14 June 2016
Duncan Wright, Director at BSA Marketing offers his view on the importance of marketing planning.
To fail to plan is to plan to fail
It’s a bit of a cliché but it is so true. Are you really likely to get where you want to go if you haven’t decided where that is or how you plan to get there?
So many SME business owners just work day to day with no real structure as to how they plan to take their business forward. In effect people just ‘hope something will turn up’
A while ago, we were presenting a workshop on email marketing to a group of around 35 SME businesses when I asked the question:
Only 1 person raised their hand!
Do you have a written marketing plan that you follow, review and update regularly as a tool to help you take your business forward?
To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised, in the past I have been guilty of spending time drawing up a marketing plan only to put it on a shelf and forget about it!
Nevertheless, marketing planning is important. It sets goals and gives you a structure against which to benchmark and measure performance. It is only if you have a plan that you can see if you are getting anywhere!
I believe that one of the reasons that people are reluctant to put together a marketing plan is not knowing where to start. Hence I thought it would be worth a few words on what are the key elements of a good marketing plan.
To create a successful marketing plan, you need to be clear on your objective. (ie what are you trying to achieve) In most SME businesses, this is likely to be around, growing the business and building a sustainable/profitable sales pipeline. However when considering this, it must be recognised that most SME businesses are built around key stakeholders (often the owners & senior managers of the business). As such, often business goals are closely linked to the personal objectives of these people. A point that should not be forgotten when establishing the objectives of a marketing plan.
I believe that good planning focuses on the long as well as the short & medium term. With this in mind, objectives need to be considered on multiple time frames, with short term targets & goals ultimately being stepping stones to longer term objectives.
This is one of the key factors in a marketing plan. It is all to easy to take the view that you can sell to anyone and whilst that may be true, success usually comes from focusing on those to whom you offer most value. Understanding the size of this market, their needs and how your business can add value to them is critical.
Once you know your market, the next step is to understand exactly how your product/service benefits them and adds value to their business.
This isn’t simply a case of identifying the benefits and listing these in your promotional material. It is about recognising the value you add to your customers businesses and understanding why they buy from you rather than your competitors. With this knowledge, you can start to tell your story.
Rather than focusing your marketing on creating that killer copy that will have the leads flooding in (though if you can do that then all the better) its about having a strategy to communicate your value to the market over the long term.
So, you know your market and understand what you are trying communicate. The next factor to consider is resources. Knowing how much time effort and cash you are willing/able to devote to marketing is a crucial part of developing the plan. The fact is that all marketing takes resource to implement, but with the advent of digital media where much can be done in house it is now about striking the balance between putting in your own time or paying someone else to do it for you.
On this basis, a key element of creating the plan is making decisions as to this split and how much of each resource you are going to commit.
So far the plan has been somewhat theoretical but now we come to the practical bit, deciding what you are actually going to do! No plan will succeed if you don’t actually implement it, so having a concrete, timed action plan is essential. This may sound strange, but in our experience, at this point:
Doing SOMETHING is more important than doing something that works
If you know your business (we must assume it this point that you do) and you have covered points 1-4, it is unlikely that you will come up with activities that will be totally ineffective. It is also unlikely that you will get it 100% right. The important thing is to make a plan, implement it & then move to step 6 below!
In today’s digital world, measurement & control of marketing activity has never been easier and doing this effectively will help you to see what areas of your marketing are being effective and which maybe need tweaking, or in some cases pulling altogether!
When it comes to Monitoring control there are 2 key things to consider.
In other words:
You might find this post on the subject of living with a joined up marketing plan useful in this context.
To conclude, and on the basis that it is always easier to start with a framework rather than a blank sheet of paper, the Institute of Directors has produced a straightforward guide to help businesses though the key steps of developing a marketing plan. It isn’t a ‘Fill in the form’ approach but rather asks questions that you can think about and discuss. Hopefully you will be able to relate the questions asked, to the points made earlier in this post.
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