- A marketing plan identifies your target audience, the most effective channels on which to engage with them and analytical insights that guide future strategy.
- Businesses need a comprehensive marketing plan to coordinate theirmarketing campaigns and to properly measure their impact.
- Marketing is a cumulative effort, and a unified plan maximizes the value of every campaign toward a cohesive strategy.
- This article is for small business owners looking to build an effective marketing plan that achieves higher engagement and fuels business growth.
There are few documents that rival the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company's course for success. One critical portion of that plan is your marketing strategy, one of the many smaller outlines that come together to form the entire vision.
Because this strategy is only one piece in the larger puzzle and requires a heavier investment for less immediate results, you may not give marketing the attention it deserves. However, a well-thought-out marketing strategy can reveal opportunities through new audience segments, changes in pricing strategy or by differentiating your brand from the competition.
Don't miss out on profits – here's how to create an effective marketing plan.
How to develop a business marketing plan
A focused marketing plan sets two goals: to maintain engagement and loyalty among your current customers, and to capture market share within a specific audience segment of your target audience.
Your marketing plan outlines the strategies you'll use to achieve both goals and the specific actions your marketing team will employ, such as the specific outreach campaigns, over which channels they will occur, the required marketing budget, and data-driven projections.
Marketing is a science-driven commitment that typically requires months of data to refine campaigns, and an interconnected marketing plan keeps a business committed to its long-term goals.
All marketing guidelines will circle back to the Four P's – product, price, place, promotion. The following tips are starting points that will ingrain the habit of continually circling back to the Four P's.
1. Create an executive summary.
Marketing campaigns should not be considered individual functions. Marketing is the story of your brand as told to customers; like any narrative, its tone and characters should remain consistent. An executive summary details your marketing goals for the next year and helps tie each together. These goals should work together to achieve both internal and external harmony, telling a consistent story that informs customers of your exact message while building on its previous chapters.
2. Identify your target market.
Before you write a marketing plan, you need to find and understand your niche. Ask yourself who the specific demographic is that you're targeting. For example, if your business sells 30-minute meals, then those who work traditional 9-to-5 jobs are likely in your market. Study that group of individuals to understand their struggles and learn how your business can solve the problem.
3. Develop insight into why a new customer would use your business.
Determine the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Your offering should solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition. Create buyer personas for your ideal customers to better understand their needs and guide communication with that audience.
4. Differentiate your brand with inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing utilizes internal tools such as content marketing, social media activity or search engine optimization (SEO) to attract a customer's attention primarily through online communication. Content marketing can include informative blog posts, interviews, and podcasts with relevant industry figures, or supplementary guides on how to best use your product. For example, if you sell cooking supplies, consider posting several fun recipes around holidays that your tools can help prepare.
Each of these strategies empowers the others in a loop to achieve greater customer attention. A strong content offering can improve your search engine ranking, which brings more people to your website and social pages. You can then share those developed content pieces to that wider audience, who will again improve your search engine rankings. All of this can be done without the expense of a famous endorser or commercial advertising campaign.
5. Identify competitors that also target your customers.
No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer's dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in-depth or determine competition that may be outside their industry but which is just as capable of luring customers away. Knowing who they are, their core competitive advantages and how they might respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) helps you devise strategies to combat such losses.
6. State your brand position for your target customers.
Ultimately, your brand, and what it symbolizes for customers, is your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.
7. Audit if all else fails.
Don't panic if your initial marketing strategy doesn't give you the results you wanted. Auditing your business, which you can do with the help of a third-party contractor, can help you recover.
Understand what products or services you are offering, then identify who you help and how you help them. Next, check all your marketing platforms to ensure they reflect that message. If you perceive your brand's message differently than your audience, that disconnect needs to be fixed.
Key takeaway: When developing your marketing plan, know why a customer would use your product, differentiate your brand from competitors, and audit your product offering and message to ensure consistency.
Types of channels included in your marketing plan
Once you know the elements of the plan, the next step is to develop a plan detailing how you will reach target customers. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three digital marketing channels that many business owners utilize.
Social media is an essential part of businesses' marketing plans, because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Small business owners may feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the sites that can benefit them the most.
Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies starting out in social media to get to know their customers and the platforms they use.
"Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms," Farmiloe told Business News Daily. "Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms."
Though email marketing is not as new as social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for small business owners. Companies can implement email marketing techniques in many ways, including newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. For instance, Mailchimp and Constant Contact help companies to manage their email drip campaigns.
Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.
"Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast," he said. "Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send."
The popularity of smartphones and tablets has changed how companies target consumers. Since people have these devices with them nearly all the time, companies are looking to implement strategies that reach customers on their gadgets.
"Mobile marketing is interruptive," Farmiloe said. "It's because of this power that a marketer has to let the consumer determine how and when to receive marketing material. That's why almost every app comes with the option to turn notifications on or off. The consumer has to hold the power with mobile marketing."
Key takeaway: Utilize digital marketing channels such as social media, email and mobile to reach customers; however, research each channel in depth to develop a strategy to effectively capture their interest.
Creating well-defined budgets, goals, and action items, with appropriate personnel assigned to each, can make your marketing plan a reality. Think about how much you're willing to spend, the outcomes you expect and the necessary tasks to achieve those outcomes.
Analytical tools that track customer behavior and engagement rates can serve as a helpful guide for your marketing strategy. Unlike billboards or commercials, the prevalence of digital channels allows you to assess each step of the customer journey and gain insights into the individual patterns and intents of prospects. Intention can soon develop into prediction, empowering a marketing team to develop campaigns that consistently reach target audiences at the right time.
You can find more tips for measuring your marketing ROI here.
Key takeaway: Invest in tools to measure the impact of your marketing campaigns.
Additional reporting by Jordan Beier, Katherine Arline and Marci Martin. Some interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.