How to Create an Effective Marketing Plan
Knowing where your business is headed is a big part of figuring out how to make it a success. While every startup should have a business plan, it’s a good idea to make sure your business plan includes a separate section on marketing.
A marketing plan can be formal or informal, but it should detail who your customers are, where they get their information and how you’re going to deliver your marketing message to them. While you should seek creative ways to market your business , don't expect them to work unless you first understand the basics and develop a marketing plan and a marketing strategy.
“The single most important thing for a small business to include in its marketing plan is a very clear understanding of its customers and its competitors,” explained Robert Thomas, Professor of Marketing at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
This requires four specific tasks, according to Thomas.
Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, what is the core need that your offering will meet – is it to help you customer get through the day more easily, is it to enable them to do their job for efficiently or is it to respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to meet customer needs better than competition .
Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market to determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. In so doing, one also develops a clearer picture of the expected sales revenues and financials.
Define the competitors you face who would also want your target customers, and/or from whom you will take customers to build your business success. Small business managers seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth. But you must understand who your competitors are, what is their core competitive advantage and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.). There is always a competitor – never make the mistake of assuming there is none.
Write down your “brand positioning” statement for your target customers. At the end of the day, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are very single-minded and focus on target customer needs.
Creating a positioning statement will do more than help you find the best way to market to your customers, said Dolores Stammer, Regional director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Centenary College, in Hackettstown, N.J.
“A marketing plan will help the business owner stay focused on the principal reason they are in business,” Stammer told BusinessNewsDaily. Too often, business owners get distracted by other good ideas or passions and end up pursuing tangential endeavors. A marketing plan will help “crystallize their thinking and focus,” she said.
Other experts see a marketing plan as not just an aside, but a crucial document.
"Defining and implementing a rock solid marketing strategy is probably the single most important factor that will contribute towards the long-term sustainable success of any business venture, yet most businesses don't have one," according to "The Ultimate Small Business Guide." A marketing plan starts with your product or service and develops realistic, measurable, yet ambitious goals, the book advises. A marketing strategy spells out the tactics you'll use to reach the goals.
The Small Business Administration has more information on how to develop a marketing plan. Before you start, here are some things to remember, courtesy the University of Missouri's small business resource center:
- The most important order you ever get from a customer is the second order.
- It costs five times as much to sell a new customer as an existing customer.
- Know the power of repetition. Be sure your message is consistent.
- Don't think that product superiority, technology, innovation or company size will sell itself.
Lastly, keep this in mind: People don't buy products, they buy the benefits and solutions they believe the products provide.