Unfortunately, too many businesses start off their year with a blank calendar instead of a fleshed out marketing plan. FYI, that gives off the opposite of the smell of optimism.
Without a plan, companies generally execute a series of one-off fire drills throughout the year. Sure, they know that they have tradeshows in April and November (have they considered their pre and post-show follow-ups) or maybe they have a new product they’re launching and want to let prospects and clients know through direct mail and outbound calls. Do they have a thought-out social media plan? Do they have an integrated digital strategy?
Companies don’t need a crystal ball; they know what’s going to happen. But, to get the most out of their investment and present their brand with integrated, targeted messaging – a marketing plan can be the map that gets them where they want to go.
Ideally, the marketing plan is comprehensive and includes key deadlines all the way down to the anticipated return-on-investment for each tactic executed. It should use numbers like ‘customer acquisition cost’ and ‘lifetime value of a customer’ to help measure progress (remember, marketing isn’t supposed to cost you money, it’s supposed to make you money).
If you’re among the many with a blank slate, don’t try to create a masterpiece your first time around. We’ve been creating marketing plans for years, and although we use the same process, we’re continually improving by adding new insights and metrics. Don’t get overwhelmed. Starting small is better than not having a plan at all.
Your marketing plan should complement your business plan, think of it as a ‘how to’ for making your business plan come to fruition. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, your marketing plan is a touchstone that you can refer to throughout the year. It should be reviewed and approved by all top-level management and provide clear metrics for what your intended outcome is.
Forbes provides a very simple outline for creating a marketing plan. One of the key points it makes is that you need to clearly define your target audience, and we couldn’t agree more. We’d suggest taking it a step further and put yourself in your target’s shoes. What is it that they want to hear? What are the messages that will resonate with them, and what are the events that cause them to make a buying decision?
Kristin Zhivago, author of “Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy,” stresses prospect-centric marketing. It’s important not just to understand why customers buy, but where they are in the buying cycle. We suggest mapping out your buying cycle, and if you’ve got a long cycle create ‘personas’ for prospects at each stage so you can communicate with them in the most appropriate manner.
Too often we see marketing efforts that reflect what the company wants to say, rather than focusing on what the prospects want to hear. This is a critical distinction and one that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to executing the tactics used in your plan (more on that in our next article).
One of the most overlooked targets in a marketing plan are current customers. Especially in today’s digital age, consumers review products and services with great speed. Nothing will put a company out of business faster than a successful advertising campaign for an inferior product. If your current customers aren’t happy, making them happy should be priority number one. And if they are happy, you have a great opportunity to turn them into champions of your company. As much as most agencies hate to admit it, there’s no better form of marketing than referrals. How do you turn customers into salespeople? Social media? Over-delivering and exceeding expectations? Enhancing your position in the industry as a thought leader and trusted advisor?
Lastly, remember that once you create a marketing plan, you’re not done. Monitor, measure and modify. Your market changes, and so should your marketing plan. According to the Small Business Association, you need to be prepared to alter your budget based on what’s working (and what isn’t) and keep a laser focus on the return on your investment.
Next stop: choosing tactics!