If a business plan is essential to starting your enterprise right, a Marketing Plan is perhaps the most important thing to develop in order to keep your company alive. We’ve heard it said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” We all started our businesses with success in mind. If we liken our products and services to the body, then marketing is the blood pumping through it. A marketing plan is an effective way to make sure we keep the supply flowing.
Marketing vs. Advertising
Let me address the difference between marketing and advertising in simple terms. Advertising is printing a few thousand flyers and hiring someone to stand on a corner and hand them out. Although dressing that person in a catchy outfit might get more attention (think Statue of Liberty for a certain tax chain), this is still the buck-shot approach to getting the word out. Basically, you’re loading the gun and then firing randomly at everyone that passes by, hoping you hit the right target. Marketing, on the other hand, involves first identifying the people most likely to use your products and/or services, determining the way(s) in which they will use them, designing advertising messages that speak to those needs, and then establishing a delivery system that makes sure those people you first identified receive the message. You’re more like a skilled marksman taking aim at the same target. The marksman will win, hands down, and be more efficient while doing it. That’s a world of difference, and it’s what makes or breaks a business. You can see why companies in the U.S. spend hundreds of billions annually on advertising! Most small businesses don’t have deep-pocket advertising budgets, however. What can they do to compete? Consider the following.
Elements of a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan should identify and help you understand the needs of your target market, as well as evaluating your competitive position in the market (a fancy way of saying “find out what people want and figure out how you can give it to them”). You need to know what you do well and what needs work (so that you can build on your positives and work on your negatives). You also need to know the other players in the sandbox, and gauge their strengths and weaknesses (yep, we’re talking about Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats, or SWOT analyses for all you business and marketing majors…and everyone else, for that matter; MindTools.com has a great tool and video tutorial for creating one). It should address how you’ll reach your target market and what makes you different from (and hopefully better than) your competitors. Finally, it should state your marketing budget. Essentially, you determine how much you plan to spend on marketing, and how long you will engage in your various strategies before seeing a return.
It’s very important to have some sort of metric (a standard) by which you can determine effectiveness. You certainly need lagging indicators (results) by which you can analyze whether a methodology produced good results over a period of time (gross sales during a fiscal quarter, for example). It’s also good to have leading indicators if possible (activities) to make sure that you are doing your part to make the plan work. Additionally, don’t view your numbers as set in stone. You may need to pump in additional funds to cover an unanticipated opportunity (for instance, you get word last-minute that a networking event likely to attract potential customers is happening next week). Also, when evaluating the effectiveness of a particular tactic, don’t immediately assume you need to eliminate it. First determine if the time allotted was realistic, and even if it was, determine if, in your particular case, allowing additional time will bring you a desirable Return on Investment (ROI).
This is often tricky. For example, you may find it hard to figure out how effective are your printed materials (brochures, catalogs, product sheets, etc.). Still, consider the impact not having them would have on your business before deciding on eliminating what many consider necessary items.
Facing the Challenge Head On
Make no mistake; preparing a marketing plan takes time, money, and dedication. Many business owners would take root-canal surgery over having to sit down and develop these strategies (no offense to dentists)! However, the payoff is more than worth the effort. Remember, it’s your business. Its success will largely reflect your effort and determination. So, be determined to design a well-crafted marketing plan, and reap the benefits in terms of increased growth and profitability!
You can find a more detailed discussion of the specifics needed to develop a business plan in this document from www.missouribusiness.net; if you have any questions or want additional help, contact me in the office at 646-340-8087