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How to write a marketing plan print Print

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Marketing is vital to any business and a good marketing plan will help you get the best return on your marketing spend. Here are five steps to help you build a good marketing plan.

Why bother with a marketing plan?

Marketing is vital to any business - customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know about your product or service. But you can waste a lot of time, money and effort marketing to people who are not likely to buy from you no matter how good your product or your service is.

A good marketing plan will help you avoid that – and get the best return on your marketing spend.

What’s in a marketing plan?

A smart marketing plan will help you target the right people, with the right message, at the right time, using the right channel.

So to write a marketing plan, you need to answer some key questions about your product or service and how it’s positioned in the market. This guide explains the main areas you need to think about:

  • your business goals and resources. What is it that you want your marketing plan to achieve, and how much time, effort and money can you afford to invest in marketing?
  • your target market. Who are they and what do you know about them?
  • your competitors. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • your competitive advantage. What makes you stand out from the competition? 
  • your marketing channels. How and when is best to reach your target market?
  • your action plan. What are you going to do, when are you going to do it, who is responsible, how much will it cost and how will you know if it works?

First step: what do you want to achieve and what can you invest?

Before you even start to think about putting adverts in the paper, or investing in Google AdWords, you first need to define what it is that you want to achieve. Your marketing plan must align with your business goals.

For example, if your goal is to grow your customer database by 10% within the next 12 months, your marketing plan will be focused on finding new customers.

A lot of marketing seems to be focused on winning new customers. But retaining your existing customers, and selling more to them, can be a more cost-effective way to increase revenue. So make sure you don’t forget about your existing customers in your marketing plan.

Another important consideration is the resource you plan to invest in marketing. This isn’t just the budget – also think about who will manage the marketing, and how much time you can allocate to this. Often we find that owners of small businesses are stretched and have limited resources. But a smart marketing plan can help you focus on the best opportunities to reach your target audience and achieve your business goals. 

Understanding your target market

Rarely will your business be relevant for ‘everyone’. It’s never a good idea to take a broad, scattergun approach to marketing because this is inefficient and costly. It’s smarter to target the customers who are most receptive to your product or service. So defining your ideal customer will help you prioritise scarce marketing resources.

Think about:

  • who needs or wants your product or service the most?
  • what features are most appealing to them? What do they value most?
  • where do they get their information from – do they read the newspaper, search online, or attend particular events?

Create profiles of your ideal customers. If they are personal consumers, describe their:

  • gender
  • age
  • occupation
  • income
  • family status
  • geographic location
  • special interests
  • sensitivity to price, quality and service.

If they are businesses, describe their:

  • turnover
  • number of employees
  • time in the market
  • industry 
  • market share
  • geographic location
  • sensitivity to price, quality and service.

Finding information about your target market

There are lots of places you can go for help with finding this information.

One key source is Statistics New Zealand. Their Business Toolbox has free tools to help you to investigate your industry and find out more about your target markets:

  • Market Mapper, where you locate your market by age, sex, income, household, or family type, and zoom in on your target market regions, areas, and suburbs.
  • Industry Profiler, where you can get stats on small businesses by industry and region, and compare numbers of new businesses, worker turnover, survival rates, and average earnings for staff.

Other sources of information about your target market include trade or industry organisations, chambers of commerce, and city or regional councils.

You can also ask potential customers directly (primary research). That can range from simply approaching people you know who may be in your target market, or engaging a market research company to run focus groups with people on your behalf.

Understanding your competitors

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Keeping an eye on your competition is crucial in business. You need to know how you compare in the market - and where you can compete and win.

Your competitor research should cover:

  • their target market and an estimate of their market share
  • how well they communicate their competitive advantages
  • how they promote their products and services
  • what their pricing and discount strategies are
  • their strengths and weaknesses.

Finding information about your competitors

There are many easy ways to find out about a competitor from publically available information like their website, their Facebook page, online reviews, and their advertising and other marketing material.

Making an enquiry or buying something from them is also a good way to experience the kind of service they offer.

You can also use Statistic New Zealand's Industry Benchmarks tool to compare your financial performance against similar firms in your industry and identify areas where you may differ.

Understanding your competitive advantage

Why should a customer buy from you instead of a competitor? If you don’t know, chances are your customers won’t either.

Now that you know a lot about your key competition, you need to think about what you can do differently or better than them. What do you offer that your competitors don’t? It could be a range of things including:

  • value for money
  • service - you may be faster, more knowledgeable, friendlier, more reliable, offer more or different channels, or have a better warranty
  • products e.g. a unique or exclusive product or a larger range
  • quality
  • location e.g. more convenient or with easier parking.

A quick note: if you’re competing solely on price, think long and hard because it’s often a losing strategy. In fact, you might be surprised to find many customers are less concerned about price than value for money – which is quite a different thing.

What do your customers think?

It’s important to test your competitive advantage with your customers – never assume that it’s obvious to them. Remember, a competitive advantage is only relevant when a customer (not you) thinks it’s relevant.

Ask customers, or prospective customers, "what’s the most important factor that made / would make you come to this business rather than somewhere else?" The answers might be different from the competitive advantages you've just defined.

Once you have clearly defined your competitive advantage(s), they should form the cornerstone of your marketing plan. They are the ‘proof points’ that will persuade customers to buy from you, and not your competitors.

Choosing your marketing channels

You’re on your way to developing your marketing plan now that you have identified your goals, who your target customers are and what your business’ competitive advantage is.

The next step is choosing which channels to use to capture the attention of your target market. If your customers are teenage girls who are heavy social media users, you may decide to place ads on the social channels they use most. If your customers listen to the radio during the day, using radio to reach this audience between 9am and 4pm could be a smart move.

Here are some of the most tried and true options:

  • digital marketing, such as paid and organic search, online display, social media marketing  and video content
  • direct marketing,  such as targeted direct mail, eDMs and SMS
  • print advertising in targeted newspapers or magazines
  • radio, such as adverts, sponsorships or even talkback on the channels your audience listens to the most
  • events, networking and PR.

Most businesses use a mix of channels. Remember, the most important factor is what will work best for your target market.

Don’t forget about your existing customers!

It’s likely that your marketing plan will have a goal of retaining your current customers, as well as finding new ones. If you don’t have one already, create a customer database  so you can keep your existing customers informed of product and service initiatives and encourage them to come back.

When doing this, always ensure that you’re complying with the Privacy Act, for example by first asking your customers if you can contact them, and the Electronic Messages Act, if you are using email or SMS.

Your action plan

Create a timeline showing what needs to happen, how much it’s going to cost, who is going to do it and when.

Marketing is an investment, so just like any other investment you need to know if it is delivering results - and make changes if it isn’t. Put systems in place to measure the effectiveness of your marketing activity, for example by:

  • making a special offer through one source only (such as a Facebook or newspaper ad) – any uplift from your usual sales are most likely to be attributed to the advertising source
  • using different urls, phone numbers and/or email addresses for different sources, so you can measure the enquiries and sales generated by different marketing sources
  • registering your website for an analytical tool such as Google Analytics to measure how people are finding and using your website
  • or simply, asking customers how they heard about you.

Want more help?

Talk to an ANZ Business Specialist today. Or come along to one of our free workshops for small business owners, covering topics from ‘How to write a marketing plan’ to ‘How to effectively recruit and manage staff.’

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