Your marketing plan is an important document, it will help convince others that your business is viable, it will show that you have a plan to grow your business and it will give you a framework in which to build your business.

Writing a better marketing plan

Most people can write a basic marketing plan. The difference between an average and exceptional plan is constantly thinking about differentiation. That is focusing on what makes your product stand apart from your competitors in a way that is relevant to consumers. Product or service differentiation is key to business success so it must be your watchword.

Here is a step by step template covering how to develop a strong marketing plan:

Stage 1 – Background research and viability check

  • Before you do anything else you must research how viable your business idea is.
  • They key to this is understanding whether or not you have a market and how big that market is.
  • You will need to understand your competitor products and what their benefits are
  • You will also need to work out why your product might be preferred over others – this is called differentiation. Find out how different your product is and ask is it different enough to engage consumers?
  • And remember, it’s not what you think, its what your market thinks that matters most.

If you are getting the wrong answers at this stage then take a step back. You may need to rethink your product or service. Assuming your product is vaiable, you move to Stage 2.

Stage 2 – Developing your marketing plan

  • Part 1 –  Your Introduction

    • Summary of what your product or service is
    • What makes it different?
    • What makes it viable?
    • Explain why there is a market opportunity
    • Summarise your objectives
    • Summary of what your plan contains
  • Part 2  – Statement of objectives
    • Your plan will be far more compelling if you can say where you are going
    • What is it that your product or service will achieve over the next three years?
    • Can you state an objective like “to be used by 50% of SMEs by 2021”?
    • Can you state supporting sales objectives?
    • Can you state any financial objectives?
    • Can you provide a timeline?
  • Part 3  – Your Situation Analysis  – Most companies use a SWOT analysis at this stage:
    • A SWOT analysis is a goof platform for this stage
      • Strengths – Present / Internal – what are your strengths in the market relative to other players?
      • Weaknesses – Present / Internal – what are your weaknesses in the market relative to other players?
      • Opportunities – Future / External – what are the opportunities before you (these could be be market, technology, regulatory etc
      • Threats – Future / External – what are the threats before you (these could be be market, technology, regulatory etc
    • be honest with yourself here – it’s better to identify threats now than later
  • Part 4 – Market and Buyer Research
    • You need to use research to prove you have  a market and that will buy your product or service
    • There are a number of tools you can use to survey market attitudes and buyer intention
    • Survey Monkey is a great tool that allows you to create an online survey, email it and track responses
    • If you have budget you can look at other forms of qualitative and quantitative research.
    • This is an incredibly powerful way to support your business case
    • Other sources that can help you estimate market demand include Google keywords search and Google trends
    • In order to forecast revenue you will need to make an assessment of how many people will purchase your product and at what frequency.
  • Part 5 – Your Target audience segment definition and market sizing
    • Your research in Part 3 above will help you to define your target audience
    • Who is your target audience and how can they be defined? Criteria here could include:
    • Demographics (women aged 25-44)
    • Life stage (have young children under 12 years)
    • Demographics (e.g. ACORN or MOSAIC)
    • Income
    • Geographical location
    • Is the market growing or declining?

Stage 3 –  Your Marketing Mix  -putting the Ps to work

Here we apply the four Ps model of the marketing mix (7Ps in the case of services) to develop your marketing activity plan

  • Marketing Mix P1  – Product
    • Describe the product, its attributes, features and benefits
    • State exactly why is it different.
    • What advantage does it have over competitors and why?
    • Research your product versus competitors and detect product feature / benefit opportunities.
    • Identify the key features of the product that confer advantage (the grinder is smoother, the casing is cooler etc)
    • Identify the benefits provided by these features – for example:
      • the grinder is smoother so (benefit) your coffee tastes fresher
      • the cool bag casing is cooler so (benefit) your sandwiches stay fresher for longer
  • Marketing Mix P2  – Price
    • Price is a powerful tool for marketers
    • Price can be used to convey quality (higher pricing) or it can be used to grow market share by undercutting competitors.
    • Price can drive volume – the lower the price the higher the volume and the higher the price the lower the volume
    • Determine what price your competitors charge and what price your target audience will pay
    • Examine whether or not you can charge a premium for quality / product attributes
    • Show how you will use pricing to help grow sales.
  • Marketing Mix P3 – Place
    • Place means distribution – where will you sell the product or service?
    • How will you sell the product or service, online or via retail, offices etc
    • Can you partner with other companies to sell your product (concessions)
    • Do you need an eCommerce website
    • If you sell via eCommerce how will you deliver the goods?
    • Have you considered the costs o distribution?
  • Marketing Mix P4 – Promotion
    • What is the promotional proposition or positioning of your product?
    • Your proposition is your statement of competitive consumer benefit
    • The proposition has to be qualified by supporting facts – and these have to be differentiating facts
    • Once you have your proposition and you can refer back to your target audience and link the two together
    • Now you know what you are saying and who you are saying it to – this forms the foundation of your promotional platform
    • You can now examine potential channels, partnerships and message development
    • These can be arranged into a budget plan which can be used in your overall financial forecasts
    • If you are building a digital direct marketing plan you will need to apply a sales funnel model which covers budget, audience, response or click, conversions (sales), customers and customer value.
    • Your sales funnel model (usually expressed as a spreadsheet) can show budget in  and lead and sales out.

Stage 4 – Financial forecasts

  • You will now be in a position to make an assessment of revenue and costs and these will form the basis of your financial forecasts.
  • You will be able to estimate the number of customers and the average spend per customer
  • Once you have revenue and costs you can make a forecast of profit
  • You can also make forecast of cash flow – this will help if you need a loan for the business.

Stage 5 – Timelines

  • You will need to demonstrate how long it takes to deliver the different stages in your plan

Stage 6 – Marketing Control

  • You will need to demonstrate that you have a methodology to control your business
  • This will allow you to see when you are drifting off plan so that you can refocus
  • Typically this will be based on your financial forecasts and timelines (4 and 5 above)