Writing a Marketing Plan
The marketing plan is similar to a business plan in that it requires analysis of your company, your market, and your industry. It differs in that it also lays out your plan for competing in the market. The marketing plan also helps you and your employees stay on track when “the next best thing in marketing” arises. If the opportunity fits within your plan—go for it. If it veers in a direction that doesn’t fit your goals, take a pass. You can build a marketing program without a marketing plan, but without proper analysis and planning you may not see your desired results. The basic elements of a marketing plan follow:
Include your company’s mission statement that you developed during your business planning process. As a reminder, the mission statement is a short, written sentence or paragraph that explains your business goals and ideals and broadly describes your product, services, and target market.
In this section explain both your company’s objectives in doing business and your marketing objectives. Your company objective could include how you hope to position your company and what you hope to achieve in the marketplace. For example, an objective for a Web development company could be: To build the company’s position as an industry leader and to remain competitive by providing services using the most current technologies.
Marketing objectives focus on what you want to achieve with your marketing plan. This could include determining if there is a market for your product, finding out which market to serve or deciding if you want to offer a new product or service.
External analysis involves researching your market to determine the driving forces that will affect how you market your business to customers. Key areas to study are:
Market Size—This includes details on the amount of money spent on products and services similar to yours, demand for your product, and consumer behaviors that drive purchasing.
Market Growth—This includes information about the potential for growth in the market. Think about whether it is a niche market with little room for growth, a market that is expanding, or a market that is contracting. Be as detailed as possible.
Competitors—Include a general overview of competitor categories and descriptions of major competitors. Details about how companies compete in the market (such as through word-of-mouth or referrals) are helpful. Also include advertising and promotional expenditures for competitors and marketing tactics they frequently use. This information can often be found in annual reports and on company Websites.
Relevant Trends—Relevant trends include those that affect the demand for your product and change the marketplace.
Buying Patterns—List the groups most likely to purchase your product or service and how they make their purchases. Some questions to ask are: Do the customers buy your product seasonally or is it something they buy year-round? Do they contract for similar services for the long-term or on a per-event basis? How long does is generally take for a customer to complete the buying process? When you understand how your customers make purchases, you can better determine how to serve their needs.
Market Segmentation—Identity the different situation factors, operating variables, and demographics that affect the customer breakdown in your market.
Now it’s time to take a look at your company by examining the four Ps, product, place, promotion and pricing. An analysis of the following areas should be included in your plan:
Product—Provide an overview of the product or service you provide. Be specific. Include information about how your product works, what it looks like, what your service entails, and any other relevant product information.
Place—Place is an overview of where you sell your product or service. Include any specific cities or geographic regions you serve and restrictions that limit the locations you serve.
Promotion—Include how you currently promote your business.
Pricing—Determine how you will price your product. Review price trends among your competitors. For example, when I first started consulting I provided a quote to a customer for Web design. The cost I quoted was $500, not knowing the company already had a quote for $10,000. I wasn’t offering the bells and whistles that the other company included in their quote, but I could have come in around $3,000. It a good idea to survey competitors to see what the going rate for your service is to avoid pricing too high or too low. Also consider your costs. Since your ultimate goal is to make a profit, choose a selling price that covers expenses while leaving room for profit.
Company Factors—List items unique to your company’s operations that will affect your marketing decisions. This can include the risk level you are willing to take to remain competitive. It can also include your priorities for growing your business. For example, if you offer a Web consulting service and your competitive advantage is quality, your priority may be to put financial resources towards maintaining your technology systems. You may also hire staff and contractors that are highly trained in the technologies your company uses.
Market Factors—Market factors include such things as your customer base, the current market climate, how sales growth is measured, and geographic factors.
The next section of your marketing plan is the internal versus external analysis, or SWOT analysis. This is similar to the SWOT analysis performed when creating a business plan, however your lists should include items general to the marketplace, not specific to your company. To start writing this section, assess your company’s strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the marketplace. Also, make a list of opportunities and threats that exist in the marketplace that will affect your company. For example include government regulations that may have a positive impact on the market. Other areas to include are trends, market conditions, economic conditions, changing rules and standards, and changes in market demand for your product. Use the information you included in the previous sections to perform the analysis.
Choosing Marketing Alternatives
The final step in your marketing plan is to develop a set of marketing alternatives that support the conclusions you have drawn from your research into the market and your company review. The alternatives should be concise and should focus on what you will do, not how you will do it. Marketing planning is more than creating a brochure or website. Those are marketing tools to support your chosen alternative. The alternatives you identify should revolve around pricing, place, product, and promotion.
For example, if the marketing plan is for a Web design company that hopes to expand its services the alternatives could be:
- Add Web development capabilities to serve current client base better.
- Partner with a Web development provider that has programming capabilities.
- Expand services to include copywriting for websites.
Your final step is to choose an alternative and describe your plan for making the alternative successful. This is where you include information about the marketing tools, also known as the marketing mix, you will incorporate.