Taking time out over the festive season gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the year we have left behind and make plans for the next year ahead. For business owners, it’s usually a good time to step back from the day to day and come up with new ideas about how to move the business forward.
Before putting together a lead generation campaign or coming up with ideas for a promotion, we always recommend creating a Marketing Plan. You wouldn’t dream of laying bricks before contacting a qualified architect to create the drawings. The same principle applies when it comes to growing a business through successful Marketing. Putting together the foundations of a Marketing Plan may sound like a daunting process for many, yet the basics are very simple. Following the guidelines of the professional Marketing body the Chartered Institute of Marketing to put together a basic Marketing plan, you need to put pen to paper and answer a few key questions:
1. Where are we now?
This involves pulling yourself out of the day to day job and reflecting on what is happening with the business right now. Do you have a purpose or mission statement? Does it still reflect what you do and how you are doing it? What Marketing activities have you undertaken in the past? How effective have they been? What are the strengths of the product or service you offer? Where are the weaknesses? It often helps to ask those working with you or obtain information from recent customer surveys.
Once you have taken an inward look at the business, it’s time to take an outward approach. What are your competitors doing? Drawing on the strengths you listed above, what is it that you have, that your competitors don’t? How can you develop your unique selling points further to take advantage of opportunities coming up in the market? What are those opportunities? How is the market environment where you operate changing? This could include changes in consumer buying behaviour, shifting channel dynamics or a new technological innovation shaking things up. As well as looking at the positives, it is recommended to jot down all those things that might hinder your plans. What are the threats in the market? Are they imminent? What might you do to counter them? Have you got the time and resources to do this?
2. What are the business objectives?
At the centre of any plan is a goal. Sometimes these can feel daunting, especially if you are typically a person who works on the day to day to meet the short-term aim of monthly sales or improved cashflow. It’s useful to imagine where you would like the business to be in five years’ time and then a more detailed view of the objectives for one years’ time. Whilst objectives ideally need to be measurable, you could include a mix of sales targets, turnover/profit aspirations and an overall view of how the business will evolve over the coming year. From these business objectives, you can then create marketing objectives, e.g. website visitors and conversion rates or retail store footfall targets.
3. How are we going to get there?
This is the tricky bit, the strategy. Before you consider any marketing communications strategies, you first need to consider your audience. This involves using the information gleaned in the audit to review your customer base. Which types of customers are the most desirable? Which section of the market is the most accessible and profitable? Think about who represents your ideal customer? You can then put together a profile of the type of buyer you would like to appeal to. There may be more than one group and each group may require a different marketing communications approach.
Once you are clear on who you are looking to target, it is then advisable to reconsider the product or service on offer. Does it need changing? Is the brand appropriate or has the market moved on? Redefining the proposition to include who you are, what you stand for and defining the brand values, can help form effective marketing messaging for your audience.
4. What tools do we use to get there?
This is where you start to put together the marketing communications plan. How do you reach your audience? What do they read? What content do they typically consume and where do they consume it? How to they behave? Is your product or service an impulse buy or something considered over a period of time? How do you adjust your messaging and advertising accordingly? The most important question during this stage of the planning is how much are you willing to invest to make this happen? The size of your available budget will determine which marketing campaign methods to deploy. With a smaller budget, it is advisable to focus on one or two highly targeted activities rather than spread the investment too thinly over several different communication methods.
5. Action plan and measurement
The final stage of the plan is to put together actions. How will it be delivered? Is there resource internally to make this happen or do you need to find additional support? Who will take ownership and responsibility to review the plan on a quarterly basis against the original objectives, to make sure you are on track to achieve them?
In the current challenging times, it may be tempting to argue that it is impossible to plan! Whilst this is partly true, the fundamental questions outlined above help to create a firm foundation to build upon and can be adjusted to fit the changing environment. Growth is more likely to happen if there is a structured plan in place, which can be adapted regularly than when no plan exists at all. If you are just starting out on your new idea or if you have been trading for a while and looking to grow in the New Year, get in touch with us to find out how we can help you put your plan together and how best to deliver it.