How to Write a Basic Marketing Plan
Failure to Plan . . .
Creating a basic, "bare bones" marketing plan is simple, but for the uninitiated, it can seem to be a daunting task—even for talented new entrepreneurs and small business owners. However, since the old saying, "failure to plan is planning to fail," is true more often than not, it's probably a good idea to learn how to create a simple marketing plan if you are, or you're hoping to one day become, a marketer.
As a marketing consultant and former college marketing professor, I believe the word “plan” simply sounds foreboding. My experience with clients and MBA students leads me to believe that the “planning” of anything tends to conjure up images of hours and hours of intensive and dull, laborious work. But it doesn't have to be. Even though it might sound scary, creating a simple marketing plan is not that difficult. And, it’s something that should always be done before executing marketing activities and before attempting to measure/assess the effectiveness of marketing efforts—both of which are crucial to the ultimate success of any business. A plan will help you improve the chances for success of your marketing activities, and the likelihood of achieving your desired results.
This Hub provides a description of the essential elements needed in the marketing planning process, and offers advice and suggestions to help in preparation of a simple marketing plan that can be adapted to fit the basic marketing needs of just about any type of business or service.
There are many variations in the format and number of elements included in different marketing plans because each plan is custom-tailored to fit the situation, circumstances, and business/marketing needs of a particular product, service, entrepreneur, or business owner. Still, for our purposes, there are some bare bones/standard elements that should be included in any marketing plan. These elements include the basic 4P’s of the “Marketing Mix” which are product, price, place (distribution channels), and promotion, plus several other related and crucial considerations.
Target Market: Include in your plan a good description of your ideal customer. Make sure your description creates a “living, breathing, human” with a name, a personality, a job or income, a lifestyle, and, of course, hopes and dreams. Also, tell how your product or service “fits” into the life/lifestyle of your ideal customer.
Positioning Statement: How would you like your intended customers to think about your product/service, versus competitive offerings? Think about what it is that sets your product, service, or business apart from others like it, from your competitors. What is unique about your business, product, or brand, versus your direct competitors? You'll probably find a whole list of things that set you apart, and the next questions will help you decide which of these to focus on. Which of these factors is/are most important to your ideal customer? Now, what is one, or several words, you would use to describe how you want your customers to think of your offering.
Benefits You Are Offering: Describe the benefits/advantages your customers receive from using your product, service, or from patronizing your business.
What is most important to your ideal customers when they’re buying what you are selling? Are product/service features more important? Or, are benefits more important to your ideal customer? For example, after developing a salt that would be free-running even in damp weather, Morton Salt created a unique slogan to advertise their product, "When it rains, it pours." This is a benefit and a feature, because salt once clumped together in damp weather. Who wants salt clumping together when it rains? So, customers got the benefit of free-flowing salt, no matter what the weather was like. This benefit was also a "feature" of the product. Other features can be any and all "bells and whistles" that come with a product. Tech gadgets with lots of buttons and flashy stuff designed to make usage (and life) simple and easy are often seen as great features.
Some products (such as cigarettes, liquor, and perfume) sell brands based on emotional, "borrowed values," instead of strictly on product features. Users are encouraged to believe they are getting the "benefits" of intangibles such as sex appeal or a more satisfying/fun lifestyle, perhaps portrayed by a famous or beautiful spokesperson for a particular brand.
Pricing Strategy: Explain what method you will use to price your offering to your ideal customers. After considering costs of production and marketing expenses, how much will you add in order to make a profit? This determination should ensure that the offering of your product/service brings value to customers while also contributing to the revenue/profitability of your business.
Sales Strategy: Discuss both the methods you will use to achieve sales (sales strategy) and sales tactics (sales activities) you plan to use. Success in selling is based on use of effective strategy and tactics. Sales strategy refers to your plan for sales activities: How you will reach your ideal customers? What competitive differences and resources are available for you to use? Tactics include a “nuts and bolts” description of your day-to-day selling activities, such as your sales process, prospecting, and follow-up. Will you be looking to directly reach only your ideal customers? Or will you also be seeking ways to sell to them through other influences (such as membership associations, suppliers)?
Distribution strategy: Describe how your offering to ideal customers will be delivered to them—through a retail outlet, online, through printed material? How will you ensure your product is there for them, at the right place and the right time for purchase? Will you distribute your product through use of an intermediary (through wholesaler and then retailer?), or will you sell directly to the customer?
Service Strategy: Customer service, ultimately, will define any company. Therefore, you need to include a description of how you plan to increase customer “engagement.” Providing great service helps companies survive, especially in a tough economy. How will you connect in genuine ways that add value to what you are offering your ideal customer? What practical methods and strategies will you use for the purpose of delivering great service experiences to your ideal customer? Include in your description how you will balance providing great customer service with increasing the cost-effectiveness of your resources.
Promotion Strategy: Use what you know about your ideal customers and how they make buying decisions in order to determine which promotional methods would be most effective in reaching them. Will you be using a “push” or a “pull” strategy?
Pushing involves taking your product directly to the customer (face-to-face direct selling, point-of-sale displays, trade promotions to encourage retail demand), while pulling involves bringing the customer to you (through means such as advertising, word-of-mouth, discounts, etc.). Pull strategies encourage customers to actively seek out your product, and retailers to stock it based on consumer demand.
Many new products will utilize a push strategy in the introductory period, to create consumer awareness and establish retail channels. Once this is accomplished, a pull strategy might be implemented to ensure steady demand, and to keep supply channels in place.
Marketers Must Stay Alert and Tuned In . . .
You should do your best to stay aware of your marketing environment. A company’s marketing environment consists of the activities and forces outside marketing that affect marketing management and your ability to build and maintain successful relationships with your ideal customer. Marketers must always be mindful of tracking things such as trends (demographics, cultural, customer lifestyle, and so on) and identifying opportunities. That means being cognizant of the interests and moves of competitors, suppliers, and customers, as well as surveying the landscape for political, economic, cultural, or business information with the potential to affect the marketing of your products to your customers.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD