The business landscape is fierce and if you aren’t clear on the direction of your business, who your customers are and how you’re going to reach them then you might as well get ready to fade into the background while your competitors reap the rewards.
Every business needs to know what sets them apart and how they’re going to let their customers know just how great they are so including a marketing strategy in your business plan is the best starting point for achieving success.
Before You Write Your Marketing Plan…
It’s a bit difficult to simply start creating your marketing strategy if you aren’t too sure about your offering, your market and your key differentiators, which is why market research is such an important step.
When you are done with your market research you should be able to answer the following questions:
- Who are your potential clients?
- Where do they reside?
- What kind of people are your potential clients?
- Will they be interested in and willing to buy the product or service you’re offering?
- Are your prices attractive to your clients?
- Are your products and/or services available at the right time and place?
Divide your research up into primary and secondary categories in order to explore all of your available options. Start with secondary market research, this involves looking at information that has already been published and can be used to get an idea of your industry, market trends, competitors and potential customers. Below are a few ideas on where to obtain secondary data:
- The internet
- Industry magazines and trade journals
- Newspapers and magazines
- White papers
- Pooled data collected from interest groups
Turn to primary data sources if the secondary data didn’t quite give you all the information that you needed to develop your marketing strategy and plan. Primary data is collected from scratch and if you can’t afford to pay someone to do it then it’s simple enough to gather it on your own. You can collect primary data using the following methods:
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- Interviews (Web, telephonic or personal interviews)
- Questionnaires and surveys
Developing Your Marketing Strategy
Now that you have a better idea of the market you are targeting you can start writing your marketing plan. Marketing strategies are there to map out an action plan for your business. This plan is not only useful for keeping track of progress and strategic direction but it’s a part of your business plan that investors will be interested in too.
Aim to include the following elements in your marketing plan to reap the best benefits:
If your marketing plan is going to form a part of your business plan then there is no need to create a second executive summary as it will be a repeat of information. If your marketing strategy is going to be a separate business tool then you can briefly describe your business and what sets you apart as well as touch on your vision and mission statement.
Start this section of your plan by explaining the current status of your business. Provide a few details on what you do, how you do it and how long you have been operating to date. Next you can provide answers to the following questions:
1. Who is your market?
This should be quite in-depth so it’s not uncommon to write up to two pages on your target market. Describe who your customers are, their demographics, needs and habits. Look at trends and growth in the market place to give investors an idea of where your business fits in and how you can cater to the needs of these clients.
2. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
Take a page to explain what your strengths and weaknesses are as well as where opportunities and threats lay in your specific industry. You can download a SWOT analysis template here.
3. Who is your competition
Define who you are going up against by entering into your industry. What are your competitors offering your potential customers and what are they doing differently to you? Will they be a threat in the long run or won’t this be an issue for your company? Click here to view a competitor analysis example.
4. What are your key differentiators?
How do you stand out from your competitors and what will you be doing to ensure that you continue to be a top name in your industry? Are there any issues that you need to address in order to be successful in the short and long term?
When you develop your strategy, keep in mind that the main goal is to establish how you aim to increase brand awareness, create a relationship with customers and ultimately grow your business.
In order for a strategy to be effective it needs to be realistic, so this means taking your resources, time and budget into account. It also needs to be continuously implemented, tested and changed if required. Your strategy needs to contain the following information:
1. Marketing goals
List your objectives and what you want to achieve in the next month, year or 5 years. Your objectives can include anything from providing your customers with top-notch service to the increased profitability that you would like to achieve in the next 6 months.
What is your current position in the market and what do you need to do improve it? You might be competing against two top brands and you want your business to be one of those brands. How will you do it?
3. Marketing Mix
Now that you know what needs to be done you can explain in detail how you will achieve the goals that you set out above. This information is one of the most important parts of your marketing strategy and it’s important to note that your mix might change every now and then depending on trends and growth in your market. You need to list the following points in this section:
- Product strategy – What will your exact offering be
- Pricing strategy – How much will you be charging clients for your product or service and why?
- Distribution strategy – How will you make your product or service available to your clients?
- Promotional strategy – What will your marketing efforts be in order to create brand awareness and generate interest around your product or service?
The best guideline for deciding how much to spend on your marketing is anything from 1%-10% of your annual sales. This is mainly dependant on the industry you are in as well as how established your business is. The catch is that sales are dependent on marketing and vice versa so it’s important to put enough time and effort into this area of your business.
Go into some detail on the amount of money you will be assigning to marketing, how often you will be engaging in marketing activities and how you will monitor the effects. Some of the financials that investors might want to see and that will be useful as a monitoring tool are:
- Your break-even analysis
- Sales forecasts
- Expense forecasts.
There are many ways that you can also cut down on marketing costs and still get the most bang for your buck. Here are some ideas:
- Aim to attend industry events where you can network with potential customers and partners
- Make use of free online social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook
- Decide whether it’s necessary to hire outside creative help for the project that you have in mind. A headshot for your newsletter and a photo for a magazine advert have two different requirements. Try and do as much as possible yourself, within reason of course
- Your business cards can be an affordable and memorable marketing tool so don’t overlook this
- If you want an online presence there are tons of free platforms that you can use to design a basic website
Implementation and Control
This is the part where you give yourself timelines and deadlines. Define what needs to be done and by when so that you can monitor progress and make any necessary changes. Some of the areas that you can monitor are customer satisfaction, repeat business and the cost of acquiring new business.
Marketing Plan Resources
If you feel that you want more information on developing marketing strategies and devising a plan here are some useful links:
- Download a free marketing template
- (Video) Tips for building a great marketing plan
- Topsy – Search and analyse the social web
- Survey Monkey – Create online surveys and polls
- Access sector stats and trends on the DTI website
- Access South African white papers and reports from the SA Government website