What is the difference between advertising and marketing? Who are your current customers? What is the size of the market? Check you've covered these basics.
[We spotted this article in CRN Magazine - it was written for computer resellers, but some of the same advice applies to other types of small businesses. It's an important topic, so we decided to share it with you here.]
Creating a marketing plan is a challenge for every business. First, companies need to understand the difference between marketing and advertising.
Advertising is a tactic to bring in customers. Marketing is about knowing the client and having a good idea what they want from your business.
Advertising is about sales, marketing is about conversations that bring buyers and sellers together for an exchange where both come out with something. There’s a golden rule: marketing is not advertising.
Tip: don't make it too long
The classic marketing plan could run to as much as 200 pages but there are several reasons why the plan should not be too long.
The first is simple: people won’t read it. Another problem is that these sorts of plans have too many tactics and details, so many that the most important things get lost. The final problem is the most serious: any document that large is hard to change. In a fluid market where new trends emerge, where customers and suppliers come and go, that can be disastrous.
What questions should my plan answer?
Good marketing plans need to be clear, concise and convincing. More to the point, anyone creating the plan has to be able to sell it and get support for their recommendations. Good marketing blueprints are tied to the business plan. They are built around rigorous analysis and important questions, like:
- Who are my current customers?
- Who else will buy my product or service?
- Why will they buy it?
- How many will they buy?
- Where do they live?
- What is the size of the market?
- Is it growing?
- Are there segments of users who are not happy with the competition?
- And do any of these segments present an opportunity?
It is impossible to create a good plan without understanding customers, the competition and the market. These insights are critical and you can only create a powerful plan if you have a solid business plan. Marketing plans are built around three foundation stones: goals and objectives, strategic initiatives and tactics. Every marketing plan needs these three sections, even short plans of just a page or so.
Developing your marketing plan
It can take months to write the plan. Developing the plan is the hard part of marketing and executing it - deciding what to do and how to do it - is hard work.
The marketing plan should have no more than three or four goals and objectives. As Jim Kilts, former CEO of Kraft, Gillette and Nabsco wrote in his book, Doing What Matters: “I want rigorous analysis and thoughtful assessments, but I don’t want complexity. If strategies and plans aren’t easily understood by everyone, they will be acted on by no one.”
Or as General Electric chief executive officer Jeff Immelt famously observed: “Every leader needs to clearly explain the top three things the organisation is working on. If you can’t, then you’re not leading well.”
Involve the right people
You need to involve many stakeholders in the marketing plan, everyone from finance to HR. Your key people will provide insights into potential marketing opportunities. If you don’t involve the sales team, for example, you might not discover that more customers are asking for discounts. If you don’t involve human resources, you might not realise that there are some potential skills gaps emerging in your organisation as older and experienced hands move on and retire.
Your key people provide input into what’s achievable and where the potential and as-yet unrealised marketing opportunities might lie. The cross-functional team helps identify the initiatives you need to beat your competitors.
Another reason why it’s important to involve the entire team is that it turns the marketing plan into a magnet that pulls employees together. Getting your employees to feel committed to the company means sharing with them your vision of where the company is heading.
Many people do not understand financial projections, their eyes glaze over when they see the numbers. But everyone understands a well prepared marketing plan that shows them how the future will look.
Tactics: this section spells out how you will make it happen
Tactics are about the four Ps of marketing: price, product, promotion and place. This is the section that should explain how each initiative will be implemented. If the initiative, for example, is about increasing sales to core profitable customers, the tactics need to spell out the programs that will make it happen.
The plan should cover one year
You need to refer to the marketing plan at least quarterly, but it is even better if you do this monthly. You also need to leave space for monthly reports on items like sales and manufacturing. By doing that, you will be able to track performance as you follow the plan.
The plan should cover one year. Things change, people leave and markets evolve.
Customers will come and go. But there should be room for adjustment in the marketing plan if conditions change.
This will not detract from those core ideas behind your goals and objectives, strategic initiatives and tactics. Yes, market conditions change and as a rule, no plan is fool proof. But if there is no plan, the company cannot move forward and even a slightly inaccurate plan is better than not having one at all.
It is better for the reselle [or small business] to have the plan than to have no idea where they are going.