A company’s marketing plan must demonstrate an understanding of its target customers, present innovative methods the company will use to reach them and define the message the company will use to persuade these prime customers to make a purchase decision. The challenge of a marketing plan is compounded by customers’ needs and wants continually changing and the changing competitive landscape -- new competitors entering the market and established competitors gaining strength or market share.
At one time or another, almost every VP of marketing becomes frustrated that there is not enough money in the marketing budget to accomplish all of the objectives he was hoping to. For companies of all sizes, it is a fact of life that every department within the organization has to live with budgetary constraints and use each dollar as efficiently as possible. Marketing planning can be especially difficult during economic downturns when some companies have to reduce their marketing budgets, including funds for advertising. Marketing executives would argue that the way to get out of a sales slump is for the company to be even more aggressive with marketing.
Companies that are most successful over the long term are adept at bringing products and services to the market that fit extremely well with current customer needs -- they provide benefits that are most sought after by customers, whether other businesses or consumers. Companies often set themselves up for failure by not truly understanding what these needs are and offering products or services that customers simply aren’t that enthusiastic about purchasing. The marketing department is charged with crafting a message that grabs the target customers’ attention. A lack of understanding of customers needs, problems and lifestyles can cause the company’s marketing message to be diluted, misunderstood or even ignored.
Your marketing plan must spell out exactly how your company will differentiate itself from its most formidable competitors. If you don’t understand the reasons why competitors are consistently able to attract customers, it is extremely difficult to come up with an offering that is even more attractive. Without gathering sufficient information about competitors, a company may underestimate a competitor’s strengths -- brand name recognition, for example. In addition, you must develop contingency plans to deal with strategic moves made by competitors. This requires monitoring the actions of competitors so your company can react quickly to an adversary's move that could threaten your market position.
A marketing plan is used to “sell” the company’s competitive advantages to customers, but the plan is effective only if the company actually can demonstrate it is offering something different and better. In a town with 20 pizza restaurants, for example, drawing up a marketing plan for the 21st restaurant to open is a daunting challenge. Service companies in particular have difficulty articulating why they are different. Customers may view the service almost as a commodity, so they look for the lowest-cost or most convenient provider. A remedy is to use testimonials from existing customers in your marketing message. Having satisfied customers to showcase can help differentiate a service provider.