A marketing plan is an essential road map for your business, and is as critical to your success as hiring talented and motivated team members. Your products and services will not sell themselves. And all too often we hear of businesses forgoing marketing altogether simply because they are “doing well now”. The goal of marketing is to ensure long term success. It is not purely about bringing new sales through the door, but also making sure that the customers you have now are still with you three, five, or 10 years down the line. By ignoring marketing, or by participating “on the fly”, many businesses risk hitting a brick wall and failing simply because they do not have enough time to let an effective marketing campaign come to fruition.
Let’s take a look at three fictional cases, from best scenario to worst, to identify where you and your business may be starting at.
Best Case - You have spent the time necessary to define specific business goals that you want to achieve, and have developed a detailed road map to reach them. You recognize that the time you invested in your marketing plan is essential to the health and viability of your business, as it will guide you and your team’s efforts from here on out. You have established how you will measure your results, and set out a regular schedule for reviewing and analyzing your progress so far. As a result, you know exactly what does and does not work for your business, and can make adaptations to ensure the success of future efforts.
Neutral Case - You’re very busy, so it’s hard to dedicate the time necessary to building a marketing plan. Instead, you have examples of marketing plans that you found online, on which you’ve jotted a few loose goals and ideas as to what you would like to do over the coming year. You have a rough dollar range for your budget, but intend to keep your spending to the lower end no matter what.
Worst Case - You don’t have a marketing plan, nor have you considered a budget. If you need something, like more business cards, you’ll invest the money, but anything else feels superfluous. After all, marketing is something only “bigger” companies do, right? You probably tried “marketing” at one point (remember that eighth page ad you put in the newspaper that one time five years ago?), but you didn’t see any results. In fact, you’re not really sure what results you had, because you weren’t tracking the response very diligently.
Feeling overwhelmed at this point? Don’t! At Grid, we can walk you through every step to create the perfect marketing plan for your business. Get in touch with us by. Ready to tackle this on your own? Great, let’s get started!
What are the goals that you want your business to achieve? When you set out to answer this question you may find yourself being too vague or non-descriptive. It’s incredibly common to see a business owner go through three or four rounds of revisions until they have their goals spelled out carefully enough. “Increase sales”, for example, is not a descriptive enough goal to use for laying out a marketing plan. Although far from all-inclusive, here are some questions that may help you define your own goals:
Although many of your goals may be quantitative in nature (such as increasing revenue, total number of customers, or units sold), don’t forgot the importance of strategic goals (increasing awareness of your brand, improving public perception, or cultivating brand loyalty).
Lastly, remember that it’s normal to have several business goals - some longer term than others. You will be reviewing these goals regularly, and their priority in relation to each other can, and will, shift.
If you haven’t already, it’s important at this time to build out three to five buyer personas that represent who you need to market to in order to reach your business goals. Buyer personas are a set of semi-fictional representations about your ideal customer based on market research and real data, including things like age, sex, income, family makeup, motivations, buying patterns, and goals. When considering your newly defined business goals, it may be necessary to go back and adjust your already-established buyer personas - adding or subtracting pieces of information (or personas as a whole) as you feel necessary to reflect the current state of your business. Make sure you consider things such as how much money each persona has to spend on things like your product or service, what other brands they typically buy from or gravitate to, where they get recommendations before they purchase, and how long their typical buying cycle is. By the end of this step, you want an accurate portrayal of the types of individuals (or organizations, if you are business to business) that will be the intended recipients of your marketing.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. For every marketing effort that you consider launching, perform an audit of your available internal resources that would be involved in following up with a lead, closing the sale, and performing the work to completion. If your marketing campaign is successful (as we hope it will be!) will your processes and personnel be able to not only meet the demand, but perform to the level of quality that you expect? When making these considerations, it’s important to be critically honest with yourself about the systems you have in place. It’s better to find potential points of failure while you have time to rectify them rather than when you are full swing into a campaign.
Before you can create a marketing plan you need to have a firm understanding of why a potential customer should choose you over the hundreds or thousands of competitors in your industry. Competition is healthy, and pushes us all to be better people, businesses, and organizations - but if you can’t clearly (and succinctly) describe what sets you apart, you’ll never be able to convince a potential customer of the same (and they’ll happily move on to a competitor who can). Your differentiator can be any number of things: price, level of customer service, previous experience, industry knowledge, area of coverage, follow up support, extent of community involvement, use of technology, etc. Always keep your differentiator in mind when determining when and how you should be marketing your business to your target demographics.
When you are ready to begin your budgetary considerations, do yourself a favor and be fully up-to-date on your financial information so you know exactly what you are working with. Familiarize yourself with both historical data, such as previous year sales and gross revenue, and any projected data you may have available, such as sales projections or growth plans. If you are not thoroughly grounded in the realities of your current financial situations you will not be able to put together a realistic marketing plan - and that may be the only thing worse than not putting a plan together in the first place!
There are several oft-repeated “formulas” for determining what your marketing budget should be, such as 2-5% of your projected gross revenues, or anywhere from 3-10% of your annual operating budget (depending on your current stage of growth). In reality, the only “right” answer to the budget question is that you should have a budget in the first place. Your business and business goals are unique to you and you alone. Your budget should be a reflection of your goals and timeline, as opposed to a number run through a formula.
As you consider your marketing budget, there are a few things you should remember. First, it is critical to understand that your marketing budget should not just be based on what’s left over once all of your other business expenses are covered. Marketing IS a business expense, and it should be one of the most important expenses you allocate for considering it has a direct effect on your bottom line.
Second, you should invest as much as you can into marketing, especially if you are in the first few years of business, or in the first few years of making a marketing push. Many times campaigns can continue to grow off of themselves, meaning you won’t have to invest as much in the same campaigns as you move along. If you invest heavily from the get go you can plan to ride the wave of a long tail of results.
Third, what are your competitors spending? You obviously aren’t going to have insider information into their financials, but you can get a general idea of what sort of budget it will take to compete on the level they are. Do you see their billboards and print advertisements all over the place? Do you regularly see their television commercials, or hear their radio ads? If you find that your competitors are working with a much larger budget than you can afford, don’t despair! A well thought out and executed marketing plan directed specifically towards your ideal demographic (including your attractive differentiator) can make up the difference between a small and large budget. Remember that quality can trump quantity.
Lastly, some of the most essential marketing tools available today are also some of the most cost effective, such as your website and social media. It’s easier than ever for you to connect with current and potential customers - you can leverage a trade off of your time for positive customer perception.
Now it’s time to start identifying the marketing efforts that will bring your message to your demographic, in a way that will help you achieve your overall business goals. Start by identifying three major campaigns that you’d like to roll out - that is, three overarching concepts that you’d like to make available to your target demographics. It’s impossible to list every different type of marketing effort that might be suited to your needs, but some of the more common efforts might include improvements to your website, email campaigns, print or digital ads, radio and television ads, outdoor advertising, direct mail, press kits, social media, public relations, and trade shows, just to name a few. Next, decide what actual marketing efforts you will need to use to enact this campaign, and all of their associated costs (such as hiring a graphic designer, the production of a trade show display, or the print cost of a brochure).
This may be the most daunting portion of your marketing plan, and that’s to be expected. Take your time in considering all of the pieces of information you’ve pulled together so far - what you are trying to say, who you are trying to say it to, and what budget do you have available to work with - to determine what efforts will strike a balance between investment and payoff. If you need additional assistance during this part of your planning, remember that we are!
During this process, you’ll also want to start establishing timelines. How long will each overarching campaign last, and how long will each marketing effort that comprises the campaign be in effect? Don’t feel limited to making all of your campaigns fit perfectly within the calendar or fiscal year. Depending on their specifics, campaigns (and their associated efforts) may span several years, or only last a few days.
Technology has provided us with a number of ways that you can track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, from Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, to Nelson and publication reports. But hard data can only track so much, so it’s critical that you are diligent in asking customers how they heard about you.
It’s also important to remember that data in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Seeing a low response to a marketing effort can only be construed as positive or negative when placed in context with your overall business goals. For example, let’s say you sell business to business and focus on providing high-cost, long term contract services. If you sent out a direct mail campaign to 1,000 businesses, and converted just one into a sale, that may be considered a tremendously successful marketing campaign given the context of your business and goals. If your goal, however, was to convert a larger quantity of smaller sales, direct mail might not have been the direction to go.
As your plan progresses, and some efforts wind down while others ramp up, take the time to do the math to determine how much it cost to bring a potential customer in the door, what he or she spent with you, and if there is a recurring revenue stream. Evaluate how much impact each specific effort had on your bottom line. You may find some intriguing bits of information, such as realizing that a direct mail campaign cost you the least but only resulted in sales of your lowest tier offerings, while a television ad that cost the most netted several high tier customers. Compare time frames, seasons, and pay attention to news or social items that may have played a role in increased or decreased interest in your business. Also keep in mind that many marketing efforts may be difficult or down right impossible to track, or may require a long term evaluation of data to determine their outcomes.
Your marketing plan should always be evolving and adapting to the trends you are seeing, the successes (or ‘not so successes’) of your marketing efforts, and the current state of your business. As you enact campaigns, see the reactions of your demographics, test your internal resources, judge the response to your differentiator, and fine tune your budget. Your overall marketing plan should be flexible enough to allow you to re-shape and improve as you move forward. Don’t lock yourself in to an email campaign a month if you aren’t seeing the type of responses you wanted. Conversely, don’t strike all email campaigns off of your plan as a knee jerk reaction to a few fumbles.
While a fleshed out marketing plan takes a considerable amount of time and effort, the rewards you will reap will by and large make up for it. At the end of the day, remember to keep yourself and your marketing efforts focused on advancing your business toward your goals, accept when an effort does not go as planned, and be patient. Every marketing effort is either successful or is an opportunity for success the next time around.
Have more questions than we covered here?!