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How to create a marketing plan

7 Steps to creating an effective marketing plan

A Marketing Plan is a bit like a job description for your company. Everyone should have one, but they’re often not fit for purpose, out of date and reviewed infrequently... Research has shown that businesses with plans succeed, outperform competitors, and retain staff, more than those with no plan. Without a plan there’s no direction for the company or its employees, decisions can be uninformed, opportunities can be missed and threats can damage or destroy the business.

Whether you are looking at creating a traditional marketing plan or a digital marketing plan, in this post and in the latest Smart Insights Business Marketing Planning Guide, I will take you through the seven steps to creating a marketing plan – integrating online and offline.

What are the seven steps to create your marketing plan?

It can be daunting to develop a marketing plan for the first time, so this Guide takes you through a step by step process. And, if you’ve already got some of the work in place or available, you can move swiftly on to the next step!

Step 1. Situation Analysis - Understand your customers

As part of PR Smith’s SOSTAC® model, a good plan starts with a situation analysis to see where the business is now. Gain an overview via your customers, but don’t forget to ask the right questions. One of my pet hates is the ‘hypothetical question’ e.g. A hotel asking “if you would stay here again?” It’s possible you would stay there again, but if it’s been a one-off visit it’s very unlikely it will actually happen. Removing hypothetical questions ensures you capture facts not fiction.

If you’ve got a start-up business or are looking at a marketing plan for a totally new area, many other research resources are available including online reports, insights via trends and conferences. This informs your business decision and ensure the plan is fundamentally sound.

Step 2. Situation Analysis - Marketing audit: where are we now?

After you’ve captured customer insights, the next step is a comprehensive review or audit of the business. Most countries publish statistical data on businesses in their region. This can tell you the number of businesses in specific sectors, average numbers of employees, average earnings, average income per household and more. This valuable information highlights market values, market potential and opportunities. This enables you to understand where your business sits in its market sector and the market share available.

A key element of the audit is the SWOT and whilst you and many marketers are familiar with the SWOT analysis, you may be less familiar with the McKinsey 7S framework of business. I use this to conduct the SWOT because it takes a holistic look at the business and gets you to think about Strategy, Structure, Systems, Staff, Style, Skills and Shared values. You can use this template to start your SWOT, I’ve included some examples so you can get started:

Area Key Questions Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
Strategy Is there a strategy? e.g. we have a clear strategy
Structure Is the way the business is organised a help or hindrance to achieving the transformation and the vision? e.g. the structure has been the same for the last 30 years and isn’t that effective
Systems Are systems in place to make things happen? e.g. good customer care systems in place e.g. operation systems for processing orders often go wrong e.g. could move all operational systems online e.g. main competitor has just invested in new IT system
Staff Quality of, creativity, correct numbers and in the right jobs? e.g. good staff in place, need to review rewards programme to retain
Style Is there enthusiasm for the business? e.g. Not all managers are willing to change
Skills Are the skills in place for what is needed? e.g. Competitor has just up-skilled all staff with qualifications
Shared values Do these exist? Are they beneficial? Are there ones which should be obliterated? e.g. All committed to customer service, product quality and zero defects

Part of a marketing audit is competitor benchmarking. Really understanding what the competitors offer. The more you understand how they work, the more likely you are to be able to predict their next move. You won’t be one of these companies that says “we never saw it coming”.  One of my clients ensured they always got the early news on their key competitor by buying some of their shares! It meant they had access to latest reports, newsletters and could attend annual meetings to hear what other shareholders thought. This was all for an investment of £150.

Step 3. Objectives - Create sustainable objectives: Where do we want to go?

It’s easy to create general objectives; it’s harder to develop SMART objectives.

Taking this one stage further, businesses that use numbers alone often miss key values inside the business. It’s easy to become numbers-driven; it’s harder to create ‘softer’ objectives. In Emarketing Excellence (2012) Dave Chaffey and PR Smith developed the 5s model, initially as a mechanism for reviewing websites. I’ve used this for many years to develop business objectives. It tends to challenge the thinking within a business and gets the owners and managers considering the business as a whole, rather than sales alone.

Look at your business. Do you have SMART objectives for:

  • The sales forecast; sales figures, number of new clients wanted?
  • Customer service; how can you improve the service to customers?
  • Communication (speak) providing information to clients?
  • Saving time, increasing your business efficiency and reducing costs?
  • The wow factor!  Adding sizzle to make your business stand out from the crowd?

Step 4. Strategy: Segment your customer base

Key strategic initiatives for your business will include one or more of these options:

  • Enter new markets
  • Develop new products
  • Improve the competitive position of the business
  • Maintain the competitive position
  • Harvest part of the business
  • Exit the business

When you know the strategic initiatives the business is taking, it’s easier to segment your customer base, whether you’re B2B, B2C or a blend of both. You can use the mnemonic SUPERB to identify your customer segments:

  • Size – Is the market large enough to justify segmenting?
  • Unique – Do measurable differences exist between segments?
  • Profits – Do anticipated profits exceed the costs of additional marketing plans and other changes?
  • Easy Access – Is each segment easily accessible to your team?
  • Reaction – Is the market able to react to your communications?
  • Benefits – Will the different segments need different benefits?

Step 5. Strategy: Target new customers and position your business

Growing a business always involves finding new customers, this may be different segments or markets and may encourage your business to look at product development.

What opportunities are there in your business to:

  • Sell more of your existing products or services to your existing customer base? (Market Penetration Strategy)
  • Introduce your existing product range to a new customer group? (Market Development Strategy)
  • Augment or improve the existing product offer? (Product Development Strategy)
  • Move into a new market with a new product offer using the skills within the business? (Diversification Strategies)

And which of these strategies are your main competitors using?

Step 6. Tactics and Action - Create your marketing action plan

The key to making it happen is to create a detailed marketing action plan. If you don’t have time to conduct each step yourself, you can explore other options and contract out specific tasks to an external consultant or agency.

I have found that an Action Plan that includes more detail, nominates someone to do the work and sets dates by when it should be completed, is more likely to get done than a loose set of instructions. A good action plan becomes ’work instructions’ for different people. This enables busy marketing managers to enlist support from the admin team who often relish the opportunity to carry out new tasks, as long as they have a detailed brief.

Step 7.  Control - Monitor, manage and improve

The final step is about monitoring action, managing the process and measuring results. The 7 steps to make your plan happen are:

  1. It is essential to maintain the impetus, start the plan today, not tomorrow.
  2. Appoint one person to monitor the entire plan and give them the authority to do so.
  3. Regular meetings should be held to review the plan.  These could be 20 minute meetings at the start of the week.
  4. If you don’t do it today, your competitors will start tomorrow.
  5. If one item is difficult to start, move on to the next area.
  6. At the end of each quarter, review what has taken place and where more help is needed.
  7. The most successful businesses stick to the plan and make it happen – whilst still getting on with the day job.

One final tip; set a start and an end date for creating the marketing plan, if not, the audit stage could continue indefinitely!

What other tips could you share about ensuring a marketing plan is in place or effective?

By Annmarie Hanlon

Annmarie Hanlon is the Smart Insights expert commentator on online and offline marketing strategies for business. Annmarie is the MD of Evonomie and author of Quick Win Marketing, and co-author of Quick Win Digital Marketing. She runs social media workshops in the UK and Ireland and shares marketing tips and news in her blog, B2B Marketing. You can follow Annmarie on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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