Is Your Marketing Plan Ready for an Update?

With summer vacations over and schools back in session, marketing plan “season” is fast approaching. This is a time when you reflect on the effectiveness of your business marketing programs. You will be planning to improve performance of some marketing programs, discontinue some, and try others for the first time.

Each Marketing Plan is Unique

For those writing a marketing plan for the first time, it is important to know that there is no “magic formula” to an effective marketing plan. Formats and procedures vary widely, and your marketing plan will be one-of-a-kind.

Your company, customers, competitors, and suppliers interact to create a unique and ever-changing business environment. Because of this, your marketing plan should also be unique and frequently changing. What worked wonderfully for one company may be a dismal failure for you. What worked yesterday for you may not be the thing for you to do today. By thinking of your plan as a unique and perpetual work in progress, you can be better prepared to change direction when the business environment changes.

A Plan Makes a Profitable Difference

Ultimately, your marketing plan is a compass by which you navigate your day-to-day business. As opportunities arise or your business environment changes, the objective and strategies in your marketing plan will point you toward the best action. Without a marketing plan, you are guessing what might be best for your business. And don’t forget to address your Web site in the marketing plan. Without a marketing plan your Web site may be a drain on your finances rather than a business builder.

Also, understand you do not need a marketing degree and a lot of experience to update or create a marketing plan for your business. Once you have a structure to follow, the rest is a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. There is no single approach to developing a marketing plan. There is a wide selection of books, toolkits, and software to help you through the planning process. Some approaches require a great deal of time and others are “quick and dirty.” All can be applied to your business as a whole, an individual product, or your Web site.

So, in all the hustle and bustle of everyday business activities, don’t forget to take the time to update an existing marketing plan or write a new one. Your future profits depend on it!

A Marketing Plan Minus Fanfare? What a Concept!

If you are now or ever have been part of a large company or corporation, you are familiar with planning exercises–business planning, financial planning, marketing planning, all sorts of planning. Some of it is done in groups, while some of it is done by individuals. And if it’s done “right,” there will be some kind of document at the end of process, which will either be used as a reference throughout the period the planning covered, or will get put away and never looked at again.

I have a theory that in large enterprises the more “intangible” the plan, the more fanfare goes with it, and the less useful the outcome is. For example:

– A financial plan–with lots of numbers and forecasts–is tangible and trackable; it can be checked and compared with actuals at pretty much any point along the line. This type of plan is invariably prepared by only a handful of people with very little muss or fuss, and is used regularly to track business profit and loss status.

– A business plan tends to be less tangible and trackable. Though there is certainly a financial component, there are also more ephemeral bits–things like goals, say–that are more difficult to check on. This type of plan is usually done by a group of “key” managers in one or more formal (sometimes facilitated) sessions, and may be referred to periodically to take the business pulse.

– A marketing plan is about as intangible as one can get, and it requires creativity, discipline, and commitment to craft trackable elements for it. This type of plan is often accompanied by the blare of trumpets and lots of meetings, and the resulting document is likely to be full color with lots of charts and graphics–and is never used.

Though I’ve oversimplified and generalized these three types of plans, the bottom line is that, in my experience, the marketing planning process in large corporations tends to be a wastefully resource-intensive exercise that doesn’t provide much value to the actual pursuit of the marketing function. There are a lot of flourishing gestures and intense facial expressions, and not a lot of really useful work gets accomplished. No wonder that smaller businesses rarely proactively engage in marketing planning. They don’t see the point.

But hold on.

Isn’t that–pardon the cliché–throwing the baby out with the bath water? Just because marketing planning is ineffective in many cases, does that mean it shouldn’t be done at all?

I say no. In fact, I say that smaller businesses must plan their marketing programs–map out what they need to accomplish and how they will do it–preferably prior to the start of their business year. They need to step back and think creatively about how to use marketing most cost-effectively to meet business objectives, and how marketing can help them gain or retain competitive advantage.

Smaller enterprises cannot afford to waste their resources–either human or fiscal. They cannot afford to pursue ad hoc initiatives that may or may not produce results. And they definitely cannot afford to implement marketing tactics whose results can’t be measured in some way.

A marketing plan does not need a lot of fanfare, facilitated meetings, or fancy graphics to be effective–quite the reverse, in fact. It needs to be a useful reference document that spells out what programs will be pursued and why, and how those programs relate to each other. It also needs to specify how the
effectiveness of the programs will be measured and how often.

Here is an overview of the steps to take to arrive at a useful marketing plan for your business:

Clearly state where you are today. What was your marketing expense for 2004 (assuming you work on a calendar year basis)? What percent of revenue does this represent? What specific programs did you implement? What results did they produce? What does the competitive landscape look like today? How about your market? Have there been changes over the past year that could affect you?

Define your marketing goals. Based on your 2005 business
objectives, what specific marketing goals are appropriate? Clearly state these goals in active terms (e.g., “Participate in five industry trade shows with at least a 20% qualified lead rate,” “Realize at least fifteen media mentions in local and trade press.”).

Identify appropriate marketing tactics. Considering your goals individually and as a whole, what marketing activities are most likely to be successful? Think about how the activities can interrelate to give you the most bang for the buck (e.g., a newsletter that is put on your web site, emailed to your contacts, and printed in hard copy format maximizes your
preparation/publication expense). Also, identify activities or tasks that will require third party assistance (e.g., graphic design, copy writing, or–ahem–4-R Marketing’s services!

Determine how and how often you will measure the effectiveness of your activities. Marketing results can be intangible–how do you know whether your web site leads to sales or whether your trade show exhibit was as effective as it could have been?–but they still need to be measure somehow. Come up with proxy measurements that you have confidence in–the number of hits on a certain web page, for instance, or the number of visitors to your exhibit who stay for more than five minutes–and that you can use to measure the degree to which your activities are hitting the mark in terms of achieving your goals.

That’s basically it. A marketing plan in four pages (more or less). A fifth page might be a marketing budget that encompasses all the activities you have planned; this can serve as another metric to gauge marketing effectiveness.

Now that you have a marketing plan for the year, here’s what to do with it:

– Communicate marketing goals and activities to your staff and be sure to illustrate how they relate to overall business objectives.

– Create and implement a project schedule that spells out at least high level timelines and milestones for your marketing activities. A lot of marketing tasks are long term (some conferences call for papers a year ahead, and trade show planners will want stuff from you months prior to the show date); putting a schedule into play will keep things from falling through the cracks.

– Refer to the plan periodically (once a month? once a quarter?) to see if you are on track relative to the status of the business as a whole. Are your goals still appropriate? Are your activities on track?

– Also periodically, gather and review the metrics you’ve identified for your marketing activities. What do they indicate? Are you getting what you need from your programs, or are changes called for? Tracking marketing metrics gives you the opportunity to modify your activities “midstream” if they aren’t producing results, rather than waiting till the end of the year and realizing you’ve wasted resources on the wrong things.

If you are in any kind of business, no matter how large or small, you do need a marketing plan. But your plan does not need to be accompanied by a herald blowing a trumpet, and does not need to be a huge document with loads of graphics and tables. Create a plan that is concise, actionable, and measurable–and you will have an invaluable tool that will help you grow your
business the way you want to.

How to Prepare a Marketing Plan and Define a Marketing Strategy

Strategic marketing planning is the process of matching the present and future resources of a business with anticipated future opportunities in the marketplace. It is a formalized approach used to identify, evaluate, and choose alternative courses of action to accomplish desired objectives. To be meaningful, strategic marketing planning must become a way of life, an attitude, and an ongoing process of strategic thinking on the part of management.

The strategy statement in the marketing plan defines the approaches to be taken in the marketplace to accomplish the desired marketing goals. Developing a marketing strategy, however, is not merely the listing of objectives, courses of actions, or procedures, which that will be used to implement the marketing strategy. Strategy development also addresses the concepts and methods a business will employ to best utilize its resources and competitive advantages to achieve the highest possible level of performance in the marketplace.

To establish an effective strategic marketing plan, it is necessary to first establish and/or define the following:

1. The Company

A. What is our business today?
B. What do we want our business to be one, two, five years from now?
C. What are our strengths?
D. What are our weaknesses?
E. What are our current goals?
F. What is our present market area?
G. What do we see as future market area?
H. Our performance, past, present, future?

2. The Customers

A. Who are our present customers?
B. What are their needs, present and future?
C. Who are potential customers?
D. What are our potential customers’ needs, present and future?
E. What needs are not being met for present and potential customers in the marketplace that fit within our present or future capabilities?

3. The Market(s)

A. Estimate size, utilizing available government, trade association, vendor, independent market surveys, etc.
B. Evaluate historical growth.
C. Determine reasonable market share goals.
D. Study buying trends in the marketplace.

4. The Competition

A. Who are our competitors?
B. Evaluate competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.
C. Estimate their market share.
D. Question customers about our competition.

i. Evaluate competition’s products and services, quality, designs, technical competence, production capabilities, financial strength, timely performance and delivery.

Upon completing a thorough evaluation of the above situation analysis outline, the initial elements of the marketing plan can now be written out categorically following the headings provided in 1-4 above.

Now, armed with a thorough understanding of what the company is, what it wants to be, present and future customer needs, plus increased knowledge of the market(s) and the competition, a statement of marketing strategy can be prepared and inserted into the plan. The statement should be concise, but meaningful.

The next step is to develop a list of objectives with appropriate action plans designed to accomplish the implementation of the marketing strategy developed.

Further, a system of management control must be developed and employed to monitor the action plans. The fundamental process of control is:

1. Preparing the action plan.
2. Measuring results.
3. Comparing results to the plan.
4. Taking corrective action where necessary.

Strategic marketing plans can become very detailed, all encompassing documents, depending upon the size and complexity of the business entity, and the experience and sophistication of the management group. The above guidelines are intended to provide only the fundamental considerations for the company making its first attempt at developing a strategic marketing plan.

More important is to begin the planning process now, without wasting valuable time agonizing over lack of detail or incompleteness of some information. Don’t succumb to “paralysis by analysis!” Refinements can always be made whenever additional or more accurate data becomes available. Develop action plans that are affordable, realistic in content, and economically justified in comparison to the size and scope of the business entity. Be sure to carefully monitor and correspondingly control costs for these activities.