Create a Powerful Marketing Plan For Your Small Business

The marketing planning process need not be complex – it is simply a logical approach to looking at your business and its environment, deciding on your marketing objectives are and then deciding the marketing programs that need to be created to ensure that those objectives are met.

Marketing has been given many different definitions. It is sometimes confused with promotion – or even sales. It is neither. Marketing is concerned with the management of the ‘marketing mix,’ in other words the following: (sometimes referred to as the 4 Ps)

  • Price – how much you are selling the product or service for
  • Product (or service) – what you are designing, developing, manufacturing, providing and selling
  • Place (or channel strategy) – which channels you are using to sell your product or services (e.g. are you selling direct to customers over the Internet or are you selling through a retailer or other third party)
  • Promotion – what methods are you using to communicate what it is that you do to your market. This includes packaging, sales, brochures, exhibitions, advertising, direct mail, Internet marketing etc

Marketing planning is a creative process based on the solid analysis of your business and its environment. It also requires you to think about the future. We don’t know what is going to happen in the ‘invisible’ future – but there are things in the ‘visible’ future that we can take account of.

The Marketing Audit

Before developing a marketing plan, the first step is the marketing audit. In its simplest terms this means reviewing the marketing that you have done up until now to determine how effective it has been – preferably in quantitative terms. This information will give you practical guidance as to where to place your valuable resources in the future.

The SWOT Analysis

The first step in the process is to do a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats or SWOT analysis. The SWOT analysis, is an easy to remember and simple process. There are two main aspects of the SWOT – the inward looking, i.e. what are the strengths and weaknesses of your business, and the outward looking, i.e. what are the opportunities and threats coming from outside your business.

Strengths might include company reputation, quality of employees, marketing skills, on-line presence, social media footprint. Threats might include new legislation or regulations, a new competitor, cost of fuel or raw materials

The analysis is best done by a group of people.The ‘brainstorming’ technique is useful. Every idea is written down – preferably where everyone in the group can see it, WITHOUT editing. No matter how seemingly stupid the idea, write it down. You can always go back and edit after the brainstorming session is over. Brainstorming techniques can be applied to all of the creative and analytical phases of the marketing planning process.

The PEST Analysis

Another useful technique when preparing marketing plans is the ‘PEST’ analysis. PEST is an acronym for:

  • Political and Legal
  • Economic and demographic
  • Social and cultural
  • Technology

And how each of these factors may affect your business. It is another way to help you think about the environment in which your business operates. It may be helpful for you to use this analysis when working on the opportunities and threats part of the SWOT analysis. For example, a future legal change may result in you having to pay greater costs in order to meet new regulations. Demographic changes may result in a population shift to your part of the country. This may result in more customers and hence, potentially more business.

Setting marketing objectives

Before embarking on a journey to is usually a good idea to have some idea of where you are heading. The same is true for marketing planning. Before setting marketing objectives you need to know the overall objectives for your business. This could be a certain level of profitability or volume of sales. To meet this business objective will involve a number of different activities within you business including: production, customer service, finance, and marketing.

Marketing objectives are what you are aiming to achieve through the marketing plan in order to meet the overall business objectives. Marketing objectives fall into four categories as follows:

  • Existing products or services in existing markets (penetration)
  • New products or services in existing markets (product development)
  • Existing products or services in new markets (market extension)
  • New products and services in new markets (diversification)

Marketing objectives should always be quantifiable, for example, sell a certain amount of product to existing customers (market penetration) or achieve a certain market share in a new market (market extension).

The Product or Service Lifecycle

All products have, what is called in ‘marketing speak’, a product or service lifecycle. The lifecycle describes the natural process by which a new product is introduced, is gradually accepted, sells well for a while and is then gradually superseded before, potentially, being phased out.

The product life cycle is a useful concept to consider when reviewing your product or service set (product/service portfolio). It is important to consider where a product is on the lifecycle in order to set marketing objectives and appropriate marketing programs. For example, if a product is in the introduction phase it may be appropriate to spend more on promotion than for a product in decline.

Set marketing strategies

Marketing objectives are concerned with what you would like to achieve, marketing strategies are how you are going to try and achieve these objectives.

Having set the strategies, individual marketing tactics will be created in the form of specific marketing programs. The difference between the marketing strategy and marketing tactics can be illustrated as follows. A valid marketing strategy would be to create an exhibition program in a new market. The tactic associated with this strategy would be a specific exhibition, the dates, logistics, size of trade show booth, and promotional events surrounding the exhibition.

The following are some of your marketing strategy options:

Price

When you first think about pricing your first inclination may be to apply a simple mechanism which adds a percentage to the cost of producing the product or providing the service, this is known as cost-plus pricing. This may be the best way of pricing your product, but you must also think about premium pricing. An expensive product may create an idea of prestige or luxury, irrespective of how much it cost to create the product. Branded perfumes and designer clothing labels fall into this category.

Other factors you will likely taken into account are the cost of competitor products and services together with the distribution costs that may need to be built into your pricing (for example, the amount you will need to pay your distributor).

Product

An area of enormous importance to be considered when you look at your products is the concept of the product and service portfolio. A portfolio implies that you are marketing more than one product or service. In actual fact, even if you only have one product, you will likely have at least one service offering connected to that product. In developing the tactical aspect of your marketing plan your need to analyze each product in turn.

Portfolio management involves managing the portfolio such that there is a balance between cash generated and cash required. It is important to visualize where products are likely to be in the future and how you can achieve those positions. For example, a new, but highly promising product has a low market share, but a high market growth rate.

Place

The channel strategy is your plan as to how you are going to get you product or service to market. It’s likely that you have already made some plans here. A business needs to find new and innovative ways in which you can gain the widest market coverage at the lowest cost. Options may include:

  • Setting up a distributor network
  • Finding ‘business partners’
  • Selling directly over the Internet
  • Creating retail outlets
  • Developing export markets
  • Find alliance partners
  • User new channels to market
  • Change delivery options

Promotion

Promotion is a highly creative process. You never really know which promotional method is going to be the most effective until you try it. The answer is to try different promotional methods and to measure and test each one’s effectiveness.

  • Marketers have the many methods at their disposal, including:
  • Internet marketing (both ‘organic’ Web site search engine positioning and PPC (Pay-per-click) Web advertising)
  • Social media marketing (e.g using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc)
  • E-mail marketing
  • Advertising (also known as ‘above the line expenditure.’)
  • Merchandizing
  • Sales – personal selling
  • Trade shows and exhibitions
  • Media relations (public relations – PR)
  • Direct mail
  • Network marketing
  • Branding

Conclusion

A marketing plan is not an end in itself, rather, it represents a process of examining and rethinking your business from a marketing perspective. By thinking through the issues you should get a greater appreciation of all the different marketing options as well as a few new ideas about things to try in your business.