When you are busy setting up a business it can be easy to underestimate the importance of both marketing plans and strategic planning.
It’s worth thinking of your marketing plan as a road map for your business. It will help you answer questions such as what do my customers want? Why will customers buy my product? And how will I communicate my product’s attributes and benefits and where and when will I do this?
Marketing plans usually cover between one and three years, and are ideally part of a business plan.
The Importance of Planning
Marketing planning can help you manage important matters such as peaks and troughs in demand and seasonal opportunities. Planning can help you look at how you might vary aspects of your marketing mix to take account of these factors. Planning can also help you decide when you might carry out some research, amend your prices or update your packaging. Marketing plans can also help you manage the most appropriate timing for when you advertise or promote your product.
When integrated into your business plan, marketing planning can also help with matters such as scheduling production and avoiding nasty surprises such as stock shortfalls or overstocking. It will also help you secure the confidence of those in your distribution and retail network that you are professional and committed to helping them sell more of your product to their advantage.
Longer term planning is also important. It will help you think ahead about how to achieve your business objectives for the next 2 or 3 years - in other words for the time beyond the twelve month marketing plan that you should have for the year ahead.
The Planning Process
A basic planning process can simplify and clarify the things you need to do to build and sustain a successful business. It can be useful and time saving to break down the process into the key areas of analysis, planning, implementation and control.
This initial stage is about looking at the market opportunity for your product. It can be useful to conduct what is known as a SWOT analysis to get a clear view of your market.
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Under each heading, write down a list of issues that you consider could have an impact either positively or negatively on your business success.
The most important thing is to be realistic -as it’s on this basis that you’ll make the best and most robust decisions. For example, if you are in a sector where there are already lots of products, this could be a threat or weakness. However these issues may be outweighed if you have a particular advantage such as a unique source of ingredients or an ability to produce your product for a lower than average cost.
In summary, a SWOT analysis allows you to more fully understand what can be achieved based on a realistic look at both the challenges and opportunities presented by your business situation.
A good marketing plan should be part of your business plan and will be short, concise and to the point. It should also be actionable – so any planned investment should be realistic and based on a proven ability to fund any marketing investment. It will also need to take into account any fluctuations that might arise such as seasonality or peaks in demand.
Turning your plan into action is vital. Your marketing plan only comes to life and has value when you develop the activities to implement it. Commit to what you have decided and adhere to the timings you have set out. Make sure everyone in your business is familiar with the plan as it relates to them, knows what the objectives are and most importantly -what their role is in helping achieve the plans objectives.
Controlling the plan simply means making sure that someone is responsible for plan implementation and the measurement and monitoring of results on a weekly or monthly basis. Remember – the marketing plan should be a ‘live’ document and a valuable business tool, so it needs to be treated as such. Use the document to check how the business is performing ‘against the plan’. Such regular benchmarking will help see what is working and what is not. It should also give you the option of being flexible - applying resources (however limited) to areas where there is the greatest return or perhaps diverting resources from areas that may have proven less effective.
Key Marketing Plan Components
In general a worthwhile marketing plan will have the following components:
• An introduction – sets the scene and outlines the context
• Business Overview- a summary of objectives in sales volume and value
• Market Review- an outline of what is happening in the market and current/future trends
• Brand Activity Review – a summary of previous marketing activity and its impact on sales
• Strategic Intent – specific objectives to be achieved if the business plan is to succeed
• Activation –planned marketing activities under the ‘Four P’s’ headings
• Budget Breakdown – the specific monthly allocation of marketing expenditure
• Performance Monitoring – the ongoing review of sales and revenue v’s the original plan