How to Create a Marketing Plan

marketing planHaving a well thought out Marketing Plan has quite possibly never been more critical than it is right now as we try to navigate the landscape of an unprecedented business downturn and a future that is fraught with uncertainty. If you don’t have a plan, then as they say, you might just be “planning to fail.” If you do have a Marketing Plan already in place, even a simple one, at least you have something that you can review to see what’s working (digital) and what part of the strategy needs to be revamped (in-person events). The worst thing you can do is allow yourself to become overwhelmed, having no strategy and no idea how to create one.

If you don’t have a marketing plan, you’re not alone, we see it all the time. This study by OutBoundEngine found that 50% of the 350 owners of small- and medium-sized businesses surveyed did not have a marketing plan in place, and of those who spent the least amount of time on their marketing, 47% did not experience revenue growth. Many businesses that don’t have a marketing plan have survived for years living off of positive brand recognition, loyal returning customers, referrals, and just plain luck. When slowly evolving trends start to become noticeable in lower sales figures, or when something dramatic and unforeseen arises like we’re experiencing right now, they’re at a loss as to where to turn to stimulate revenue and regain lost ground. 

Let’s take a look at how to begin.

1. Start with a Situation Analysis.

A great starting point is to do your homework, so review some history, where you stand vs. competitors in your marketplace, and where you see the future going.  Include the opportunities you think could lay ahead, as well as the risks that you’ll want to plan to avoid if you can.  You’ll be surprised how cathartic this first step can be, just getting it all down on paper and out of your head helps you start to clarify your vision for where you want to take your business in the days ahead.

2. Determine Your Goals.

You need to figure out what results you want to see before you can possibly create a plan to make it happen. Personally, I love to use a spreadsheet for this part. It always helps to begin with some history, so review your growth over the past 5 years to determine a baseline, and then push that number a bit higher so it’s more of a stretch goal. Are there key metrics you know you’ll need to hit in order for your vision to come to life?

  • Maybe you'll need to launch an existing service in a new way. (Example: Starting to offer takeout instead of table service, providing your service virtually, or some other such pivot that we've been seeing smart entrepreneurs make lately.)
  • Do you need to hit a certain sales figure before you’ve made enough profit to hire the operations manager you know you need?
  • How many website visitors do you need to attract to be able to speak to x% by phone to get x% of in person meetings to become x% of customers or buyers? 

Whatever your goals, try to make them SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

3. Figure out how much each segment of your business can contribute to that growth.

Look at your different revenue streams and see where the growth is really coming from, and where you might make more if you were to put more marketing effort behind them. For instance, you might have different channels such as ecommerce vs. in-store sales, or different product lines, or different types of services like we do with marketing consulting, project work, and marketing training courses. Mark down how much each has been contributing to sales over the 5 year timeframe and put some thought into forecasting this out over the next 12 months. If you know you will need to invest in one vs. another to stimulate sales, then mark that down as well.

4. Determine the different customer types who will drive sales in these business segments.

We call these “Personas,” which represent your various different target audiences. Be sure they’re clearly defined and definitely different from one another in terms of why they need what you are selling. They may differ in the ways they prefer to get information, the reasons they buy, or how much support they might need. The variations can be endless, so don’t get lost in the detail--just figure out who your largest audience segments are so you can stay focused and your message doesn’t become too fragmented. There will be time for refinements later.

5. Make a list of the marketing tactics and technology you plan to use to reach these audiences.

Different Personas look for their information in different ways, so try to be sure you’re present in the places where they are searching.

This is the part that many business owners find overwhelming since marketing platforms continue to rapidly change, making a seemingly endless and bewildering range of choices.  Try to keep it simple, breaking it down into digital presence (your website, including your blog and your company’s social media platforms),  your digital outreach (outbound emails and paid advertising, like Google Ads or social media advertising), and physical tactics (like direct mail, promotional items, and anything tangible).

Marketing automation can form the backbone of your digital efforts, providing you with a marketing platform to host your website, post your content, generate leads who are interested in that content--including gaining the attention of your existing customers who may wish to purchase more or refer you to others--and nurture those leads through the sales process to the point where they’re interested to either buy now or talk to Sales. As a Gold tier HubSpot Partner agency, we’re a fan of HubSpot as a marketing automation tool.

Even if you’re not ready for automation, HubSpot and the various blogs they publish can be a great resource for marketing information. Each year, HubSpot produces an annual report of marketing statistics that can be extremely helpful to those who are trying to sort through the various tactics they should include in their marketing plans.

6. Create a content marketing plan targeting your Personas.

Planning is essential in this stage, and so often overlooked. This is where you figure out what message you want to communicate to each of your main audiences. If you think you’ll come up with it on the fly, then it’s highly likely that your messaging will be all over the place, with too little content to some and too much to others. 

One message rarely works for all, so the more specifically you can speak to their specific needs, the more likely you’ll be able to gain their attention and engage in a helpful conversation with them that will hopefully lead to a sale.

Determine how much of your content will target each audience so the amount of content you’re producing is balanced, weighting it based upon how much effort you want to put into attracting each audience. Obviously, more content should be prioritized to target the Personas that will bring in the highest volume or profit, but don’t forget about speaking to your niche audiences as well so they aren’t ignored.

7. Figure out how much to spend on each tactic.

Now that you know who you want to target and the tactics you’ll use to reach them, you’ll need to figure out how much it will cost. We like to go back to the spreadsheet now and create a calendarized budget, laying out the next 12 months across the top and the tactics down the left hand side, then dropping in the amount we propose to spend every month on each one. Totals at the end show us the annual spend on each tactic, and totals across the bottom show us the monthly spend.

How much you spend will depend certainly upon what you can afford, your industry and what your competition is doing, but there are some rough rules of thumb that you can use to “reality check” your numbers. For instance, the SBA recommends spending between 7 to 8 percent of your gross revenue on marketing if sales are less than $5 million and you have a net profit margin in the range of 10 to 12 percent, but many industries spend more per these statistics from Statista. The CMO Survey published by Deloitte also has some interesting statistics on marketing spend that you might find helpful.

Once you’ve fully loaded your spreadsheet, you might find that what you would like to do has overshot the mark vs. what your budget can handle though, so cut those rows out and drop them onto a separate tab of “things we know we want to do, but can’t do today.” That way, your hard work won’t be lost when the money potentially becomes available later.

Some of our favorite low-budget high-reward tactics are adding posting articles to both your website’s blog and your social media platforms and allocating some of your budget to paid search advertising on both Google and social media. This strategy helps you get found, and you save quite a bit if you can produce the content in house.

8. Refine your draft by reviewing it with your key team members.

A great plan is one thing, but you’ll want to review it with your management team to get their input and buy-in. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so by all means take advantage of any resources you have to gather creative thoughts and discuss new concepts. 

9. Assign dates and responsibilities to bring your plan to life.

There’s no time to waste in putting your plan into action, and it will never happen if you don’t specifically assign responsibility. Figure out who needs to create what and by when, then hold the team accountable. Look at it this way: At this moment in your company’s history, your marketing program is just too important to let it sit on a shelf.

10. Closely monitor performance and continue to refine.

Every tactic you use will have some type of way in which it can be measured to determine if it’s moving the dial, so it’s best to figure out what these “Key Performance Indicators” are in advance and then take the time to regularly check in to see what’s working and what needs improvement.

Some tactics shouldn’t even be attempted if you’re not in it for the long haul, like posting content on your website. For instance, it takes time for a blog post to be noticed and one post on one topic will look like you don’t have much to talk about. Similarly, it takes constant effort before a substantial amount of social posts accumulate and you can establish that you have any authority on a subject. Even pay-per-click ads may not hit the mark immediately and will need consistent review and adjustment so you can gradually decrease your spend per click while improving the quality of those clicks.

It’s always harder to begin with a blank page. If you’re ready to get started, HubSpot offers a free marketing plan and strategy template, including several examples that might help you jumpstart your efforts. They also offer a marketing plan template in Word format, which is also free. If you’d like some assistance with your planning, that’s right in our wheelhouse so we’re available to assist you as well.

For our latest advice and ideas tailored to what to do during this unusual economy, download our recent ebook, Marketing During a Recession, for inspiration.

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