Marketing plans identify your product, price and potential audience; quite simply, they control the implementation of your business's promotional activities
Alongside your long-term business strategy, and plans for operations and finance, the marketing plan is essential in successfully running, growing and profiting from your venture.
As Colin Bradshaw, professor in management practice at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, explains, the marketing plan 'is all about how you present your business to customers and potential customers'.
What is a marketing plan?
Essentially, marketing plans help you to:
- decide on your positioning in relation to competitors;
- choose your pricing structure and calculate expected sales;
- identify customers, planning how you'll communicate your business to them through branding and promotion;
- understand your routes into market.
Professor Steve Johnson, head of marketing and business strategy at Hull University Business School, adds that marketing plans provide a fantastic return on minimal investment.
'Developing a marketing plan might seem like an expensive, time-consuming and perhaps unnecessary exercise for a young entrepreneur,' he says. 'But not thinking about your marketing strategy can prove disastrous.
'Customers don't automatically know about your product or service, however great you think you it is. There are many other businesses vying for the attention of your target customers, so you must ensure that your business is at the front of their minds.
'This doesn't necessarily mean huge investment in hiring marketing consultants or advertising agencies; attention to a few key points will go a long way towards setting you on the road to business success.'
Establish brand identity
Analysing your market truly contextualises your product or service. Nada Giuffrida, digital PR marketing specialist at Hallam Internet, advises undertaking a comprehensive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to understand competitors' offerings - and identify why yours is superior or different. 'No commercial product or service will survive without thorough research into its market value first,' she adds.
Establishing brand identity and positioning relies on identifying and segmenting potential customers. Before targeting them with promotional activities, you must fully appreciate their wants and needs to truly identify your unique selling point. 'The customer is revenue; you must see the world through their eyes,' assesses Colin. 'Why should they bother with your product or service? What does it do for them? Why does it help them?'
This also affects price. It's important that you set your price correctly; undercharging or overcharging can have dramatic effects on your business. Your pricing structure must cover costs, be reasonable to customers and provide profit. It should also account for the perceived value and quality of your product, and any credit terms, discounts or promotional offers.
Promote your product
Once you've targeted your market, you must communicate information in a way that best highlights your key benefits. A range of promotional strategies - including advertising, personal selling, public relations, direct marketing and online marketing - should be used. You must also consider the distribution of your product or service - in other words, how you'll get it to customers.
Dr Wen-Ling Liu, lecturer in marketing at Hull University Business School, says that it's vital to understand that marketing is a long-term process and, as such, working on your marketing plan will take time. Always use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) targets; these will help you to understand exactly what you want to achieve, and by when.
'Strengthen your communication skills - as these are important to write and present a credible plan,' advises Dr Liu. 'Critically evaluate the marketing data, keep plans manageable, and be flexible for the implementation of your plan - monitor it and control it.'
Nada agrees strongly, claiming that marketing plans keep you focused and organised. 'It's a great way of keeping track of what did and didn't work, and what can be improved,' she adds. 'It's a flexible, organised document that must be reviewed regularly. Nothing is set in stone; if you feel that your remit changes, go with the flow and adjust your marketing plan to reflect that.'