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6 Steps to Help You Make a Marketing Plan

Kara Hoelzel

AE/Brand Strategist

It’s that time of year again!

You’re probably thinking don’t remind me… I know the holidays are around the corner. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

You’ve put it off long enough and now you are left with no choice but to start planning your marketing efforts for next year!

If you’re like many marketers, at this time of year you are thinking about your budget: how much do I have left to spend, what can I still get done before the end of the year, the list goes on.

Adding the seemingly arduous task of planning on top of everything else can seem like your worst dream. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are the fundamentals to focus on as you prepare for the upcoming year that will make the entire process easier to manage.

But first, let’s quickly review what a marketing plan is.

In basic terms, a marketing plan is an outline of your brand’s or your company’s marketing efforts for the coming year. It lays out the activities or tactics involved in bringing your marketing objectives to life in a defined time frame. It is generally comprehensive, but don’t let that word scare you. Allowing yourself enough time to get this together, typically a few months, can help to make things more manageable.

Planning shouldn’t be done in a vacuum. Maybe you are a small organization or a one-man shop, and that’s OK. Get feedback from your peers, your friends, people that match your target audience. Ideas and insight from others can help yield a more solid, well thought out plan of attack. So, how do you get started?

There are key attributes of a marketing plan, and if you take the time to address all of them it will help you to draft a great plan. An effective marketing plan can be broken into these key areas, making the process more palatable:

1. What does your business look like today?

This is probably something you have been doing all year long: reviewing sales and business activity, analyzing trends, understanding market dynamics, and evaluating how your customers are responding to specific activities.

Are sales down? Why? Did you have a successful media campaign? What happened? Did your content marketing program reach some but not all of your targets?

The idea is to review all business influences and activities and corral all of that information into a concise report to get a clear picture.

One way this can be accomplished is with a SWOT analysis, which is your business’ Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Internal analysis of your strengths and weaknesses, or wins and losses, will help you better understand what to continue to build upon, and what to work on improving.

How is your business better than the competition? For weaknesses it could be anything from a poorly executed product launch to lackluster customer service. External analysis of your competitors and outside influences helps to bring clarity to opportunities to help grow your business and shed light on any potential threats to your overall business health. A review of your entire business will help clarify and confirm what your competitive advantage is.

2. How differentiated are you from your competition?

Whether it’s better customer service, or a unique widget or feature, identifying a clear point of difference, or your positioning, will help you to stand apart from others, and will help build key messaging for your plan. Consider

  • features
  • benefits
  • how you do business
  • availability of your product

How do you measure against your competition? Are you providing what your customers need or exceeding their expectations? Is there an opportunity to change things to do so? Ask yourself these questions to get to your product or service differentiation, because ultimately that will help you identify what you can capitalize on to drive sales and improve overall business health.

3. Where do you want your business to go?

When considering the upcoming year, what are your business goals? Do you want to grow market share? Introduce a new product or service? Improve customer service? As you identify your business goals, make sure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

An example:

We will qualify and retain five new clients with annual budgets of $500,000 in the first half of the year by responding to all requests for proposals that best match our response criteria, leveraging existing relationships and actively following up on open proposals using our client acquisition process, increasing annual revenue by 15%.

In the end, tactics within your plan should execute against and help achieve these SMART goals and objectives. 

4. Who are your targets?

Believe or not, everyone everywhere is a target for businesses. Having a clear understanding of who your targets are and prioritizing them is critical to developing the right tactics for your plan.

How would you describe your targets? You can use attributes such as family composition, income, and location, but also remember to include lifestyle habits.

Do they shop primarily on the weekends? Are they price-sensitive? Do you sell more to households with pets?

If you are business-to-business, you may define your targets using descriptions explaining the type of business they are, job titles or total annual revenue. To build upon this further, try to lay out what your target’s path to purchase is.

Do they do extensive research before considering purchase? Do they only purchase your brand when it’s on sale?

Try to be as specific as possible and include as much information as you can. These target profiles, or personas, will be your guide as you begin to craft your marketing plan.

5. Which tactics do you want to use?

A great plan is the perfect blend of tactics that reach all of your targets, including prospective or lost targets. The idea is to outline your marketing strategies including a variety to best reach your targets.

Remember the work you put into understanding the target audiences and their paths to purchase? That work will help you identify the best marketing mix. Using demographic and lifestyle attributes to understand how your targets get information and when they’re most likely to be open to receiving your message is critical to selecting the appropriate tactics.

Getting this correct the first time out of the gate isn’t always easy. That is what some consider the beauty of marketing; it is fluid. Be sure to evaluate your plan throughout the year so you can identify where you need adjustments along the way that improve your efforts.

6. How much money do you have to spend?

The easiest way to do this is to take a look at what you spent the current year.

Do you anticipate being able to spend the same amount? Are you able to find more funds?

Ultimately, you need to allocate a percentage of your projected gross sales for your marketing budget. This percentage can be different across industries, ranging greatly.

Research into what is realistic for your industry will help guide tactic selection. As you begin to price out tactics, you may find that you are going way over budget. This is OK. Go back, review and select the mix that fits into what you are able to spend. As long as you are marketing and have a plan that you can defer to you are doing well!

After the year starts … How are you doing?

A good plan should include tactics, dates and details. It should also include how you are going to measure success.

Are you trying to increase website visitors? Are you trying to increase click through rate? Are you moving customers to buy your product more than one time a year?

Keep reviewing results and adjust the plan, if needed, to better meet your business goals and objectives. As mentioned before, the beauty of marketing is that it is fluid. But. it’s also measurable for the most part, so don’t forget to evaluate your return on investment.

There you have it. ’Tis the season for planning as well! It’s not that bad. Remember the basics and things will come together. And, if all else fails, contact Element and see how we can help!