You will find that a lot of guides to writing a marketing plan are heavily laden with marketing jargon; buzzwords that may sound impressive, but upon closer inspection mean very little. This guide offers practical advice on developing a marketing plan using plain English.
Why produce a marketing plan?
Put simply, the aim of developing a marketing plan is to map out how you can gain more custom for your business; which strategies or tactics are right for your business and how and when you are going to use them. It should detail who you intend to sell to, how you will sell to them and how you will let them know about your business.
It may form part of your overall business plan as a compliment to investor presentations, or you may want to produce it as a separate document.
The focus should be on gaining new customers, persuading current customers to buy more often and getting inactive customers to return. The key when writing your marketing plan is to make it short, concise and easy for the rest of your team to understand.
Competition and the market
You need to identify the target audience at which you are aiming your product or service, or indeed clarify whether there is one. Too many small businesses fail because they haven’t done enough market research. Don’t just rely on what your friends and family say, as they may not be the most objective observers.
A market from which you can profit will be made up of people who have a need for your product, or at least a perceived need, and who will be willing to pay for it. Understanding your customers will allow you to identify the best way to sell to them.
Think about your product or service and who is likely to spend money on it? Remember, if you aim to sell to absolutely everyone, you will be less successful than if you can narrow down your market focus.
If appropriate, get out there and conduct some market research face-to-face. Ask people in the street if they can see the need for your type of business in the area and how much they would be willing to pay. Identify who your competitors are and try to spot any weaknesses in their strategy. Can you capitalise on this? Is there a lot of competition in that area or will you be filling a gap? If not, could you find somewhere else more suitable?
Pick the best selling route
The method that you select for getting your product or service to your target audience will depend on what your business does. You should try to decide if it would be best to sell via mail order, for example, over the internet or through distributors. You should also have a back-up plan in case your first idea doesn’t work out.
Which marketing strategy is best?
You need to ensure that your message reaches your target audience, so choosing the right way to communicate it is imperative. Where are your customers most likely to find out about your business and which medium would they respond to best? Here are a few marketing methods that may work for your company:
More on marketing methods
You also need to think about cost. Setting a budget is important and will help keep your advertising spend in check. Consider which of these marketing strategies will give the best return on investment.
The marketing method you use will depend on the sort of business that you are running, but you may be able to get a better idea of the right strategy through the market research you conduct. You could even ask similar businesses in another area how they go about advertising. Speak to people in a similar situation, but preferably not the businesses against which you will be competing directly.
Get the message across
The message that you put across in your marketing material will let people know something about your business, so it’s important that you adopt the right tone. Do you want to be friendly and familiar or serious and to the point? Again, this will depend on who your customers are and what they are buying, which you should have already identified.
“Having clearly defined goals will allow you to keep an eye on how you are progressing over a set period of time”
Does the message you are putting across need to be short and sharp, or will you customers be willing to spend more time learning about what you have to offer? Either way, there are some key points to consider, which should be included in your marketing material to make it more persuasive:
- Explain the problem facing your customer and identify a need for your product or service
- Emphasise that it is important to solve that problem as soon as possible
- Explain what makes your company different and why it will benefit people to buy through you
- If you have them, give examples of satisfied customers and their comments
- Explain prices and how to pay clearly and concisely
- If you can, give some sort of guarantee as to the quality of your work or product, or offer incentives or discounts for responding within a set time period.
Set targets and review progress
Having clearly defined goals will allow you to keep an eye on how you are progressing over a set period of time. Use ‘SMART’ targets as a useful way of approaching this area. SMART means that your targets should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-defined. You could include sales targets and the amount of profit you are looking to achieve, targets for enquiry levels and so on.
Once a month, you should conduct a short review of progress to see how you are getting on and whether these targets need to be adjusted. However, don’t jump to re-adjust targets immediately if you aren’t hitting them. There may be something else in your marketing strategy that could be changed and will allow you to achieve more.
Reviewing the plan can also help you learn from any mistakes and help you adjust. When you write your marketing plan always bear in mind your desired results. The plan is therefore an important tool to help you author your business future.
In summary: Top tips for getting your marketing plan right
- Make it short, concise, and easy for the rest of your team to understand
- Do initial market research – on the street if necessary
- Identify the right strategies to use for your business
- Know your budgets
- Set targets and review progress.