How to write a marketing plan

All businesses need a marketing plan, so here's how to write yours, step by step.

Your business needs customers. And customers need your products and services. Marketing is about bringing these needs together – and really effective marketing makes it clear that you’re the best choice.

But before you leap straight in, taking a step back and doing some planning first will help you focus on your goals, your audience (current and potential) and your competitors.

That’s where a marketing plan comes in handy. A marketing plan is your business’ blueprint for success. It sets out your strategy for winning business or gaining customers and states your goals and objectives for the future.

Every good business needs a good marketing plan, so here’s how to write yours in five easy steps.

Step 1 – list your goals

Before starting, think about why you’re marketing your business. What business goals will your plan help you achieve?

Make a list of your main goals, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Two main targets with three to five supporting ones should be sufficient, and make sure they're SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) so you can easily track their progress.

Make these goals part of your daily operation to generate the enthusiasm and energy you and your team need to be successful. Keep reviewing, revising and rewriting your plan, and ongoing marketing will soon become business as usual.

These goals should appear at the top of your marketing plan, giving a context to everything that follows.

Step 2 – carry out research

Your goals are in place, and now you need the routes to reach them.

You don’t have to be a marketing expert to find the information you need to take your plan forward, and your next step involves research and analysing your business.

 

SWOT analysis

A clear, punchy overview of your business that leaves readers hungry to learn more.

A favourite business tool, the SWOT analysis helps you identify your business’ strengths, weaknesses (internal influences), opportunities and threats (external influences). This really gets you thinking through your business in detail. You may have already carried out a SWOT for your business plan: now try one from a marketing perspective.

Strengths. What is special about your business? List your key selling points, from expertise to location. Make sure your website highlights all these plus points.

Weaknesses. Work out how marketing can help you mitigate any weaknesses. For new businesses, this is often simply a lack of experience. An example of how to mitigate this is by emphasising the up-to-the-minute skills of your young team.

Opportunities. These are external factors you can use to your advantage: a new housing development opening nearby, for instance. Use social media and leafleting to make sure everyone knows about you.

Threats. You’re a small deli, and a large supermarket is opening down the road. Make the most of your USPs of personal service and local products. Marketing materials such as discount flyers help you retain your footfall.

 

Competitor analysis

Who are your main competitors? Who offers a similar product or service to you in the same market?

Start out with some search engine research: typing your business type and location into Google will give you a great insight. Try to analyse at least four of your main rivals: look at what they offer, their price point, their reputation and any USPs. Do they provide extra services (free delivery, after-sales service)? How do you compare? What makes you stand out?

Knowing this information early can help you make sure your business stays competitive.

 

Buyer persona

A buyer persona is a fictionalised version of your target customer. You can build up a picture of your typical customer simply through your own experience, and by talking with your team. Broadly, what are their demographics? Do they use social media? What’s their motivation for buying from you?

You may have different personas for different elements of your business. For example, a hotel may offer a roast lunch with a special rate for older customers (think: local press ad). In the evening, that same venue may host live music from an up and coming local band (think: social media campaign). Think about which type of customer needs the most marketing attention.

By gaining an in-depth understanding of your customers, you can better target your marketing spend and energies.

 

The buying cycle

Once you’ve established the personas, think about how they respond to your business. The buying cycle explains how a customer makes their purchasing decision, and typically consists of three stages: awareness, consideration and finally purchase.

At the awareness stage, don’t be too specific about facts and figures (yet) as your first aim is to emphasise how much your customer wants a sandwich/haircut/clean windows.

Next, the customer considers how they might meet this need. Help them find a solution by making sure there is readily available information about your services (on your website for example).

And finally at the purchase stage, give your customers plenty of reasons to pick you above your competitors (again, the website helps).

Step 3 – explain your strategy

You’ve got your buyer persona and have carried out background research. Now it’s time to refine your strategies.

Keep those goals from Step One in mind as you delve into the detail of marketing.

Your unique selling proposition (USP) needs to underpin your marketing activity. Think about what makes you different and shout about it.

 

Ensure you have a strong brand

A brand is a name or visual feature that distinguishes your business. It can become one of your strongest assets, so it’s worth spending time on getting your name right and investing in a good design.

Be consistent with your brand. Use your logo and colours across your website, printed materials, packaging, signage, even your staff uniforms.

 

Make a great website

Thanks to platforms like WordPress and Wix, you can create a good-looking website yourself. Pick a responsive template where the design adjusts to smartphone screens (last year, almost 50% of all global webpage views were on mobiles).

Keep the design clear, and the information well organised and easy to read. Consider what a potential customer would want to know, and make sure you answer those points.

 

Create great content

Having quality content helps boost your position on search engines; however, make sure that it also speaks to your customers, and that it is lively and engaging (and typo-free).

Use your website and blog to establish your business as a go-to resource. A hints-and-tips or behind-the-scenes blog helps position you as an expert, and gives you original content for social sharing.

 

Define your distribution channels

Where will you share this unique new content? Will you send out an e-newsletter? (If so, be aware of the new GDPR regulations that take over from the Data Protection Act and cover data collecting and processing.)

What social media channels do your customers use? Make sure you’re posting regularly to encourage engagement: get the targeting right and it’s a cheap and responsive way to reach a wide audience.

If you’re using printed materials or advertising, build these costs into your marketing budget.

 

Develop an SEO strategy

These days, tactics like 'keyword stuffing' will be penalised by search engines, and quality content is the way forward. However, you can include a few commonly searched-for words and phrases. Use a keyword research tool such as Google’s keyword planner to help you find the right terms.

It’s an advantage to have a URL that’s as close as possible to your business’ name. Also consider having a keyword in your URL ('florist', 'café', 'garage'). Run the name through a domain checker such as 123-Reg. A memorable URL helps, and keep it as short as you can.

Step 4 – define KPIs and measurements

When you’re setting up your plan, build in a means of testing whether your marketing is working. What are your key performance indictors (KPIs)? These could be measures such as 'increase sales by 10% year-on-year'.

However, it can be hard to quantify exactly how much certain marketing methods contributed to this. How do you work out whether an advert on the back of a bus has been worth it? The answer is: not easily – but you can survey your customers to find out where they heard about you or your offer. If your KPI is to increase custom from a certain buyer persona, measure demographics to see if it’s working (again, be aware of the new regulations).

Some marketing methods are easier to measure. You can track social media engagement by seeing how many of those who see your posts click onto your website. It’s similar for e-marketing, as you can track the clickthrough rate to your landing page. Google Analytics can give you lots of helpful intelligence about your online presence.

In the simplest terms, track business income alongside marketing spend. If there’s no real increase after a set period, revisit your marketing methods. Any decrease could be due to other factors (as analysed in your SWOT exercise), but this is where you can start to target and review your marketing in response.

Step 5 – create tactical plans

When you’re setting up your plan, build in a means of testing whether your marketing is working. What are your key performance indictors (KPIs)? These could be measures such as 'increase sales by 10% year-on-year'.

However, it can be hard to quantify exactly how much certain marketing methods contributed to this. How do you work out whether an advert on the back of a bus has been worth it? The answer is: not easily – but you can survey your customers to find out where they heard about you or your offer. If your KPI is to increase custom from a certain buyer persona, measure demographics to see if it’s working (again, be aware of the new regulations).

Some marketing methods are easier to measure. You can track social media engagement by seeing how many of those who see your posts click onto your website. It’s similar for e-marketing, as you can track the clickthrough rate to your landing page. Google Analytics can give you lots of helpful intelligence about your online presence.

In the simplest terms, track business income alongside marketing spend. If there’s no real increase after a set period, revisit your marketing methods. Any decrease could be due to other factors (as analysed in your SWOT exercise), but this is where you can start to target and review your marketing in response.

  

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