A marketing plan also covers keeping customers happy after they have bought your product or service. It should include other factors such as continually reviewing and improving everything you do to stay ahead of the competition.
Marketing in itself will not guarantee sales, but a well-researched and coherent marketing plan will give you a much better chance of building long-term, profitable relationships.
2. Marketing strategy
Your marketing plan is how you put your marketing strategy into practice.
You can probably break down the market into different segments (ie groups of similar customers). For each segment, you should look at what customers want, what you can offer and what the competition is like. You can then create a marketing strategy that makes the most of your strengths and matches them to the needs of the customers you want to target.
Often, the most promising segments are those where you have existing customers. You can collect information from customers on how they perceive products and services to help you market to them more effectively.
If you are targeting new customers, you need to be sure that you have the resources to reach them effectively.
Once you have decided what your target market is, you also need to decide how you will position yourself in it. Whatever your strategy, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition to encourage customers to choose your business first.
Your market strategy should take into account what stage your product is at in its life cycle. It's a good idea to have new products or services to introduce as other decline - that way, one part of your range is always at a sales peak
3. Marketing plan summary and introduction
Your marketing plan should start with an executive summary, which gives an overview of the main points of the plan.
Although the executive summary appears at the beginning of the plan, you should write it last. Writing the summary is a good opportunity to check that your plan makes sense and that you haven't missed any important points.
You should introduce the main body of the plan with a reminder of your overall business strategy, including:
- what your business is about (your business mission)
- your key business objectives
- your broad strategy for achieving those objectives
This helps to ensure that your marketing plan, your marketing strategy and your overall business strategy all work together.
4. Marketing plan analysis and objectives
Understanding your business environment is a key part of planning, and will allow you to identify the threats and opportunities.
A PEST analysis helps you to identify the main opportunities and threats in your market:
- Political and legal changes such as new regulations
- Economic factors such as interest rates, exchange rates and consumer confidence
- Social factors such as changing attitudes and lifestyles, and the ageing population
- Technological factors such as new materials and growing use of the internet
A SWOT analysis combines external and internal analysis to summarise your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You need to look for opportunities that play to your strengths. You also need to decide what to do about threats to your business and how you can overcome important weaknesses.
Your marketing objectives should be based on understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and the business environment you operate in.
Objectives should always be SMART:
- Specific - for example, you might set an objective of getting ten new customers.
- Measurable - whatever your objective is, you need to be able to check whether you have reached it or not when you review your plan.
- Achievable - you must have the resources you need to achieve the objective. The key resources are usually people and money.
- Realistic - targets should stretch you, not demotivate you because they are unreasonable and seem to be out of reach.
- Time-bound - you should set a deadline for achieving the objective. For example, you might aim to get ten new customers within the next 12 months.
5. Marketing tactics
Once you have decided what your marketing objectives are, and your strategy for meeting them, you need to plan how you will make the strategy a reality.
Many businesses find it helpful to think in terms of the four Ps:
- Product - what your product offers that your customers value, and whether/how you should change your product to meet customer needs.
- Pricing - for example, you might aim to match the competition, undercut them, or charge a premium price for a quality product and service.
- Place - how and where you sell. This may include using different distribution channels.
- Promotion - how you reach your customers and potential customers. For example, you might use advertising, PR, direct mail and personal selling
For a more comprehensive approach, you can extend this to seven Ps:
- People - for example, you need to ensure that your employees have the right training.
- Processes - the right processes will ensure that you offer a consistent service that suits your customers.
- Physical evidence - the appearance of your employees and premises can affect how customers see your business. Even the quality of paperwork, such as invoices, makes a difference.
6. Marketing plan implementation
Your marketing plan should include a schedule of key tasks. This sets out what will be done, and by when. Refer to the schedule as often as possible to avoid losing sight of your objectives under the daily workload.
It should also assess what resources you need. For example, you might need to think about what brochures you need, and whether they need to be available for digital distribution (by email or from your website). You might also need to look at how much time it takes to sell to customers and whether you have enough salespeople.
The cost of everything in the plan needs to be included in a budget. If your finances are limited, your plan will need to take that into account. You may also want to link your marketing budget to your sales forecast.
As well as setting out the schedule, the plan needs to say how it will be controlled. A good schedule and budget should make it easy to monitor progress. When things fall behind schedule, or costs overrun, you need to be ready to do something about it and to adapt your plan accordingly.
Read our guide on marketing on a budget