Many independent businesses take an ad-hoc approach to marketing, looking at opportunities as they arrive or simply not doing very much marketing at all. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly successful way to market and grow a business. In order to get your brand out to the people who really matter, your ideal customers, you need to have a structured marketing plan in place that guides your choices of channels, promotion type and marketing message.

A marketing plan (or strategy) does not have to be complicated, but it does have some key elements. It should clearly outline who your ideal customers are, who your competitors are and what they offer the market, what you are offering to your customers and how you will be getting the marketing messages out to them. Crucially, your marketing plan should also include your marketing goals and how you will measure them to find out whether your efforts have been successful.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan. Your strategy will be specific to your business and can be as short as a single page to a sturdy document full of detail. The most important aspect is that you take the time to consider each element and build it up as a reference point to keep your marketing, and growth, on track. It is also a ‘living document’ that will evolve as your business does.

Crafting your marketing plan

If you want guidance on how to create a marketing plan for your business, take a look at the outline below:

Executive Summary

The executive summary is the first part of the marketing plan that anyone will read. It is an overview of your strategy. As such it should be concise and deliver the key points in a clear manner that is easy to understand. Although it appears first, it should be the last piece of the marketing plan to be completed.

Goals

Before you focus on which activities you want to run as part of your marketing for the upcoming year, you need to know what you are expecting to achieve in terms of those marketing activities and the sales that will occur because of them.

For example, as a new business, your primary focus may be to grow your sales by 30%. In order to do so, you need to understand your conversion rate and therefore how many leads your business will generate.

Your focus may be to maintain the levels of sales that you currently have but increase the margin (profit) of each sale. This may require attracting a different type of customer, reducing your operational costs or increasing your sales prices. Possibly even a combination of those.

Whatever your goals may be, they will be used at the end of the financial year to establish the success of your marketing. Entering them into your marketing plan makes you more accountable for them as they are clearly articulated in writing.

Target Customers

Within this section of the marketing plan, you will focus on painting a picture of exactly what your ideal customer/s look like. It goes beyond their demographics such as age and gender and delves into their interests, where they are based, what their income levels are.

Crucially you need to identify why they would want your need your products and services. Knowing who your customers are will help you craft messages that speak to them and encourage them you engage with you and ultimate buy.

Competitors

Your marketing plan is just as much about your competitors as it is about your own products and services. In order to differentiate your business from your competitors, you need to know who they are. You need to what products and services they sell, at what price, what the benefits and features of those are and how they stack up to your own.

Unique Selling Points

Now that you know who both your customers and competitors are, you can begin to draw out your unique selling points. What makes your product or service unique from those that are already in the market. It can sometimes be difficult to articulate this point but it is crucial that you spend the time needed to find the reasons that your ideal customers should buy from you.

It doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel, but rather identify what you do or offer that your competitors can’t or can’t do easily. Perhaps the structure or your business allows you to turn orders around quicker than any of your competitors, or your offer personalised cards with each gift that ordered and have them hand-delivered. Whatever makes you a better choice for your ideal customer is what you should be including here.

Pricing & Positioning

Positioning refers how you want people to see your business in their minds. If you want to be seen as a luxury company you will need to ensure that your service or product is of a high quality and that your pricing matches their expectations.

Not every customer wants the cheapest product, but they do expect to get what they pay for. For example, a low-priced item that is pitched as a luxury item may raise the question of ‘what’s wrong with it?’. Conversely, other products with higher price points may be deemed as too expensive if they are not positioned as providing greater value.

Your marketing plan should be the single reference point for your pricing and positiong strategy.

Distribution Plan

How are you going to get your product into the hands of your customers? If you sell a physical product you will want to know whether you will be selling these in a physical store or exclusively online. Will you be a truly independent retailer where customers can only purchase through your outlets, or will you partner with others to use their distribution networks too?

You will need to consider, regardless of whether you offer a product or a service if you will only sell to a specific location. With the rapid development of technology, it is now possible to do business all over the world from your home or office. The question is, do you want to?

Special Offers

While at this stage you are focusing on the bigger picture, it is a good idea to outline the type of special offers you will be using to market your business. These special offers have a single goal. The goal may be to bring new leads to the business and convert them into customers (acquisition & conversion) or keep more existing customers coming back to you (Retention).

There are many different options to consider:

  • Discount offers
  • Free trials
  • Free upgrades
  • Referral vouchers
  • Money-back offer
  • Exclusive products

Marketing Channels

Within your marketing plan, you want to identify which marketing channels you will be using to get your core messages to your ideal customers. These decisions will be guided by the detail you have created around who your ideal customer is as you want to make sure that you are using the media and channels that they are already interacting on.

For example, if you are targeting elderly couples for a retirement village you may have identified that they use social media less often but still purchase the Sunday newspaper every week. In which case a Facebook campaign will be less effective than an editorial piece and advertisement in the local Sunday newspaper.

Your product type may also dictate your choice of marketing channel. Consumer items will fit more naturally into consumer publications and websites or social media than pure business offering would. They may be more suited to trade publications, account management strategies and social media that is dedicated to business such as LinkedIn.

You will want to create a mix of channels that are both external to your business like a specialist magazine and own media such as your business website to ensure that you are not reliant on a single source of business enquiries.

Marketing Partnerships

In addition to marketing channels, you may wish to partner with complementary business to promote your business. You will want to identify which brands share a common ideal customer type but that don’t offer competing products and services. Partnerships are designed to be mutually beneficial to all parties.

The specifics of each partnership may be unique but you could consider contra deals (where you give some of your products and services in exchange for a promotion to their existing customer base) or a simple reciprocal agreement where you each promotion the others products to your respective databases.

Marketing Budget

You will need to define the amount of money that you have available, and are prepared to spend, on marketing activities. Once you have a budget, you will need to take the next step of allocating the budget to the various elements you have included in your plan.

For example, how much money will you be spending on online and offline advertising, your website, partnership agreements etc? This will give your guidance as to whether you can take up the offer of a new advertising opportunity when they are presented to you throughout the financial year.

It is important that you look at the marketing budget in line with the results that you expect to see form each of the activities too. You want to avoid overspending on channels and promotions which are unlikely to yield good sales results and invest more heavily in those that will.

Putting your plan into action

Whatever form of your marketing plan takes, be sure to keep it updated as your business evolves and refer back to it regularly. Be sure that every marketing decision is made in line with the decisions you have made within it and ensure that everyone on the marketing team, or the business, know exactly where you will be focusing to reaching your marketing goals.

At the end of the financial year be sure to take the time to measure the results against your goals to understand how you have performed. While it is crucial to do this annual review, it doesn’t diminish the importance of continual tracking and monitoring of activities throughout the year. By keeping a close eye on your marketing’s performance, you will be able to make necessary changes to underperforming campaigns and provide extra resource or budget for those which are doing well.