Until a plan is written down, it is little more than a set of ideas. Writing your marketing ideas down makes you commit to them and makes you more organised. It is something that you can refer to, a list of things to do next and something you can measure your results against.
Check out our step-by-step guide to thinking about and writing an effective marketing plan.
Set specific objectives – where do you want to be in a year's time?
An example of your objectives might be winning new customers, retaining more existing customers, increasing order sizes or selling new products.
If you know you want to have 20 new customers within one year, then this probably means you have to get 10 new customers in 6 months (or 5 new customers every 3 months). Breaking it down simply like this allows you to set targets and see whether you are on track to achieve your objectives.
When you are setting your objectives, make sure you think about the implications of your marketing plan for the rest of your business – for example, do you have the production / capacity, what are the training requirements and how much cash flow will you need.
Try and put together some basic, realistic sales forecasts and budgets – think about how much you are going to need to spend on marketing to achieve your targets, how much extra you will need to deliver the products or services and how much extra revenue this will generate.
To make your marketing effective, you need to have a clear idea of your ideal target customer. This description is sometimes known as a ‘customer avatar’.
If you plan to sell to individuals, how would you describe them?
Describe them by gender, age, marital status, occupation, income, location, how many children they have and anything else that may be useful. If you plan to sell to businesses, think about company size, sector, location and what sort of person in the business you are targeting (Office Manager, Accounts Department, Managing Director etc).
Think about the things that affect their buying decision: what, when, how and why they buy.
- Describe your market and the characteristics and size of each market segment; what are the key market trends?
- Describe your ideal customer. Are they individuals or businesses? Consider age, gender, shopping habits, social etc. For businesses, consider size, industry, location, job title etc.
- Where are your customers based?
- What prompts or motivates your customers to buy your products or services?
- What might trigger a potential customer to think of you – this can help you think about where to do your marketing and the message you give.
- Have you sold your product/services to customers already or do you have customers waiting to buy? If so, try and describe them in detail.
Think about the profitability and sales potential of different groups of customers (known as market segments) and of different products or activities.
Be clear on the benefits of your products and services. Don’t try and be all things to all people. When marketing your product or service, think about the benefits not the features.
People buy things because they want or need something…they are asking themselves, ‘What's in it for me?'
For example, if you are selling firewood, you are selling the warmth not the wood.
- Describe your product or service using as many keywords as possible – these can be features like, colour, size, quality, etc.
- If you think about these features, ask yourself ‘so what’?Always ask the extra question: ‘Which means that?’….For example, I am a garden maintenance company and cut your lawn? So what? Which means that…you get your weekend back with more free time.
By focusing on the real benfits of your product or service, you will already be one step ahead of the competition.
Try and do some basic marketing research – if you know which ‘niche’ you want to target, carrying out marketing research enables you to build up a customer profile, which can be used to guide future marketing activity.
- Ask some potential customers basic questions about what they think about when deciding to buy
- Research what customers think and value, such as product features, quality, service and image. It is not just about price.
- Look for factual evidence, information and data online or using your local library or business support agencies (such as your Chamber of Commerce).
- Check that there is sufficient customer demand in your target area to sustain your business.
- Most importantly, when you get started, get as much customer feedback as possible.
Think carefully about how you are going to promote your business and deliver your products or services.
- When writing marketing materials, you should always use YOU in your text…never refer to ‘them’ or ‘our customers’ otherwise the person reading the text does not identify with what you are saying. Using ‘you’ makes it more personal and more effective. Try reading some blogs and tips on writing marketing copy and effective headlines.
- Consider how you can communicate with your customers – what publications do they read? Can you use the local parish magazines? Do you have a mailing list or e-mail list? Advertising is often too expensive but can work if it is very targeted.
- Consider how you are going to deliver your product or service to your customers (known as distribution channels). Will you sell direct, through retailers, online or via a shop?
- Think about what messages you are going to give your potential customers in order to engage them and encourage them to buy (remember have, feel, emotions)
- What marketing methods will you use to reach your potential customers? Advertising, leaflets, online, networking or something else? Consider both online and traditional marketing methods.
Identify customers' buying cycles so you can time your marketing activities – are they seasonal? Are they time-sensitive based on some other factor?
Try producing a simple marketing calendar – a simple list of what you are going to do each week / month over the next 6 months.
I always think that if you don't write it down, it is unlikely to happen!
Think carefully about how you are going to price your product or service in the marketplace. Remember, it is not always about the (lowest) price and some of the most successful companies are the most expensive!
If possible, you should ask some potential customers or existing customers their views on price – are they very price sensitive or is it quality that matters more?
When thinking about pricing, you should consider how you will price each product or service:
- Market pricing – pricing similar to competitors (check them out!)
- Penetration pricing – gaining market share through very low margins
- Cost plus pricing – adding a margin to your production cost (very common but not usually the best)
It is always wise to know a bit about your competitors:
- Who are your competitors and how many are there?
- List your direct and indirect competitors and look at what they do in terms of their products, their marketing activities and their marketing messages.
- Consider why people will choose to buy from you rather than your competitors.
- Think about your ‘benefits’ (see earlier) and how your products and services compare to those of your competitors.
- What do you competitors do well? Can you do better?
Pulling this together as a simple Marketing Plan
A single page marketing plan that is regularly updated and used is far better than a 30-page plan that is left in the cupboard.
In this article, we have covered a lot to think about and hopefully, you have now looked at your customer, your product and your marketing communications.
Now it is time to pull this information together into a simple marketing plan.
Our simple, one-page marketing plan helps you to summarise:
- Who your customers are
- What is most important to them
- Your marketing objectives
- The key actions to get you there
By completing this simple plan, it will help you to set some goals and activities which you can actually get on with.
You can then revisit your plan to see what worked (and what did not!) and update it.
It is then a matter of ‘rinse and repeat’…pick what worked from your plan, set some new actions and then continue to refine and improve your marketing.
Mark Woodroof is a qualified marketing coach who was awarded a BA(Hons) in Business and a Diploma in Marketing (from the Chartered Institute of Marketing) in the early 1990's and has spent the last 20 years working with private and public sector organisations.
During that time, Mark has worked with hundreds of business owners helping them to grow their businesses, launch new products and services, set up and manage their own marketing plans, websites and digital marketing strategies.
Today, he specialises in Digital Marketing, Social Media, WordPress Development and marketing automation systems such as ActiveCampaign & Infusionsoft.
Mark's areas of expertise include:
- Marketing Strategy & Planning
- Software Development Project Management (Microsoft.Net & Laravel)
- Customer Relationship Management Systems (Infusionsoft, Zoho & Insightly)
- Web Design & Development
- Digital Marketing Campaign Development
- Mailing List Services (eg AWeber, Mailchimp)
- Traffic Generation Strategies & Tactics
- Sales Funnels, Squeeze Pages & Online Conversion
- Customer Value Optimization
- BA(Hons) Business Studies (University of Portsmouth)
- Diploma in Marketing (Chartered Institute of Marketing)
- Level 5 in Coaching and Mentoring (Chartered Management Institute)
- DigitalMarketer Certifications:
- Certified Content Marketing Specialist
- Certified Customer Acquisition Specialist
- Certified Customer Value Optimization Specialists