part of your plan.
  • Digital marketing: These include your website, e-newsletter, social media marketing, and any online advertising such as pay-per-click. Is your website doing a good job selling your product or service? If not, how does it need to be improved? How has your e-newsletter been working for you – do you need to re-evaluate that effort in any way? What social media channels have you used, and is it time to branch out into another social media?
  • General print collateral: Evaluate your brochure and any other sales collateral, as needed. Is what you have effective? Do you have enough to get you through the year – in other words, do you need a reprint? Is there a need for more collateral, and if so, what?
  • Content marketing: Content marketing is any form of marketing that educates consumers about your industry without directly selling your product or service – for example, a blog, informational literature, infographics, educational brochures, and this podcast, just to name a few examples. Content marketing can also include content curation – that is, passing along information of value to your customers through social media, for example. Can you improve your company’s content marketing? This is something that involves a significant investment of time, but not money.
  • Paid advertising: What advertising have you bought in the past year? Was it effective? What channels should you consider? Available outlets include:
    • TV advertising
    • Cable advertising
    • Print advertising: newspapers, magazines, trade publications
    • Digital advertising such as pay-per-click or remarketing
    • Outdoor: both traditional billboards and bus boards
    • Radio advertising

A full evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of paid media channels is beyond the scope of this podcast, but be sure to talk to an advertising representative before you conclude that something isn’t affordable, as costs can vary quite a bit depending on a wide variety of factors – including size of ad, frequency, special packages and deals, and so on. A competent advertising representative will be able to guide you.

Section 5: Budgeting

Of course, budget is where the rubber meets the road – where you determine how much money are you able to allocate to marketing. Questions to consider include:

  • How long have you been in the market? The less well-established you are, the more you might need to spend.
  • How quickly do you want to grow? To gain market share, you should spend more.

General rules of thumb for companies with six-figure revenues are:

  • Total revenue X 5% : Budget to maintain current awareness
  • Total revenue X 10%: Budget to grow.

Of course, not every business is going to be able to allocate a full 5 or 10 percent, but this is a useful guideline.

Once you have that number, you can go back to the “wish list” you outlined in section 4, and determine which items are within your reach and which might be less affordable, and prioritize.

In addition to the financial resources you allocate, you should also consider the human resources you allocate – this goes back to the question of who is responsible for carrying out your marketing plan. Most employees at a small business wear more than one hat, and that is often true of whoever’s principally in charge of company marketing. How much time per week can that person spend on marketing activities? If your plan prioritizes something that’s time-intensive, rather than expensive – this could be something like stepping up your efforts in social media or in content marketing – how can that be scheduled?

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