Now that 2014 is well underway, the messy business of planning can begin. I know we all think that preparation and resolutions are solely a January pursuit, but in my experience the real planning begins somewhere between recovering from New Year and just before Easter eggs start appearing.
Coffee in hand, it's worth considering the following 4 steps when designing your marketing plan.
Step 1 - Ask
What does your business want to achieve this year and how can marketing contribute to meeting those goals?
Define specifics, (marketing will do XYZ) and then tactics, which are the tools to make XYZ happen (social media, direct mail, campaigns etc). Asking what your business needs from marketing, makes it far easier to choose tactics and show your contribution month on month. The result might be something like - increase sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography. With this goal in place you can weigh up the options to decide which marketing activities will have most impact. These are the bare bones of your marketing plan.
Step 2 - Agree
Make sure everyone in the organisation knows what to expect from marketing by agreeing specifics in advance. The devil really is in the detail, so make sure you include timelines, budget/resource constraints and a definition of what success looks like.
To go back to the example, increasing sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography - this could mean you need to attract more new customers or make existing customers more profitable. The timeframe set could be to coincide with a product launch or quarter earnings release and the geography target might be building on work done in previous years, or to gain first mover advantage. Being clear on the “why's”, will clarify future marketing decisions and highlight any budget or resource constraints before they become critical.
Step 3 - Build
Produce a detailed marketing plan. A month by month overview of marketing activities will highlight any gaps or clashes with projects from other departments and help you see how your brand will reach customers. Remember to show who each activity is aimed at (existing customer, new lead, internal etc) and what you expect the target group to do as a result of each marketing activity. Setting the scene will help your business feel informed and open communication channels. Without this, sales teams (and others) often develop their own materials, leading to all kinds of mixed messages to your market.
Think of your marketing plan as a story. What do your potential customers need to know about your company, to help them choose your product over all available alternatives? What are the frequently asked questions you need to address? Your plan should focus on delivering consistent, relevant and personal information to the waiting world.
Step 4 - Engage
- Create your marketing plan so your activities flow like a conversation between your company and your audience.
- Get your brand recognized both off and online, by using the same fonts, tone, colours and imagery.
- Create messaging and employ tools which meet the needs of your audience.
- Consult with sales and customer service before crafting content to ensure best fit.
- Spend time creating content that resonates.
- Show how your product/service solves a problem or provides a benefit.
- Think about why customers might use/buy your brand rather than alternatives.
- Make it clear what makes your product unique.
- Listen for feedback from your customers, fellow employees, bloggers, social media etc.
Simple as it seems, planning is never a sequential exercise, so grab whichever part gets your attention first and get started. For new businesses much of the above will involve educated guesswork using one of the many free tools available to better understand your target market.
Having a plan means you have something to chart your progress and measure your results against. How else will you know when to crack open the champagne?