In order for you to know where your business needs to go, you need a roadmap. That's why you create a business plan. Your marketing plan is part of your overall business plan. But while the business plan covers every aspect of your business, your marketing plan deals with only marketing.
Your marketing plan includes everything from analysis of your market, your business, and your products, to marketing goals and the strategies that will help you reach those goals. The key elements of a marketing plan are:
- Market Analysis – detailed analysis of your market, your customers, your competitors, and other factors
- Marketing Goals – definition of your marketing goals and how they tie in to your overall business goals
- Marketing Mix – strategy and the tactics you will use to realize your goals in terms of the 4Ps: product, price, place, and promotion (contrary to popular belief, the 4Ps are not dead)
- Marketing Budget – budget for your marketing expenses and revenues
There are many benefits to creating and maintaining a working marketing plan. Once you have one, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. Here are a few of the reasons a good marketing plan is so essential:
- Achieving your business goals – puts together and presents all of the important data you need to make decisions regarding your marketing, which is the core of business success.
- Keeping up with changes – you can more easily evaluate new opportunities that emerge; allowing you to shift your strategy accordingly and still stay on track toward your business goals.
- Single version of the truth – keeps everyone on the same page so they can easily understand what you're trying to achieve and how you're trying to achieve it.
- Opportunities for reflection – your marketing plan gives you a view of the big picture, and thus more control over your marketing activities.
Market research is an important part of your marketing plan. You need to conduct research because in marketing, you can't afford to make assumptions. You have to rely on hard, objective data about customers. Sometimes the data revealed through research is surprising for businesses that think they understand their customer base well.
Below are three research areas that will help you gain clarity on:
- The people who will benefit the most from your products or services; the ones who are an ideal match for what you're offering.
- Exactly what products and services you're offering your target market, and the specific problem they solve.
- Your unique value proposition (UVP), a statement that says clearly, thoroughly, and concisely what value you offer and how it's different from the products of others.
RESEARCH AREA #1 – UNDERSTANDING YOUR TARGET MARKET
There are no ands, ifs or buts about it, you need to conduct research to identify your target market. Your audience is a targeted group. They have unique characteristics – demographic, geographic and psychographic – that make them who they are. Those unique characteristics in many cases can be quantified. This quantification, or the ability to measure and track them, makes it much easier to market to them.
Demographics are the statistical data that represent your audience. This information helps you determine who is buying your products or services; helping to narrow down who you’re marketing to. Here are some examples of demographics:
- The age of your audience – for example, age 30-55
- The gender of your audience – women
- The income of your audience – annual income of $50,000 to $75,000
- The education of your audience – has achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher
Demographic data is measurable, quantifiable, and it essentially tells you who is buying your products or services. Just think about it. Isn’t it much more helpful to know that you’re marketing to women age 35-55 that have a bachelor’s degree or to men age 18-25 who don’t? The marketing tactics you use and the content you publish will be dramatically different for those two demographic groups.
Geographic information tells you where your audience is buying. This information can be quite significant. For example, there may be a big difference between women from the southern United States who purchase your products and services versus women from the East Coast. And the differences may be even more significant when you start talking about audiences from different countries.
Even cities within the same state have different personalities and needs. For example, Dallas, Texas, has a very different population than Austin. In addition to ideologies, the lifestyle and demographics of those two cities are quite different. So, in this example, if you’re marketing to consumers in Texas it’s helpful to know specifically where your target audience resides.
Marketing content for geographic regions can also vary. Think about the different cultures and holidays for countries around the world. It’s good to know where your target audience lives so you can create unique marketing content for them. For example, a Thanksgiving holiday promotion for a U.S. audience would be different than one in Canada – in terms of message and timing.
Segmentation can add power to your marketing and increase your return on investment. And, while both demographic and geographic information can help you take your marketing to a whole new level and gain a better understanding of your audience, it’s not complete information. You need to also look at psychographics.
Put simply, psychographic information determines why your audience is buying your products or services. Your audience’s psychographic information is comprised of many variables, some of which can be difficult to pin down.
Psychographics are the traits that make your audience unique. These include things like:
- Lifestyle – Where is your audience in terms of their life and how do they live it? Are they struggling or are they highly successful? Do they enjoy nature, music or fine arts?
- Values – What does your audience value? Are they motivated by thoughts of their family? Does earning more money drive them? Are they liberal or conservative?
- Economic Status – What is your audience’s economic status? Can they afford your products and services? Do they see the value in the expense?
Other elements can include opinions, purchasing motives, personality and interests. As you can see, it can be difficult to gain this type of information about your audience. But once you have it, it can be tremendously powerful. You’re able to craft content and plan marketing initiatives that speak directly to their needs, have a much stronger conversion rate, and an increased return on investment.
RESEARCH AREA #2 – FINDING YOUR UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
When creating your marketing plan, it’s important to spend a great deal of time focusing on how your products and services are unique. Start by considering the needs of your target market. Once you've identified who exactly this is, consider the unique needs they have that others don't. You can then identify ways to meet these needs.
You also have to consider the competition. Look at other businesses that are similar to yours. How do they meet your market's needs? Your goal in creating a marketing plan is to identify how your business’ products and services are uniquely different in meeting these same needs. You've probably already considered this before. It may seem obvious or intuitive to you; therefore, you can probably name at least one way your company is unique off the top of your head – especially if you consider feedback you've received from happy customers in the past.
But when you create a marketing plan, you need to consider the problem from every angle possible and more clearly define these unique qualities.
What if you don't see how your product or offering is unique? Go back to your target market and review their needs again; gather more information if necessary. Then ask yourself: How can I alter my products or services so that it meets these needs? Keep following this process until you are able to determine your product's unique value proposition.
Being clear on the unique value you provide to your customers is not optional. People are exposed to literally thousands of marketing messages each day. Every second that they’re on the internet, watching TV, driving or listening to the radio, they’re absorbing these messages. They are bombarded with many more today than ever in the past.
In years past you had more time and space to present your message. Customers had time to discover it for themselves. Today, the message needs to speak louder, clearer, and faster. You have to shout above the rest. You need to be confident in what sets you apart from the competition so that you can articulate it in less than eight seconds, which is now the average attention span of adults.
Therefore, 'What's in it for me?' is the central deciding question that customers are asking when they encounter marketing messages. If the answer isn't given quickly and satisfactorily, they'll move on.
RESEARCH AREA #3 – PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR CUSTOMERS' SHOES
When thinking about your products, it's important to see them from your customer's point of view, not from your own.
When a customer chooses one product among many, they do not consider that they're choosing it based on its features. In fact, many often believe the choice has nothing to do with the product itself and everything to do with what the customer perceives it will do for them.
In reality, however, their decisions are related to the features, functions, and other qualities of the product. They just don’t realize it because of your highly targeted marketing efforts, which is why in your marketing plan you need to consider these elements from the customer's point of view.
For example, instead of saying that your product achieves something faster, focus on its benefits rather than its features. Detail how it saves the customer time by getting the job done in 50% less time. This strikes a chord with the consumer who isn't particularly interested in the product, but in how it helps them.
In order to truly gain the best return on your efforts, you may need to segment your market. It is possible that you will have two or more groups within your market that expect different benefits from the products they buy. Through segmentation, you can then customize your marketing to meet each group’s needs.
MARKETING ANALYSIS CONCLUSION
Creating a marketing plan is crucial for success. It may seem like it will be hard to get started. But it doesn’t have to be. A good place to begin is to look at your current efforts and consider what's working and what isn't.
- You already have products. How are you getting these products to your customers? Are you satisfied with sales? What changes would you like to see in that area?
- You also already have at least an inkling of who your target market is. You can look at your current customers as a starting point for creating a profile.
- Look at your current location and distribution network and evaluate how well it's getting your products to your market.
- If you already have business goals, you’re even that much further along. A marketing plan is actually quite a bit like a business plan, except that it focuses on just one area of your business.
Every business takes for granted that it needs to market, but why? The 'why' is very important. Your marketing plan will identify exactly what you hope to achieve. It will guide all of your efforts and help you choose the appropriate tactics in support of each objective.
By the end of this mini course (aka four-part blog series), you'll have everything you need to complete your marketing plan and start putting it into action.
Posts in this series:
About the Author
Andrea Hubbert, principal at Hub+company, is a versatile integrated marketing communications professional with one primary passion: to empower creative individuals and their companies to design and market the business lives of their dreams.