When planning a road trip in an unfamiliar location, what’s the first thing you do? Get a map handy. In the same vein, before establishing a business, you should write a marketing plan which will serve as a guide. One question popping up in the mind of many potential entrepreneurs is, does my small business require a marketing plan? The answer to your question is obviously ‘YES.’
Every business, both big and small, new and existing, needs a marketing plan. It helps you maximize your resources in attracting your target audience at a minimum cost. With a marketing plan, you outline not only your marketing objectives but also draft ways to bring it to fruition.
What Are Marketing Goals?
Your marketing goals can be long or short term. Keep in mind that your goals should align perfectly with the financial objectives of your business. It should include
- Sales conversion rates
- Number of units sold
- Market share
- Return on Investment for promotion and advertising expenses
There’s a big difference between marketing goals and marketing objectives. Unfortunately, both terms are used interchangeably. In order to achieve your marketing goals, it has to be broken down into smaller steps, otherwise known as the objectives.
To get the desired result, your marketing objective must be realistic and achievable. You need to consider what you can achieve and resources available to guarantee success. Even if you have realistic goals, lack of motivation can undermine its success. Motivation and capability are therefore fundamental.
The business environment is highly competitive hence it’s not for the faint at heart. If you lack proper guidance or have no knowledge about your customers, you might as well get ready to be among the crowd while your competitors take the lead role.
Purpose of a Marketing Plan
A good marketing plan puts you on the limelight; it attracts potential customers to patronize your business. It helps you know more about your potential customers purchasing behavior, needs and what they find appealing. To do this, it requires listening to their needs and communicating to them persuasively. Certainly, your marketing strategies might require a few tweaks due to changes in situations but it should maintain it’s primary objective which is to attract more customers to your business.
Your marketing plan will be less effective unless of course, you have a set time frame to achieve your objectives. Draft out objectives that should be accomplished on a weekly or monthly basis. So how can you create a good marketing plan objective? Set your objectives using the SMART criteria. Make them
- Time specific
A good marketing plan will help you get more clients, which ultimately results in increased sales. And increased sales means greater profits.
Before Your Write Your Marketing Plan
Successful businesses have gathered useful information about their customers and their competitors. Writing a marketing plan can be pretty difficult especially if you know nothing about your market and target audience. This is why market research is important.
Market research is a process of gathering useful information to know what your target audience perceives your product or service. Every business owner conducts market research unconsciously. For instance, checking the prices of your major competitors or talking to your customers about your business can be classified as market research. However, making the process more formal will yield great results. You will know more about your product or service offerings, your target audience, and competitors.
Reasons for Market Research
Regardless of business size, it is vital to do some form of market research. Here are some of the reasons why you should conduct market research
Product: It shows if you need to improve your product or service based on the information gathered. You can tell if your customers are satisfied with the product or
they want something more. Your primary focus should be on customer service, function, appearance, and warranties.
Price: Set the right price that your clients can pay conveniently. Setting a high price might deter customers. Likewise, setting a far lower price might not be a good idea. Market research helps you set the right price
Placement: Decide the best distribution method for your product. Compare features of strategic locations and the value of points of sale.
Promotion: Getting the attention of your target audience is critical to the success of your business. You need to be able to know the right promotion strategy that works best for you.
Market research keeps you abreast of the market conditions and how you can easily adjust to regulations and newly introduced technologies. Market research can help you learn more about your competitors, capitalize on their weaknesses and identify opportunities as well as mitigate risk in your business decisions.
Remember a marketing plan is not for new businesses alone. If you’re considering making significant changes to your business such as expansion or relocation, it is advisable to conduct market research. These include introducing new lines of product, relocating or launching a new branch, new advertising campaign, etc.
How to Conduct Market Research
Your market research should be divided into two categories – primary and secondary categories.
Begin with the secondary market research which exploits existing resources. It is less time consuming and gives you great insight into the market trends, your competitors, industry, and potential customers. The internet is a great resource for your gathering secondary data. Other ways to gather secondary data include local newspaper, industry magazines, televisions, trade journals, etc
If you’re not contented with the information gathered via the secondary market research method, then you can opt for the primary market research. This involves information gathered through your own effort. If you don’t have the time to research on your own, you can hire a research firm to do it. You can collect primary data through questionnaires, experimentation, interviews, observation, and surveys.
Steps for Creating the Marketing Plan
Now that you have a better understanding of your target market, you can start writing your marketing plan. While your marketing plan acts as a roadmap and guide when it comes to keeping track of your progress, it is a vital part of the business plan that your investors find interesting as well. To write a detailed marketing plan, follow the outline below
This should include what you’re trying to accomplish and why you’re doing it – usually in a few sentences. This section is a vital part of your marketing plan. Though it may not have a direct impact on your marketing activities, the mission statement ensures your business activities align with your goals and objectives. It keeps you right on track.
Having a clear idea of your business goals and objectives makes developing a marketing plan easier. A marketing strategy is designed specifically to help achieve your business goals. It clearly outlines what you want to do while other parts of your marketing plan show in details how it will be accomplished. It involves finding out what works best in your chosen market. Before developing one, you should first consider your resources, time and budget to determine whether or not it’s realistic and achievable.
Your target audience will include the demographic you’re trying to reach with your product and services. This section should be well detailed. Invest a lot of time and resources to conduct market research so that you can identify the following
- Your specific audience
- Where you can find them
- What they are looking for
Have a clear picture of your specific target audience. This way, you can easily personalize your marketing strategies and activities.
Describe Your Services
Your marketing plan should include the services you are currently offering plus new services to be added in the near future. Market research helps you gather useful information about your market and how to identify what they need. Also, it should outline additional services you wish to provide if any. For new services, determine what it will take to provide them.
A good marketing plan must include competitive analysis. It should include detailed information about your competitors and where you rank. Take a critical look at what your competitors are doing to attract clients. Describe your strengths and what you want to emphasize.
Identifying and understanding the competition will help you immensely in fine-tuning your strategies to address competitive challenges.
Unique Selling Proposition
Now that you know your competitors, it’s time to identify what sets you apart from them. A unique selling proposition outlines what makes your business unique among the sea of competition. It should answer the following question
- Why should a customer choose your business?
- What makes your brand the better choice?
Your marketing budget should be no more than 10% of your annual sales. This depends on the industry as well as how long you’ve been in business. The truth is that sales depend primarily on marketing activities. Hence, it’s important to invest a significant amount into marketing.
Clearly state your budget and the amount that will be assigned to marketing. Some of the areas that investors will be interested in include
- Break-even analysis
- Sales forecasts
- Expenses forecasts
Unfortunately, most start-up businesses have a limited budget for marketing so creating a marketing plan that meets your budget is essential.
Monitor Your Progress
Your marketing plan will be useless if you can’t monitor and track your results. By measuring the results, you can determine the most effective marketing strategy that draws more customers.
Get closer to your customers to know what they love about your service and ask for suggestions on ways to serve them better. Meet with your repeat client to get detailed feedback
Hints and Tips for Beginners
- Your efforts should be geared towards customers who patronize your business regularly
- Get to know your customer's needs and ask for suggestions through interviews and surveys.
- Focus on your target markets
- Stay consistent.
- Be prepared to make changes to your plan as you get more acquainted with the market
- Don’t be scared to fail. Learn from your mistakes and build on it.
Nobody can predict what will happen within the next hour, which is why it is important to note that your marketing plan should be a living, working document. More importantly, share your plans with your team members to achieve a uniform goal.