Starting and running a business without a marketing plan can be like trying to fly an airplane without radar—you might know what your destination is, but you haven’t a “road map” to get you there. Every company, whether it is established or still in the idea phase, needs a marketing plan that serves as an integral part of its overall business plan for company operations. A good marketing plan supports a company’s broader business goals by formulating a sound marketing strategy and an action plan (i.e., specific marketing activities such as web promotions, direct mail, etc.) that can carve a direct path to bolstered product sales, market share and long-term profitability and success.
Regardless of company size or industry, the importance of writing an annual marketing plan, which outlines precisely how your business will get from A to B, should not be underestimated. Without an articulated plan, the road to success is bound to be riddled with potholes and detours that can sidetrack or even derail your business. Ironically, however, a marketing plan often is at the bottom of a business owner’s priority list—if it makes the list at all. In fact, not having a well-thought marketing plan on paper is one of the most common—and most detrimental—mistakes made by new entrepreneurs and long time business owners alike. Fortunately, unless you’re already out of business, it’s never too late to get started on a marketing plan for your company.
To craft a viable plan, first you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do some digging. Any worthwhile marketing plan requires basic market research and analyses of your specific market segments, various target audiences and competition. At a minimum, you’ll want to conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to help you realistically pinpoint your company’s market standing. Drawing on these analyses, your plan should articulate your company’s market positioning (i.e., who you are, what you do, for whom and why), providing an umbrella message for all of your product lines and identifying your unique differentiator (e.g., the only company in your market niche that bundles X product with Y service). A marketing plan also should encompass a marketing strategy to secure and boost company market share. Distribution channels, product pricing and promotions, inventory and budgets are some of the key strategic components to cover. Sales objectives also are critical—your plan should outline measurable performance goals for all sales-related marketing activities. For example, to increase product sales from 5,000 to 7,500 units for a given financial quarter, your marketing plan may advocate creating visual point-of-purchase displays with rebate incentives at “X” number of retail stores carrying your product.
While your plan should map out all of the marketing activities such as advertising and lead-generation programs required to achieve your objectives for the year ahead, keep in mind that your plan should be a living, breathing document. It is imperative that business owners review their marketing plan quarterly, if not monthly, and revise it as needs arise. For example, if you add a new or improved product to your arsenal by mid-year, you’ll want to revise the plan for new product promotions. If you trim your budget during the year, you may need to cut back on a few promotions to stay on track financially.
Creating a marketing plan in-house does require significant time and resource commitment, but the rewards are worth the effort. However, if writing a plan internally seems an impossibility right now, outsourcing it to a seasoned advertising/marketing agency or independent consultant can be a business-savvy decision. For a minimal financial investment, agencies and consultants offer extensive experience writing marketing plans for companies of all types. They also can dedicate the time and resources needed to do it right, while helping you manage and stick with your plan. But regardless of whether you entrust it to an agency or write it yourself, the key is to get it done—sooner rather than later. Not only is a well-conceived marketing plan the road map your company needs to navigate today’s competitive landscape, it’s your blueprint for sustainable, long-term business success.