It is a lot of work to prepare an annual Marketing Plan. After all, a company’s Marketing Plan should itemize — in great detail — all of the company’s goals, the objectives to reach those goals and the strategies to operationalize each objective. It is also supposed to clarify the target audience, provide a competitive analysis, set the budget and identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on the horizon. It should also focus on pricing and sales strategy. That is a lot of information to think about, research and then crystalize into a document. It takes a lot of time to think through the vision for what a company wants to accomplish in the year ahead.
It is so much work that many small and mid-sized companies simply do not prepare a formal, written Marketing Plan. Often, a Marketing Director will write out some high level goals and itemize some new strategies that target those goals. In reality, the typical Marketing Director has neither the time nor inclination to write an in-depth document that – in some cases – even the company’s leadership will not read. Moreover, a lot of leaders don’t want to commit to a budget or plan, if one is proposed. Instead, many small to mid-sized organizations want to take a more casual approach to marketing. Any planning that is done is never done more than weeks or months in advance. If so many businesses shrug off writing a Marketing Plan, why do business schools teach marketers how to prepare an Annual Marketing Plan and why do management experts harp on the need for an Annual Marketing Plan? Is that approach – a 12-month plan — even valid anymore in such a rapidly-changing global marketplace?
Hitting the Bulls Eye
An Annual Marketing Plan is necessary. In fact, while always important, it could be argued that having an Annual Marketing Plan now is even more important than before. It is precisely because of the rapid pace of change that having a full, formal Marketing Plan is so important. Knowing where a business is headed is a big part of figuring out how to make it a success. While every company should have a Business Plan, a comprehensive Marketing Plan should actually be the focal point of any business because it describes how to attract and retain customers in this fast-changing landscape… the most crucial aspect of any business.
Four Key Reasons to Create a Marketing Plan Every Year
- A formal, written Annual Marketing Plan keeps marketing efforts proactive.
With so many different vehicles and strategies available to market a company, it is very easy to get pulled in different directions. Without an Annual Marketing Plan, management tends to become reactive, chasing every new thing while dropping old campaigns midstream without measuring or evaluating its success. And even if a Marketing Director has in mind a very clear idea of what the goals and strategies for the year are, it is harder to convince the top brass of that vision if it hasn’t been formalized and communicated in writing. Carefully vetted strategies come across as more intentional and thoughtful when presented in writing.
- A sound Marketing Plan makes it easy to evaluate new opportunities.
With the pace of technology, there are new mediums and vehicles to promote businesses springing up every day, and it is easy to lose track of what is and isn’t being done already, and where these strategies fit in or may overlap.
- A Marketing Plan gets your whole organization on the same page.
Everyone in an organization is part of sales and marketing. They are presenting the company to the world as they interact with vendors, potential customers, the media, referral sources, etc. It is incredibly important for all of those messages to align with the company’s prescribed brand message and strategy. If every employee at a company is representing the brand in ways that don’t align with the vision, then that erodes the company’s strength. The Marketing Plan helps to get everyone on the same page about what the vision, goals and strategies are and what the brand message is. It also helps everyone to know all of the steps being taken to promote the brand globally which then helps build employee confidence and loyalty.
- A Marketing Plan facilitates measurement.
Even if none of the other reasons matter, this is the real reason to write a Marketing Plan. It is impossible to measure success if measurable goals are not identified, and if the effectiveness of specific strategies aren’t gauged. How is it possible to decide which strategies to continue, and which to discard, if results aren’t measured and compared? Measurement is what justifies budget allocations.
The development of a Marketing Plan is a process that requires five specific tasks.
- Develop clear and focused insights into why a potential customer would choose to do business with the company.
- Identify with clarity and detail target customers.
- Identify competitors that also want the company’s target customers.
- Identify which competitors the company wants to take customers from.
- Write the brand-positioning statement for target customers.
Here are the sections an annual Marketing Plan should have:
Section 1: Executive Summary – summary of all the other sections in the plan.
Section 2 – Budget – how much is expected to be spent on each area of marketing.
Section 3 – SWOT Analysis – Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities; and Threats facing the company as a whole and in its sales and marketing efforts.
Section 4: Target Audience – demographic profile (e.g., age, gender, location), psychographic profile (e.g., interests) and precise wants and needs of potential customers as it relates to the company’s products/services.
Section 5: Unique Selling Proposition (USP) - what sets the company apart from competitors.
Section 6: Pricing & Positioning Strategy – how will the company’s goods/services be priced and positioned/pitched to potential customers.
Section 7: Distribution Plan – how customers will purchase from the company: online; in person/store; retailer; etc.
Section 8 – Special Offers – strategies to encourage conversion such as sales, promotions, etc.
Section 9 – Marketing Collateral – what items are needed to help convert sales such as premiums, brochures, videos, etc.
Section 10 – Goals, Objectives and Strategies – This is the meat of the Plan. It lists goals the company wants to accomplish, major ways/objectives to accomplish those goals, and specific, actionable steps to achieve the objectives. Every objective should be measurable in order to determine the degree to which it was met.
Once the annual Marketing Plan is written, it should be reviewed with all staff, or at least all managers and sales staff.
Thereafter, the Marketing Plan should be reviewed annually to ensure the goals, objectives, target demographics, market research and marketing activities still make sense. Chances are that the document will need to be tweaked to add new strategies worth trying, modify existing strategies to make them more effective, and remove ineffective strategies. For new businesses and those with a high degree of change, such as technology, finance and real estate, review intervals should be quarterly to ensure that everything is still on track.
With a solid Marketing Plan in place, any business is ready to hit the ground running for the next fiscal year.
Quote of the Week
“To be successful and grow your business and revenues, you must regularly match the way you market your products with the way your prospects learn about and shop for your products.” Brian Halligan
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.