Using a marketing plan template will help you focus on the objective of your marketing and how you intend to accomplish that objective. Whether your company provides products or services, your marketing plan is essential to your success.
The six major elements to creating a successful marketing plan are listed below. Creating a marketing plan template from these points can help you stay on track. You may only need only a sentence or two per section... or you might want to break each down into a few bullet points:
The general purpose of any marketing plan is to maximize your business' profits. But what does that mean for your business? Spell it out here. If you're a children's clothing designer, your purpose might be "To sell the greatest number of infant dresses at the lowest cost per dress". If you're a self-employed computer consultant who helps companies utilize the Internet, your purpose might be "To book my time completely by getting the greatest number of clients at the lowest possible cost."
Some things to think about when you're writing this section:
- Your marketing plan's purpose may seem obvious to you. But by putting it upfront and in writing, you will stay focused on your intent.
- Many businesses think their marketing plan is about increased exposure, getting press, writing cool ads, and the like. These are not purposes, they are tactics. The end result of any of these is to increase your profits.
- If you're having trouble answering "what is the purpose of your marketing plan," you might want to think "why are you marketing?" Your answers to these questions should be the same.
Your Target Customers
In order to reach your target customers, you've got to know who they are. Look for common identifiable characteristics. Are they companies or individuals? Do they fall into a certain age, geographic or income demographic? How do they buy your type of products or services? How often do they buy them? What features do they look for?
Some other things to look out for:
- Be sure your target market is large enough to support your sales objectives.
- Don't guess who your target market is. When possible, quantify by numbers through research. Call trade associations; go to your research library and look upmarket data; use demographic information from the census; etc.
- The purchaser of your product or service may not necessarily be the user.
- If you're selling business-to-business, remember that your product or service is bought by a person, not by a company.
The Benefits of Your Product or Service
You don't market a product, and you don't market a service. You market benefits. Describe them here. Think in terms of the distinctive features of your product or service that set you apart from your competition. This is also known as your Unique Selling Proposition or USP. It could be the design of your product, your knowledge of the market, a new technology, a special service, a singular talent, or something else. For example, the USP of a Sony television is the superior picture of the Trinitron tube. Burger King's USP is that its burgers are flame-broiled.
Think about these points when you're developing your USP:
- You might want to consider your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Once you know what they are, you can use marketing to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
- Also, consider your competitors' strengths and weaknesses - so you can minimize their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses.
The position is your identity in the marketplace; how you want the market and your competitors to view your product or service. Your positioning will have an impact on every segment of your marketing.
Base your positioning on the benefits you offer, who your customers are, and how your competitors are positioned. Keep your positioning statement highly focused and succinct. For example, Acme Movers could be positioned as "the most dependable moving company in the Tri-City region." Two architects who specialize in kitchens could have totally different positions - one could be "the most innovative designer of modern kitchen environments," while the other could be "the most cost-effective designer of traditional kitchens." Whose kitchen do you think you'd see in Metropolitan Home and whose do you think is targeted at the average buyer?
Some positioning tips:
- When creating your positioning statement, think in terms of extremes - the "most," the "best," the "fastest," the "cheapest," the "only," etc.
- If there's not much difference between you and your competitors, look for a meaningful customer want or need that has not yet been filled.
- Don't position directly against a competitor, if possible. If you do, you may be caught without a position should your customer change its focus. Instead, focus more on your product's or service's strengths.
- Be very careful if you position solely on price since that position can be very easily pre-empted.
- Don't position just on image. You need to back up your positioning with substance. If you can't, it's a recipe for disaster.
Your Marketing Tactics
Describe the specific marketing tactics you intend to use to reach your target customers - advertising, public relations, or sales promotions, for example. These are the weapons of your marketing strategy. Choose them wisely. Make sure that they agree and support your positioning and your benefits.
It is not necessary to spell out in your marketing plan exactly how you will use each tool. You might want to discuss briefly the purpose and the tone of the various tactics. For example, an Internet consultant might write: "Press releases will focus on our Internet expertise"; "Top management will speak at computer trade shows"; "Print advertising will focus on classifieds in The News' weekly computer section." Remember that your marketing plan is your guide - you don't want to get enmeshed in details.
Your Marketing Budget
Briefly discuss how much money you intend to invest in marketing as a percentage of your projected gross sales. You can break it down on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. Ideally, you will have already determined the amount of your marketing budget when you created your business' various financial statements. The figure you choose will depend greatly on your type of business and your goals. It can be anywhere from 5% to 50% or more. If you're a heavily marketing-driven venture - a company selling products through direct mail and direct response advertising, for instance - then you will likely allocate more than a company that will build its client base through networking and relationship marketing.
Here are a couple of other things to consider when you're creating your budget:
- By putting down a figure, you are committing yourself to support your marketing program. You will know how much you can afford to spend on different forms of advertising, PR, and other tactics.
- Be sure to keep track of how effective each marketing tactic is. You want to get the maximum return on your marketing investments.
As you go through each section, keep the following tips and hints in mind:
Keep your marketing plan simple.
Many small business owners get so involved in details that they lose sight of their goals. By keeping your plan simple, you will create a clear roadmap that focuses on what you need to accomplish.
Write your marketing plan down (as opposed to thinking about it and keeping it in your head).
It is important to have a document that will remind you of what you are trying to accomplish. A marketing plan template is an excellent place to start.
Be direct and be clear.
If you're not sure, ask a friend, relative, colleague, or employee to read your plan. They should immediately grasp your goals.
Don't build in too much flexibility.
You may be tempted to plan for various market contingencies. If your market changes that quickly, then you should incorporate that into your plan. But create a strategy you can keep to - that's the purpose of having a plan in the first place.
Review your marketing plan often - quarterly or even monthly.
That doesn't mean you have to revise it every month. But take some time to evaluate it and make sure you're on track.
Finally....never stop marketing!
Once you have your plan in place, you need to take action. Commit yourself to your marketing program. Don't let yourself stagnate. Keep at it, and you'll be giving your business the opportunity to flourish.