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Components of a successful marketing plan

If the thought of developing a formalised marketing plan is just too daunting to consider, and you are uncertain how to approach the subject, you can still benefit from thinking about your marketing in a structured way.  It is of far greater practical value to have a more informal and user-friendly document if you are uncomfortable with something which is too formal or difficult to digest.

A formal marketing plan which is never referred to and merely occupies a drawer in your filing cabinet is of limited practical value to your business.  It isn’t enough to just have it to ‘check the box’ and say you have one - it needs to be a working document which you use and amend regularly to aid your business planning and future growth.

You can create a viable and effective marketing plan by addressing the following areas:

  • Understand your market and competitors or substitutes

You need to understand the structure of your market and know where you are positioned (market leader, pack member, niche provider etc).  This will help with targeting and pricing strategies as well as helping to more clearly identify the customers you are targeting (high end, middle of the road or bargain seekers).

Will you price high and aim for a more quality-conscious customer, go middle of the road and compete by providing added-value services or will you go with a loss leader and build market share?  Or do you select a niche market and look to be a sole provider?

You also need to be aware of substitutes which may not at first appear to offer the same service or product, but which provide something similar enough to be a potential threat to your market share.  These substitutes could potentially make your services or products obsolete if you don’t find ways to keep pace.

  • Understand your customers

It is absolutely vital that you know who your customers are as precisely as you know your own products or services.  You have to be completely certain what it is they want, what they need, what they expect, what they are willing to spend, what keeps them loyal and what factors influence their decisions to buy.

You need to know from where they get most of their information, what sources of information they prefer to access, how they expect to receive information and how the like to communicate.  Who do they listen to, whose influence do they respond to and who do they trust.

  • Identify your unique selling points (USPs) and select your niche

These are those things which make you unique and different from your competition.  What do you do better, faster or cheaper?  How are you more innovative?  Do you provide better quality, better manufacturing or greater efficiency?

Are there other things which may differentiate you from your competition and also have an impact on the products or services which your customers receive?  Are there particular values, codes of practice or methodologies which your customers would value highly and influence their choice of provider?

  • Develop your communications message

Think about what it is you want to say or offer to your customers… then think about what your customers really need to hear?  Try not to clutter your message with too much information and only focus on the stuff that’s likely to be most important for your customers to hear.

Your communications should raise awareness, generate interest, create desire and cause someone to take action in response.  Try to think about what you want to accomplish with each communication you send.  Do you want them to respond back to you, search your website, place an order or make an enquiry or do you just want to keep them informed?  Keep your objective in mind.

  • Decide how you will let customers know

You need to use the language, style and tone your customers will most likely respond to as well as ensuring that your communications reach them in a format they are used to accessing.  You’ll also need to consider the objective of each communication and determine which format may be most appropriate to your objectives.

You will need to consider which marketing mediums are most appropriate to your requirements.  Will you choose more traditional direct marketing, online marketing or social networking forums, events and seminars, promotional materials or competitions or a combination of several mediums?  Budgetary considerations will also apply of course.

  • Set goals and objectives

This is pretty much common sense stuff.  Without clear goals and objectives it will be difficult to know what it is you hope to achieve or to be able to measure your performance in any sort of meaningful way.

Also, if you aren’t certain what you hope to accomplish, that ambiguity may cause uncertainty for your customers as well and leave them with a vague impression of you, your offer and your communications.

  • Set your budget

Again, this is pretty straight forward stuff.  Look at what you have available to spend and try to work within your limitations.  However, remember that decisions about what you do or how you do it shouldn’t be reliant on cost alone.  Your objectives and what you hope to achieve should still be your biggest consideration.

You can accomplish quite a lot without spending a great deal if you are clever, creative and industrious.  However, beware of false economy as well - don’t try to save at the cost of the success of your marketing activities.

  • Make sure your marketing plan ties into your business plan

If your marketing plan does not effectively knit itself back into the overall objectives within your business plan, you run the risk of being a very busy fool.  Whatever success you may realise may not be aligned with your long-term business development plans, and so your success may only be temporary or without real strategic value.

Additionally, by ensuring that your marketing plan is aligned with your overall business plans, you benefit from a deliberate integration of activities and purpose, with several elements all working together towards the same strategic outcome.  This may allow you to share expense over several areas, maximise available resources and ultimately achieve greater returns.

At the very least, if you can address each of the above elements, you will soon have the basic information you need to formulate a more formalised and comprehensive marketing plan.  Most importantly, you want a document that you are comfortable working with, that you understand fully and can adapt as required.  Try to set aside uninterrupted time to develop your marketing plan - a good plan can help to drive your business forward.