If you want to get to a specific place, you need a map. For the business world, that map is the marketing plan.
Having a well developed marketing plan is imperative for every business regardless of sector or and size. However, there are still many companies that start advertising without having a clear marketing strategy or any concrete plan.
In this article we will go through everything you need in order to create an effective digital marketing plan for your business.
How to Create the Best Marketing Plan for Your Business
A marketing plan is a document or presentation in which you lay out an analysis of the company's current standing, the objectives you want to achieve, and the steps you need to follow in order to do that.
There are plenty of reasons why you should create a detailed plan: it helps to achieve the goals set, it reinforces the commitment of the team, and it helps define a long term vision. It also improves the efficiency of your team and can even help prevent mistakes (and solve them rapidly if they are made).
When creating your marketing plan, organization is key. There are a series of elements that every plan should include and a logical order in which they must be worked out for the final result to be coherent and successful.
In the following paragraphs we will explain in detail the five basic sections of a marketing plan and what should be included in each of them. If you want to make the process even easier, you can download the marketing plan checklist here. The checklist contains 20 basic points that we recommend to have covered before setting in motion any digital marketing action.
1. Analysis of Current Situation
The first step is to analyze your businesses current situation. This step is necessary because without it we cannot define where we want to go.
With this analysis, we will be able to see the influence of external and internal factors. The external factors can include things like the overall social and economic situation, the particularities of the sector and market. The internal ones refer to the business itself. For example, the team and resources.
To systemize the analysis and guarantee that we are not missing anything, we can always use the classic SWOT scheme: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Strengths are the positive internal aspects of the company, those that make it stand out from the competition and that make the team proud. In the strengths we find the key competitive advantage like having a highly qualified team, or being considered the best for X product.
- Weaknesses are those internal aspects of the company that are lacking, areas where the company is positioned below its competitors or which can be improved. To find them, we can pose questions such as, in which aspects are our competitors better or what things are we least satisfied with? Some examples of weaknesses could be lack of finances or a limited range of products.
- Opportunities represent the external factors that are in our favor and that can be used to the company's advantage. We can find opportunities by researching the current trends and changes within our target market. For example, there can be a legislative change that favors us or a product that we sell becoming a trend.
- Threats are external negative elements that can potentially affect us. They are the factors that can put the business in danger or reduce our market share. Identifying them on time can help us neutralize them. To find them, just like the opportunities, pay attention to current changes and market trends. For example, new competitors could present a threat.
Besides the SWOT, do a deep buyer persona analysis. This is the ideal customer of your business. The buyer persona gives a name and face to your target market by creating a semi fictional representation of it. At the minimum it should include the following sections:
- Who is our buyer? Here we pick up all the general information about our buyer profile, like demographic information and personal identifiers.
- How can our buyer persona help our business? Define the goals and the primary and secondary challenges of your buyer persona and explain how your business and brand can help him/her obtain them.
- Why? Look at the challenges and needs of your customers and the most common complaints they have. Here, you can get some inspiration from the real comments you received during your research.
- How? Define the marketing and sales messages that will be communicated in order to reach this potential customer.
This is another aspect of the external factor overall analysis, but it deserves its own section within the marketing plan due to the important role it plays in the future of your business.
After assessing who your main competitors are (if you have not done so yet) you'll need to answer the following questions:
- What is their budget and their business volume? Big companies publish their anual or quarterly results, so the information can be easily accessible. For smaller companies, you can try to ask for reports on databases such as einforma or asexor. If not, you can always extrapolate based on data such as the number of workers on staff (LinkedIn is very useful in these cases) or the breadth of their catalog.
- What are the prices of their products or services? For B2C companies, this information is easy to find, while for B2B companies, you will have to do a little more research. Once you have the information, develop a price range and think of where you want to position your business.
- What is their sales process? From the first contact until conversion, the customer journey of your competitors can provide a lot of clues for your business. The most common way to find it out about this is by playing the “mysterious client” role and asking for the information yourself.
- How do they get their clients? This refers to their marketing strategies. It is easy to find that out about their digital marketing strategies by checking their website, social networks and any other digital channels. You can also use tools such as SEMRush and Google Alerts.
Now that the starting points are clear, you have to define where you want to go and how to get there. It's time to set your marketing objectives.
This is one of the most important steps of any marketing plan, and perhaps the most neglected. Many times the management team sets unrealistic objectives based more on their "wishful thinking" than on the real and current standing of the company. To avoid this, always base the objectives on the SMART acronym:
- S or "specific": the objectives must be specific. The "increase brand awareness" kind of goals are too broad because they could mean almost anything and be justified in many different ways. Instead, something like "increase brand mentions on social networks by 20%" would be more adequate.
- M or "measurable": to know if a goal has been achieved, you have to be able to measure it. Therefore, in addition to defining the objectives with precision, you also need to clarify how you are going to measure them. Using the previous example, you could decide to measure the amount of brand mentions on a monthly basis through the Social Mention tool.
- A or "achievable": Trying to reach the moon in two days only serves as a discouragement for the team. When you set objectives, you have to take into account the effort and time required and other costs derived, always starting from your current situation. Only then, you can establish whether the goal is realistic or not.
- R or "relevant": it seems obvious to say that the objectives have to be relevant, but in practice it is not so important. For example, many digital marketers aim to increase their website visits. But if those visits are not of quality and do not lead to any conversions, in reality, they don't mean anything. The marketing objectives have to respond to the business objectives.
- T or "time-bound": every objective needs a time frame to make sense, so do not forget to define your deadlines.
4. Action Plan: Marketing Strategies
With all this work done, we have arrived to the heart of the marketing plan: what are the actions that will lead us to achieve our goals?
In this section, we will define the marketing strategies, always going from the broad to the specific. In the end, the steps to follow and the order in which they will be carried out need to be extremely clear.
To organize and classify the strategies, it is very common to resort to the famous "4 P of marketing":
- Product strategy. Even if you have a very well defined and positioned product line, changes are always occur. For example, you can launch new products, change the positioning of existing ones or update packaging.
- Price strategy. Here it will be very useful to analyze the information that you have about the competition. You need to define the launch prices of new products, consider whether you should make changes to those already in the market and, perhaps most importantly, decide the strategy of discounts, promotions and offers. Do not forget to take into account seasonal campaigns, like for summer or Christmas.
- Sales and distribution strategy: if you have detected any weakness in the customer experience or simply want to optimize it, you can consider actions in this section. For example, search for new suppliers, include new distribution channels such as online sales, improve delivery times, and reduce shipping costs.
- Promotion and communication strategy: here all the actions come into play to make your brand known with both online and offline media. Given the rapid evolution of the online marketing environment and the digital habits of consumers, this is one of the sections that you will have to review the most over time.
5. Real Time Review of the Plan
Last but not least, you have to keep in mind that your marketing plan is not a one time thing. You must constantly modify it so that it keeps responding to the changing needs of the company.
For this to be the case, it's best to organize regular meetings to evaluate the progress of the plan. The following five points can serve as guides for this evaluation:
- Objectives: are the objectives set being met? Looking back, were they realistic, too ambitious or did they fall short?
- Compliance: are you following the actions planned? If you have strayed, why is that? If this is the case, it does not always make sense to correct these deviations; sometimes it's better to modify the plan and adapt if it is working.
- Strategies: what are the most appropriate actions according to performance?
- Budget: does the plan adapt to the business' current budget? How is the plan affecting the income and expenses? Is it necessary to make modifications?
- Review: refers to any modifications and extensions of the plan. For example, you can decide to complete the first version by adding a schedule of actions, assignments and tasks.
All of the above should help you make a good marketing plan for your company and improve your ROI and results.