With a new year comes new opportunities to take action. As Warren Buffet put it:

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” ― Warren Buffett

In other words, to enjoy the future “fruits of your labor”, you need to plant the seeds now.

Creating a marketing plan is a daunting task for many business owners, but let’s think of it from this perspective:

  • How is your business currently perceived by customers?
  • How would you prefer your business be perceived differently?
  • What steps are needed to bridge this gap between the current reality and desired reality?

Don’t over-complicate the purpose of planning. Ultimately, a marketing plan is a decision concerning how you want your brand’s story to be told to and understood by customers.

Before You Get Started

Establish who is accountable for what. What are the roles of each team member in the planning process? Who writes which parts of the plan?

Also, while your marketing plan is almost certainly going to change over time, deadlines should be established for core sections of the plan and for the due date of your initial draft.

Lastly, knowing your marketing budget is imperative, as it determines what initiatives and campaigns you’ll be able to support.

Step One: Establishing Key Objectives

The first step for any planning endeavor is establishing objectives that will help you achieve your long-term and short-term goals.

For example, if you have a business goal to increase revenue by 50% over the course of a year, what objectives are needed to move toward that goal?

Do you need to invest in training for your sales staff? Do you need to focus your budget primarily on bringing in new customers? Should you market “harder” to existing customers?

If you’re struggling to pinpoint objectives, a SWOT Analysis may be helpful. In conducting a SWOT Analysis, you outline the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats regarding your business and your competition.

A SWOT Analysis is a relatively simple, but very powerful, tool. With little thought, you’ll discover great opportunities your business can exploit, as well as get an honest look at your weaknesses before your competition is able to exploit them.

Step Two: Conducting Market Research

Many businesses, especially small businesses, view market research as an unaffordable cost, so they continue writing their marketing plans based on personal experience and intuition.

While this may seem like a cost-savings measure, it could very well lead to higher costs if you unsuccessfully launch a product or marketing campaign that’s poorly targeted due to lack of research.

Fortunately, there are a number of cheap or free sources of market research available today:

Understanding as many details as possible about your target market is absolutely crucial to the effectiveness of your marketing plan, so research is the last thing you should think about skipping.

Step Three: Lay Out Your Marketing Strategies

Let’s circle back to the beginning of the post: how is your brand currently perceived and how do you want your brand to be perceived?

The strategies you choose are dependent upon how you intend to bridge that perception gap.

For example, do you want to position yourself as a luxury brand? If so, using a low-pricing strategy will probably dissuade consumers from viewing your product as luxurious or prestigious.

Your strategies should be specific enough to provide a clear, overarching direction, but broad enough to encompass the many tactics you’ll use to put these strategies into action.

Step Four: Build Tactics into Your Strategies

Tactics are the day-to-day or week-to-week actions you’ll take to bring your strategies to life.

As an example of how tactics fit into the mix, assume one of your key goals is to increase revenue from online orders by 15%.

Objectives under this goal might be:

  • Increase average order value from $40 to $50.
  • Increase traffic by 75%.
  • Increase repeat orders by 12%.

Arising from your goal and objectives, you could establish strategies to:

  • Provide incentives for people to increase order amounts.
  • Find various online sources to tap into more unique visitors.
  • Target past customers and encourage repeat orders.

Finally, under this strategy, you would lay out tactics such as:

  • Increasing the “Free Shipping” threshold to $50+, providing an incentive for customers to increase their order amounts.
  • Guest blog on relevant authority blogs in your niche, giving you a touch point with readers in your target market who would ideally become new visitors to your website.
  • Capture email addresses upon account creation or checkout and begin sending periodic emails to your past customers encouraging them to buy again.

Step Five: Establish Benchmarks

There will never be a scenario where every piece of your marketing plan works as expected. There will always be under-performance and necessary revisions.

How will you know where this under-performance is happening if you don’t have anything to compare the data to?

This highlights the importance of benchmarks — you can’t tell if a number is good or bad just by looking at it.

If you establish a broad goal to “Increase Revenue” and your revenue does increase by 7% year-over-year, is that worth cheering about?

Sure, a 7% increase in revenue isn’t anything to frown about, but all else equal, what if your major competitors increased their revenues by 15%? Suddenly, that 7% doesn’t look so spectacular and you’ll need to make adjustments to catch up with your competition.

You can’t know that if you haven’t established benchmarks, whether those come from internal discussions about what is acceptable or through research about the competitive environment you operate within.

Step Six: Implement the Plan, Stick With It, and Be Flexible

Don’t invest tons of time into writing a 20-page marketing plan and then stick it on the shelf to gather dust. Planning is only half the battle; the real treat comes with actually putting the plan into action.

Get buy-in from everyone in the organization, as everything your staff does on the marketing front should somehow tie into the overall marketing plan. If it doesn’t fit, then you should strongly reconsider.

With that said, things absolutely do change. Economic environments, political environments, and competitive environments all fluctuate. Sometimes it will be in your favor, other times it won’t.

The key is to be aware of these changes and be open to adapting your marketing plan. If four or five months after writing your marketing plan the economy spirals downwards, of course you’ll need to be flexible and reassess your goals, strategies, and tactics.

Do your best to stay on track toward the destination, but don’t be afraid to take a slight detour when necessary.

Still Overwhelmed With the Process?

All of these steps are easier said than done, especially if you’re not “marketing-minded” or simply don’t have the time.

I sympathize with that, as do the rest of us at Strategexe. We like to think we’re good at marketing, but outside of marketing there are plenty of areas where we would need to call in outside help.

With the new year recently making its entrance, we thought it would be wise to extend a helping hand to any businesses in need of a marketing plan. If you fall into this category, please get in touch with us!