Marketing success grows out of a good marketing plan. Craft it as well as you can, and then make adjustments as needed. Business conditions can change quickly as markets evolve, new technologies develop or customers go out of business. Your carefully conceived plan will serve as a reliable road map, even when detours arise.
Assess whether you have a marketable product. What's unique about it? Do you know who your customer is, and are you certain your product will meet her wants and needs?
Recognize that a marketing plan should establish a clear and specific strategy, including an allocated budget, for the coming year's efforts to identify customers and make effective contact with them. The hours invested in drawing it up will prevent considerable wasted time in future months.
Collect background data, including financial and sales reports on current products and lists of target markets, and information on customers and competitors. Survey current customers and collect market research on customers you want to reach.
Spell out your overall objectives as fully as possible. Set concrete and measurable goals. If you're not running your own show, get a seal of approval on these goals from senior management before you jump into brainstorming with your co-workers about specific tactics. And even if you are running a tiny startup, don't discount the value of brainstorming with trusted advisers.
Set a financial budget. Break down large numbers into more specific ones, such as the investment required to gain one new customer. Large companies should compare projected spending with industry averages for marketing dollars as a percent of sales.
Allocate in-house resources. Determine what activities should be outsourced--perhaps Web-site design, direct-mail campaigns or trade-show setups.
Create any graphs and charts needed to illustrate important segments of the plan. See 207 Polish Your Presentation Skills.
Conclude with an evaluation guideline that includes timelines for reaching specific goals, including new customers identified, orders booked and cost controls achieved. Emphasize what should be accomplished within one year, but include shorter-term benchmarks to track results along the way. Establish a schedule of meetings to evaluate progress.
Write the executive overview. Though this is the first section in your finished plan, it's the last one you write, as it's actually a summary. Briefly state the major points of your plan, using bulleted lists and short sentences. Limit it to a single page, but include the most important financial numbers.
Go off-site for the final sessions of drafting the plan. Getting away from ringing phones, e-mail messages and competing meetings will give you more time for creative thinking. Identify the SWOT and the PEST factors for your product and its markets-- both actual and potential. Acronyms abound in marketing-speak, but these two actually are helpful for remembering important areas to research: SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; PEST for Political, Economic, Social and Technology factors. Focus on quality over quantity in setting marketing goals. It's far better to achieve three goals--such as improving your company's Web site, identifying a new target market, or increasing your percentage of retained customers--than to spread resources too thin in unsuccessful attempts to reach nine or ten new milestones. Share major points of your plan companywide. All employees should be aware of the marketing department's vision and goals. Even if your company is small, it's helpful to have clearly defined marketing goals.