9 steps for an effective marketing plan

Marketing Plan

Try not to jump straight into writing a long list of marketing activity you feel your business needs. Instead follow these nine steps to ensure you develop an effective marketing plan.

1. Business objectives

The starting point for any marketing plan is to be clear on what your business objectives are. There is no point writing a marketing plan if it does not directly support your business objectives or you are not even sure what you want your business to achieve.

Business objectives could include improving profitability, productivity, return on investment, cashflow, increasing market share, employee retention or increasing customer loyalty.

Decide on a timescale for these business objectives – suggest over one, two and three years. For each objective make sure it has a measurable target, so you can review your progress regularly.

Write these objectives down, make sure they are concise, and prioritize them. Aim for around five objectives, and definitely no more than ten.

2. Review your competition

Do you know who your competition is?

With the internet, it is relatively easy to see who else is offering the same or similar services to you. Establish what they offer, what makes them unique, what are their selling points, their prices, what geographical area do they cover, how to they market themselves etc.

This groundwork is essential to help you develop your position in the market place.  It might even result in you reviewing the services you offer, giving you a stronger competitive advantage.

3. Marketing objectives

Go back and review your business objectives and think about how marketing can help you achieve each of those objectives. Marketing objectives could include:

–          Positioning you as an expert in your market place;

–          Raising your profile amongst your target audience;

–          Generating new sales leads;

–          Contributing to improving customer loyalty;

–          Improving the conversion rate of leads to actual sales;

–          Contribute to developing a loyal and supportive team of staff.

Like your business objectives, think about how you can measure these objectives and what your targets could be for each objective.

4. Positioning statement

This is a statement that clearly describes your target market, your product or service, its benefits and how it’s different from other companies. It’s one of the most effective ways to help your business set yourself apart from your competitors.

I have written a whole separate blog on positioning statements and I can’t recommend enough taking the time to develop one for your business.

5. Target audiences

Clearly define who your target audiences are. This needs to be a clear, focused description of the core prospect. If you are a business to business company, you need to detail your target companies, the roles/functions within those companies, and/or the people who fill those roles. If you are a consumer focussed company then think about the age range of your target audience, is there a sexual bias, where do they live, what stage in their life cycle are they (e.g. married, single, retired), level of disposable income etc.   The more specific you can be in defining your target audience, the more focussed and effective your marketing activity will be.

6. Marketing budget

Establish what budget you have available to invest in marketing. Remember this is an investment, and used wisely it will help you to grow your business. Just don’t think only about money – think about what time you have available to spend on putting in place the activity. Social media might sound great because ‘it is free and you can do it all yourself’. However, it is time consuming and you might be better off investing money in a social media expert to run this for you.

7. Marketing activity

People often make the mistake of jumping in straight away thinking they need a company brochure or an email marketing campaign without doing all the ground work first. It is only once you have done the groundwork that you are truly ready to think about specific marketing activity, knowing that the activity you select needs to have the biggest impact in achieving your business goals.

Activity could include; gaining coverage in local or national media, paid for advertising, developing a new website, customer loyalty programmes, attending exhibitions, speaking at conferences, newsletters, using social media, direct mail, updating stationary and company leaflets etc etc.

8. Timetable

Once you have decided what marketing activity you want to carry out, then draw up a calendar for the next 12 months. It’s very easy to try to do too much. Be realistic what you can achieve. Consider the seasonal nature of your business. Also, remember you will need to take time out for holidays. Regularly review and update your activity calendar so it’s a living and useful document.

9. Measurement and evaluation

Go back and look at your objectives. Have you set targets and thought through how you are going to measure whether you have achieved them or not?  Let’s take ‘improving customer loyalty’ as an example. Hopefully you have collected some data to show how many customers you have, what percentage return to make an additional purchase and over what time-period. Review this data set regularly to see what improvements you have made because of a new loyalty programme you may have put in place.

You might also want to set some targets against your activity plan and most importantly measure how far you get to achieving these targets. This might simply be get PR coverage in x number of publications, take a stand at x number of exhibitions, increase sign-up to your e newsletter by x amount.

Measuring and evaluating your marketing activity will help you to better understand what is working and what is not, where to spend your marketing budget in future years and what is contributing the most to growing your business profitably.