What is a marketing plan? Do I even need one? These are some of the questions I have been asked by a couple of entrepreneurs and SMEs. Where are these questions coming from? Some of us think we know what to do to get customers, and it’s all in our heads. True, they are in our heads, but to enable us to be more effective, we need to put it down in writing as a plan.
So, what is a marketing plan? Simply put, a marketing plan outlines the specific actions you intend to carry out to reach your existing and potential customers and clients in your product or services and persuade them to buy what you offer.
It is a blueprint that outlines how a company will implement its marketing strategy and use a combination of resources to achieve business objectives, including sales targets or customer acquisition. It is the steps needed to implement your marketing strategy.
You need to have a marketing strategy before you can talk about developing a plan. Philip Kotler said, “It is more important to do what is strategically right than what is immediately profitable”. So, it is important that our brand engagement with our audience is strategically conceived.
Therefore, a marketing strategy is how you intend to achieve your set goals and objectives. It is a plan that integrates the organization’s goals and policies to achieve customer success.
Generally, it is concerned with the 4Ps of marketing also called the marketing mix. It speaks to how you would manage customer engagement with your products/services, how your pricing should be perceived, the promotional mix you would deploy to reach your audience in the most efficient way, and finally, the strategy for distribution (place).
These are the four important decisions you would have to make regularly to be relevant, appealing and connect with your audience. When the customer sees value, it a reflection of how they have judged their engagement with you based on the 4Ps. So, you need to carefully craft the following:
- Product strategies
- Pricing strategies
- Promotional strategies
- Placement strategies
In my days as a young brand manager, we dreaded the word marketing plan. It was such an immense task to put together a marketing plan. We had to review several hard copies of old and recent research reports to craft insights and interpret them to both the customer and the business.
In the end, we came up with very voluminous documents that contain lots of intelligent insights, plans, and strategies but were hardly used. They remain on the table or cupboard and gather dust.
Today marketing is a lot different. The customer is arguably more discerning now, and even more knowledgeable. Time is also not on anyone’s side. So, entrepreneurs need to have simpler ways of quickly reviewing feedback from the customer and developing a support plan to address the issues and leverage the same to grow value and volume for the brand.
Developing a marketing plan is nothing more than setting goals and making a to-do list that will get you there. The process of planning something is time-consuming and exhaustive, but it is an absolute necessity if you want to be successful.
So how do we reconcile our need to succeed with our propensity for procrastination? We hate planning because we remember the endless meetings, hours of research that doesn’t seem to get you closer to an answer and documents the size of War and Peace. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is not much different from planning a party.
At CPPL, we came up with four simple steps to developing an effective marketing plan that we believe is useful to SMEs and Entrepreneurs.
- Stage 1: Understand the market
- Stage 2: What is your message?
- Stage 3: Create infrastructure to implement the plan
- Stage 4: Measurement/Control
Understand the Market
Understanding the market is obviously the first stage in developing your plan. The market for us as SMEs comprises the 3Cs of the market – Company, Customer/Client, and Competitors. The company represents your business. Analyze and appraise your business to appreciate your capacity and capabilities—how well are you positioned to serve the market?
The second C stands for the customer who is the reason for your being in business. Do proper profiling to appreciate your customer, their needs, wants, and aspirations, and how they would like to be served. Better put, what value means to them. The third C stands for Competition. Remember, you are not the only in the market with the offering you have.
I would like to describe competition as co-laborers in the marketplace, jostling to serve the same customer you think you are called to serve. So, it’s a battle out there and it is the brand that is better positioned that will win it all. This first stage is where the bulk of the work is done. If you get it right, you are 50% completed.
Have A Message:
This is where you craft your message for the market. Now you know your market, you have figured out how you would serve your customer better than your competition. The job now is how you communicate your proposition to the market.
How do you effectively reach your customers with the message of who you are and what you can do for them? Some of us miss it here. We think it’s about flowery language and creative designs etc. Yes, we need creativity, but it must be rooted in the truth of your brand—the attributes and benefits of your offering.
It’s about effective or what I would refer to as ‘quality’ communication. Quality communication is the type to leads to adoption.
Create infrastructure to implement the plan
Stage three deals with the channels or platforms of communication. You know your market; you have a powerful and value-driven communication. You need to choose the right platform or channels of communication.
Here you define your marketing methods—will you advertise, use Internet marketing, social media, direct marketing, brand activation, or public relations? The decision you take here is crucial. It must reflect or draw from your understanding of the market. This way, you will be effective.
Finally, stage 4 deals with evaluation. The action here is to tabularize the plan, clearly showing the objectives, timed initiatives, and the responsible team. These provide a solid ground for monitoring and evaluating the plan at agreed intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) We also recommended that you build a strong control system that will enable you to make swift adjustments while executing the plan, should the need arise.
These four stages can be documented in two or three pages; therefore, it is handy and can be easily referred to. Our clients have found this simple plan practical.
So, why invest in a bulky, very detailed plan you may not have time to use? As SMEs, we are very busy people, juggling many things in our heads; we should stick to simple but effective plans. We recommend these simple steps.
Back to our first question: do you need a marketing plan? Yes, we all do. The purpose of the marketing plan is to coordinate your business goals, define the market to create proper market segmentation, define the marketing mix, and systematize activities about chosen marketing strategies.
While a marketing plan will give you an important part of activities for your business, every entrepreneur should update it regularly. Remember that marketing and its activity planning is not something to be carried out only once. An excellent marketing plan is something that never ends, and maintaining a plan is an ongoing process.
For example, you can choose 10 different marketing weapons for the next year. If you measure the effects of implementing those marketing weapons, you can easily see that some of them will work well, but some of them will not give you desired or targeted results. You must change something in those marketing weapons that do not give you the desired results.
One of the biggest mistakes is when entrepreneurs neglect to develop a solid marketing plan. With an excellent marketing plan, you can follow up on marketing activities and see what is good and what is not good.
Analyze your market and you will have solid knowledge about your target customers, market segments, your strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats.
Timely change your marketing strategies and tactics. Learn about the top marketing tactics of global brands. Know how you spend your marketing money. Know real ROI from your marketing money.
Implementation is a vital step for every plan, not the marketing plan only. Your marketing plan is effective only if you have the capacity to implement it.
Finally, if you want more customers, more income, and more profitability? Then, you need a simple but practical marketing plan built on a sound marketing strategy.
Ikechukwu Kalu is a value creation consultant and currently works as a Lead Consultant at Customer Passion Point Limited. He has decent work experience spanning manufacturing, telecommunications, and financial services. He is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Pan Atlantic University, teaches brand strategy and communication as well as Experiential and Alternative Marketing at a postgraduate level. He is also a Resource Person at Lagos Business School. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing of London and a member of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria.