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Expert opinion: why does my business need a marketing plan?

Written by Denise O'Leary on .

Denise O'LearyDenise O'LearyMost business owners appreciate that the direction of your business needs to be mapped out and essential to a marketing plan is knowing your market.

A marketing plan can be defined as a ‘comprehensive document that summarise marketplace knowledge and the strategies and steps taken to in achieving the objective set by marketing managers for a particular period’ (Burk Wood, 2012).

It is not, however, an editorial calendar detailing a list of campaigns or set of budgets.

A good marketing plan will specify logistical details of how to execute your strategy, such as budgets, detailed timescales, allocation of activity to resource, and details of tools and tactics that will be utilised in order to achieve the objectives you’ve set out.

Before you proceed with any marketing activities there are four topics that must be covered within the content of your marketing plan.

These are assessing the situation, develop a marketing strategy, craft your marketing program, and determining your controls, benchmarks and measurement process.


Assess the current situation

This includes:

  • What resources do you have available to you?
  • Analyse your market space.
  • What are your businesses internal strengths and weaknesses? What are your opportunities and threats?
  • Assessing the competition and analyse the competitive environment.
  • Assess the macro environment- on a social, economic, political and technological level. Assess the opportunities and challenges of these.
  • Establish critical issues to be addressed in your marketing activities.

Develop a marketing strategy

The focal point of an organisations marketing strategy is to develop relationships with customers to understand their needs, and develop goods/services which meet these needs.

What an organisation aims to achieve through this marketing strategy will depend on the particular business and where they want to go, but generally include overall business aims such as; increasing sales or market share, bring in new customers or getting new customers to buy more, introducing new products/services, better establishing a brand, launching advertising campaign, retaining existing profitable customers and ensuring the business stays fresh and new.

Imperative to a successful marketing strategy is that its put in writing, simple to understand, realistic and has a clear path of action.

There are several steps required to develop marketing strategy, which we will look at in turn. First and foremost is research. Detailed analysis is needed on three levels:

  • Market analysis- What is the size of your market? How quickly is it growing? What are your customers spending and lifestyle habits?
  • Competitor analysis- How do direct and indirect competitors compare with your organisation on all aspects of sales and marketing? (E.g. brand, price, customers, convenience of location, sales and channels)
  • Company analysis - What is your organisations overall business objective? How will you achieve these? What are the strengths of the organisation? What are the weaknesses?

Next, you need to identify target customers in relation to your organisation, conducting more detailed customer research if necessary.

Describe your target audience in terms of demographics (age, gender, family composition, earning and geographical location) and lifestyle. For business-to-business marketing, you will need to define your target audience based on their type of business, job titles, size of business, and other characteristics that make them possible prospects.

Regardless of the target audience, it’s important to define them narrowly as this will affect your later media and public relations campaign.

Following this, customers need to be segmented and positioned.

  • Segment - further group your existing target customers according to what they need from your business. For example, some customers will want cost-effectiveness, others will focus on quality, and others may be more concerned about the customer service delivered.
  • Position - where your business stands in relation to others for each of your customer segments. For instance, other companies might be positioned as cheaper, and others may be positioned with higher perceived quality.

Next, you need to examine your product/service and form a plan of how your business is going to market that distinguishes it from competitors. This can be done according to:

  • Unique Selling Point (USP) - What does the product offer that other products/businesses can’t? These will be a basis for building compelling brand position. Is this obvious to customers? Highlighting the difference between you and competitors is crucial – don’t make too many assumptions – test these with research on your target audience.
  • Benefits – How do you create stand-out on the benefits your product/service offers to the customer? These might vary between different customer segments. To do this you need to look beyond the actual product, and look at the augmented product/service, which adds value. For example, Starbucks, to customers, is more than a place to buy coffee. It’s a place to relax and have a chat. This is your unique value proposition.

Your USP may not be the physical delivery of the product or service - you need to seek out the internalised benefit for the clients.

For example, you might consider the USP is that you deliver pizza faster than local competitors, but the benefit for the customer is that they don’t have to cook and can therefore spend more time with their family.

Each organisation needs to define customers’ benefits in order to shape the marketing message.

Whilst doing these steps, you need to have your marketing mix in mind; the critical mass in combination of all the different marketing tools that you use to communicate your benefits to customers.

These could include the form of advertising you are going to use and any promotional offers, the price, which distribution channels you’ll use, online or offline; and which shops, if any, will sell your product.

Also to consider is the people who are involved in the delivery, the repeatable process they activate and the physical evidence associated with your offer.

The Seven P’s can be used when putting your marketing mix together (Product, Place, Price, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence).

Craft your marketing program

For this you need to outline the product message, pricing strategy, channels you will communicate across and your promotional plans. Consistency is key – make sure the elements are joined up and seamless.

Determine your controls benchmarks, and measurement process

Measurement of activity is essential to determine Return on Investment (ROI). Control benchmarks could include:

  • Budgets and resources
  • Critical success factors
  • Key performance indicators (KPI’s) - goals of what your marketing plan is set out to achieve need to be measurable so you can monitor whether they are being achieved. It might be, for instance, that you want to make a 30% return on investment.
  • Preferred technology solution and platforms.

Marketing Plans that Work

Once you’ve established what your marketing plan is set out to achieve, you must then decide on the communication channels you will use to do this.

You should outline tactics you’ll use to reach objectives at all the points in the sales cycle. To do this, you might have to find out which medium of communication your specific target market responds best to in order to identify a marketing mix best suited to your customers.

Broad-based media should generally be avoided since the content may not be relevant to your target audience. Your communicated message must also reach your target customers when they are most receptive.

If starting out with a business, this may require you to reinvest profits back into the business or even self-financing.

You may also need to adjust and readjust marketing tactics you hope to deploy until you find a mix that is within your budget.

A percentage of your projected gross sales should be allocated to your annual marketing budget, as it is key to be continuously marketing. In its nature your marketing plan is likely to be amendable to change and adaptable.

As costing, market conditions, economic conditions and other factors change you’ll need to adjust you market plan to accommodate this. Marketing plans are therefore subject to change as conditions do.

SWOT analysis – don’t forget the obvious!

A SWOT analysis is familiar to most in the business world, consisting of an assessment of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The elements of Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the organisation, and those of Opportunities and Threats are external to the organisation.

The model provides a lens through which to see the business objectively and does not necessarily need to be for the entirety of the business.

It can be very productive to carry out a SWOT analysis on a specific market sector or an individual product. 

Whilst many can put statements ‘in the boxes’ on the 2 x 2 grid, they do not follow up with the next step, which should be to assess the matches across the matrix to determine future opportunities and counter identified risks.

  • Strengths / opportunity matches - these are the obvious natural priories for focus. Likely to be quickest to implement, providing potentially greatest Return on Investment (ROI) and should justify immediate attention for action planning and feasibility analysis.
  • Weakness / threat matches - these require immediate assessment of potential risk. High risk items require very specific planning and control to either mitigate or eliminate, low risk items should be part of awareness but should not be a distraction.

Whilst the above are the bi-polar opposites of each other, the middle ground of opportunity should not be dismissed or ignored. Indeed, it may lead to first mover advantage.

  • Weakness / opportunity matches - may be potentially attractive if capability and implementation are viable. These can be exciting developments that could be a strategic fit and benefit from a new challenge or change in circumstance.
  • Strength / threat matches - these should be simple to defend against and implement counter measures. Investment requires awareness, planning and implementation so the organisation is properly informed, meaning that there are no hidden surprises.

Competitor insight

You shouldn’t just conduct a SWOT analysis for your business, but also for your competitors, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By having an understanding of what competitors do well and not so well, it will enable you to gain a competitive advantage.

It will it help you to predict the direction they are moving in, but may also help you to avoid doing the same if you identify threats and weaknesses with these.

It is also important to think long term as your businesses competitive landscape might differ within a year. Hints may be found about competitors intended direction in their marketing strategy, how they communicate with their customers and previous behaviour.

It’s important to not underestimate who is a competitor. Every business that has the potential to impact on your profits should be considered a competitor.

Indirect competitors are also essential to consider, and look at timescale related to activity. If a company are in a better position than your organisation (e.g. larger workforce or research and development team) they might be in a better position to capture your market share.

Competitors can also be a source of inspiration! When introducing a new product/service you may identify elements you like best from several competitors and incorporate them to yours in order to better position your product/service and address a customer need.

Competitors can help to form the basis for your own ideas.

Denise O'Leary is managing director and founder of specialist marketing agency Purpol Marketing: 07966 333657 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. www.purpolmarketing.co.uk