When it comes to marketing, like most things in life, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Yet still I come across businesses owners from both large and small businesses who look at me blankly when I ask, “What is your marketing strategy, and do you have a marketing plan?” Given the importance of marketing to most businesses, I find this frankly amazing.
My personal feeling is that this lack of planning comes from the fact that many people in business today do not have a great deal of sales and marketing knowledge, and therefore would not even know where to start with drawing up a marketing plan. They think that it is easier to dive right in and give it a go without really thinking about what they’re trying to achieve. It’s no wonder then that so much money is wasted on ineffective marketing.
We all know the best way to get to somewhere you don’t know is to study a map and plan a route in advance. Just starting out on your journey and hoping that you actually arrive at your destination eventually is likely to take you a lot of time and energy, with a many wrong turns on the way.
Well, marketing is no different. A bit of time spent planning ahead can save a great deal of time, effort and money in the long run. The problem is though that most business owners do not know what a marketing plan looks like, and so they do not know where to start. The truth is, however, that a marketing plan should be very simple and take no more than an hour or so to complete, and once you have done your first one, future plans should be even quicker!
To develop your marketing plan, I recommend using a simple 7 step process based on the teachings of the father of guerilla marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson. This guy was responsible for the “Marlboro Man” marketing campaign in the 70’s, and what he does not know about successful marketing is probably not worth knowing.
To follow this process, you just need to answer the following 7 questions:
1. What is the purpose of the marketing?
This is about starting with the end in mind – i.e. What do I want the prospects to do as a result of this marketing message? Every piece of marketing/advertising should have a clear intended end result. You want your prospects to take ACTION, but what do you want them to do, specifically? If you do not tell them, they are unlikely to react in the way you want them to. Sometimes it is best to think of prospects as children: if we are not specific they will hear want they want to hear. (Remember, “communication is the response you get.”) So be clear what you want them to DO- to call you, to take your call, to go to your website or to come to your shop? Marketing without a clear “call to action” is like throwing money down the drain.
2. Who is the target audience?
You can’t be all things to all people. If you try, your message will be weak and ineffective. So be clear about who your ideal customer is, and target them specifically. The narrower your focus, the more chance you have got of getting your message across to the right people. Think “sniper” not “machine gun” marketing, so you need to be very clear who you are targeting, e.g. age bracket, income bracket, geographical area, interests etc.
3. What is my competitive advantage that will make them take action?
You have to know what it is about your product or service that is different to the competition, i.e. your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). If you don’t know and can’t tell people about it, then why would they leave their current supplier and come to you? So if you haven’t defined your USP, now’s the time to do it!
4. What are the benefits of buying from me?
Most people list the features of their product or service in their marketing material: “we do this … it does that …” etc. But if you “we” all over your prospects, they will not be happy! You need to put the focus on the prospective customer and their needs. When you start with “you will …” and highlight how they will benefit from your product or service, they will be far more receptive to your message.
5. What are the marketing tools I will use?
In other words, how you are going to get your message across? There are many ways to do this: advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, PR etc. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and the key is to remember the target market you have identified – where are they likely to be in their largest numbers, and what method will be most appropriate to communicate with them? This means you need to know your target market really well.
6. How am I going to measure the results?
If you can’t measure the results from you marketing efforts, then how are you going to know if it has been successful? The famous saying goes, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half!” So you need to be sure that you can track response rates, which requires each campaign to have a unique code and your sales systems to have a means of identifying and recording when prospects respond to each strategy in your marketing plan.
7. What is my marketing budget?
Marketing should be seen as an investment not an expense, so for every pound put in, more than a pound of profit should be made. If you could guarantee this, then your marketing budget could be unlimited! However, life is not like that, and so you must set a budget. This is why being clear how much you can afford and what Return on Investment (ROI) you want is important. Once you know this, you can compare the results of your marketing campaigns, stop those that have low ROI’s and invest more in campaigns with high ones.
Finally, remember that a business with one marketing campaign is like having a chair with three legs – it might hold up the company for a while, but in the long run it will fall over. You should have a marketing plan with multiple strategies that you review regularly and tweak as necessary, and ensure that you turn it into a well oiled machine that brings in the profits.