Essential Items for a Marketing Plan

Many small businesses and organizations have a fairly unstructured, even haphazard approach to marketing. They try advertising in a few different mediums, maybe create a Facebook page that they post to once in a while, create a website or some flyers and brochures, and hope for the best.

Even if you are a very small business or even a freelancer, it’s a great idea to take the time to create at least a basic marketing plan. A bit of forethought, some goals and a strategy on how you plan to get there will go a long way to improving your chances of success.

Even if you plan to handle all your own marketing in-house, write your marketing plan as if you will be handing it over to an agency that knows nothing about your organization and will use your plan as a guide to understand your business and your customers.

These are the most essential items to include in any marketing plan.

Summary and Business Description

This section will actually be written last, after you have laid out your full plan. The summary/business description should include your mission statement and a general overview of the marketing plan. You should also give a brief summary of what your business does, your values, overarching goals and future plans.

Situation Analysis

This section is where you will assess the current status of your business. Take some time to analyze and reflect on the position of your company in the marketplace. Take a look at your competition and how you currently rank in your industry. Make note of any challenges that you are facing or expect to face in the future.

Many businesses incorporate into their situation assessment a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Essentially this involves taking some time to spell out what you do particularly well or better than your competition, where you need to improve, and how you can take advantage of your strengths. You will also attempt to identify emerging markets or trends and ascertain any potential threats you could face due to market changes or your particular weaknesses.

Use your Situation Analysis and SWOT to determine what you might need to do to grow and stay competitive in your field.

Goals

This is where you should set some concrete, achievable, measurable goals for the coming year. They should be challenging enough to require more effort than simply continuing along your current trajectory and “business as usual” practices, but not so ambitious as to be impossible to meet.

These goals also need to be something you can measure in order to determine whether or not they have been met. “Improve our product selection and increase sales,” is not a concrete goal, for instance. “Introduce three new international brands and increase profit margins 15% by year’s end” is much more specific and measurable.

Describe Your Target Market

It’s crucial to have a clear idea of who your ideal customer is so that you can determine how best to reach them. If you have any data on your existing patrons, for instance if you have fans of your business on social media or if you have a mailing list, this is a great time to see what you can learn about their demographics and interests. You could also conduct a survey to see what you can discover about their buying habits and more.

Focus on finding the traits that your best, most loyal and most lucrative clients or patrons have in common. Keep in mind, however, that your current customers, even the best ones, may not be your ideal customers. For instance, you might have a home improvement company that does a lot of small renovations for middle-income homeowners, but you’d prefer to focus on larger jobs for the well-to-do.

Write out a “buyer persona” for your target customer. This might include details like, “Professional homeowners aged 35-55, two-income couple earning $200,000+. Country-club members who vacation at least once per year, dine out frequently and employ a regular cleaning service.” You may have more than one target market for different services or products that you offer. Be sure to write a persona for each. You will target each one accordingly.

Strategies/Tactics

It’s time to brainstorm how you can provide a unique or superior offering to gain a competitive advantage. This could include lower prices, higher-quality materials or services, better customer service, greater selection, more personal attention, etc.

Then you need to decide on strategies and tactics to communicate your advantages to your target market and achieve the goals that you set earlier. This will most likely involve doing some more research on your ideal customers and determining where they like to go, what types of media they consume and what types of marketing they respond to.

Make some decisions about what types of advertising, sales techniques, public relations, social media engagement or content marketing make sense for reaching your target audience and goals. If this is your first foray into doing any real marketing, it’s better to choose only a few strategies to start so that you can fully implement and track them effectively.

Set a Budget

Decide how much you are willing and able to spend on this year’s marketing goals and apportion a segment to each strategy to plan to employ. Investigate the costs associated with the tactics you have chosen. You may discover that an advertising buy on the local television station eats up too much of your budget and you’ll need to revise your plans.

Track Your Results

It’s imperative to set up a way to track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts to see what is working and what isn’t. Start small and test out the various avenues you have chosen, see what returns the best results and modify as you go.

Your marketing plan is a living document. You will want to revisit it at least once a year, modify it based on what you have learned and how the market has changed and set new goals.