How to Effectively Plan Your Marketing Strategies
Marketing is the way in which a business communicates their brand to consumers. Your marketing strategies should not be static, but rather a creative, ongoing pursuit that evolves with your business – adjusting to shifts in industry trends and consumer behaviors.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of marketing for your business, and break down insights for creating a marketing plan and budget.
THE ROLE OF MARKETING IN YOUR BUSINESS
Marketing is one of the most important facets of your business. When done effectively, it builds brand awareness and increases sales. Other benefits include:
1. Informing and educating customers
Marketing shows existing and potential customers what your brand is all about. Your marketing efforts should find creative ways to inform your target audience about the products or services you sell, how those products or services can solve a certain problem in their lives, and the values that your company holds.
2. Sustaining your brand’s presence
Marketing enables companies to maintain a long-lasting relationship with their consumers. It should be executed in some shape or form on a daily basis so that you are constantly engaging with your audience and remaining top of mind.
Social media platforms, in particular, make it easier than ever to stay connected to your customers. Engaging with customers on a regular basis also keeps you informed about what is working well in your business and what areas may need improvement.
3. Drives sales
The goal of marketing is to drive sales. It is the art of targeting the right customers and reaching them with messaging that resonates with them and establishes an emotional connection to your brand.
4. Generates awareness to expand reach
In today’s modern business landscape, social media platforms and email marketing are effective channels that allow for direct and immediate access to consumers. Social media, especially, really levels the playing field for smaller businesses who may not have a huge marketing budget. As long as you can create content that resonates with your audience, you have the means to reach them.
WHY A MARKETING PLAN IS IMPORTANT
A marketing plan serves as the roadmap for how you will promote your products and services throughout the year. It is a compilation of all your various campaigns and strategies that you plan to execute from quarter to quarter, or even month to month.
HOW TO CREATE A MARKETING PLAN
In order to create a marketing strategy that will allow you to reach your target audience more effectively and efficiently, you must:
1. Conduct market research
To create an effective plan, you first need to research and understand your market. This helps you to:
- Identify the products and services your target market needs.
- Identify the platforms where your target market spends the most time so you can best reach them.
- Position your brand as an authority and trusted resource within your industry.
- Identify what your target market thinks of your competitors so you can take strategic actions to set yourself apart.
- Identify your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses to learn from them.
- Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented) goals for specific marketing activities.
2. Create consumer profiles
An effective strategy to better understand the various types of consumers you are trying to reach is to create “personas” for them. This takes into consideration their age, occupation, purchasing behavior, interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes, online behavior, etc. The more specific you can get, the better.
The purpose of this is to, in a sense, put a face to the consumers you wish to reach. The better you can understand who they are, their lifestyles and what they want, the more effective you will be in conceptualizing marketing strategies that resonate with them.
3. Conduct a SWOT Analysis
To ensure your marketing strategies are aligned with your business goals, conduct a SWOT analysis of your business. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
Developing your SWOT analysis will help you to:
- Identify your business’ strengths that you want to magnify through marketing efforts.
- Identify your business’ weakness that you want to improve upon.
- Identify what opportunities there are for you to gain a competitive edge through your marketing efforts.
- Identify where your competition stands in the market so you can utilize marketing to distinguish yourself apart from them.
For example, you and your competitor sell the same product. You know that your target consumer values sustainability. There is an opportunity there for you to re-launch the product with sustainable packaging to gain a competitive edge. You can then conceive of a creative marketing strategy to relaunch said product.
4. Study the competition
Your competitors are businesses in your same industry targeting the same market as you. You can categorize them into two groups:
- Direct Competitors – these are businesses that sell the same products and services as you do.
- Indirect Competitors – these are businesses that sell products and services that are different from yours but may satisfy the same needs as what you offer.
Once you have grouped your competitors, you can create their profiles. Identify the products they sell, if it’s similar or different from what you offer, how they engage with their customers and more. Knowing the ins and outs of your competition helps you to determine where you fit in the market.
5. Develop your marketing goals
After analyzing your target market, your business SWOT, and your competition, you should now have a clearer idea of what your marketing goals are to better position your business for success.
Setting goals requires you to have a clear vision of what you want your business to achieve. This includes long-term, bigger picture goals – i.e. plans for expansion, hitting certain sales increases by end of year, entering into new markets, etc. – as well smaller, short-term goals that are more digestible and help you build towards the bigger picture.
6. Map out your activities
Break your bigger annual marketing plan into smaller quarterly or even monthly plans, with each producing different strategies to address specific goals and targets. This not only makes your efforts more digestible, but it allows you to plan for them more effectively.
For instance, if sustainability plays a big role in your business model, perhaps you want to plan a big marketing push around Earth Day in April. Maybe you want to launch a philanthropic campaign or partnership tied to Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Remember, your marketing plan is your roadmap, so why not make it as detailed as possible. Once you’ve created this roadmap, the next step is to create your budget.
HOW TO CREATE A MARKETING BUDGET
Having a clear marketing plan allows you to determine and allocate the budget needed to execute it. Here are steps you can take towards creating yours:
1. Understand and establish your sales funnel
Your sales funnel refers to the process of converting a target customer into a paying customer. This is important to your budget because it shows you where in this process you need to spend your money.
The term sales funnel is rooted in the fact that you may identify many potential customers within your target market – this is like the top of the funnel – but only a portion of them will actually take the action to purchase your products – this is the narrow part of the funnel. Here are the four stages of the sales funnel.
- Awareness– where your audience becomes aware of the problem they have and starts looking for a solution.
- Consideration– where they weigh what solution options are available to them.
- Decision– where they start to narrow down their options.
- Action– where they choose a solution.
Once you have your sales funnel, you can see which part of it you need to inject money into to increase the amount of leads you are converting into sales.
2. Determine your operational cost
Will you be managing and executing your marketing efforts yourself? Or will you be hiring in-house staff or a third-party source to do it for you? If so, what does the cost of that look like? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you need to hire new staff to execute these efforts and meet your goals? If so, how much will this cost you?
- Do you have existing staff that can absorb this role?
- How much would it cost to hire a third-party marketing agency to achieve your goals?
- What do you stand to lose if you don’t act on your marketing goals as soon as possible? (Be sure to consider the market changes and future competition).
3. Determine the cost of your desired strategies
Look at the proposed initiatives, campaigns, and ideas in your marketing plan and determine what each will cost. You likely won’t be able to know the exact costs but do your best to estimate based on similar campaigns you’ve executed in the past and research. Many of these ideas may be scalable, meaning they could be executed at different scales, so include what maximum and minimum costs could look like.
4. Understand the shifts in trends
Identify which marketing trends and practices will work best for your business. You can ask yourself these questions as you consider which ones you’ll adopt:
- What is the current position of your business?
- How are you communicating with your audience recently?
- How can you improve in the future?
- What tools do you need to purchase to make your marketing efforts better?
HOW TO EVALUATE THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR PLAN
Creating and assembling your plan is half the battle. You also need to stay on top of measuring it’s success and effectiveness. This can be done quarterly, biannually or annually. Here’s what you should be checking for:
1. Budget adherence
In executing your plan, have you been able to remain within the confines of your projected budget? If not, where did the excess spending come from? If certain projects or initiatives have eaten more into your budget than you planned for, it will affect the allocation of the remainder.
Make sure you are tracking the returns on your investments. Perhaps you put a lot of money into a certain campaign that fell flat, or inversely, you made a small investment in an initiative that had an unexpectedly high return. These insights help when crafting the marketing plan and budget for the following year.
2. Wins and losses
Look at every single campaign and initiative in your plan and assess their success based on the goal they were intended to achieve. Did that social media campaign grow your audience? Did that brand partnership increase sales? Efforts that worked can be replicated while things that did not shouldn’t be.
3. Consider conversion and revenue
When reviewing your marketing plan and budget, look at how long a specific marketing effort took to convert a visitor to a customer. How much did you spend on that effort before you were able to convert? Did that customer return?
Marketing is certainly an investment, but one that can definitely lead to sales and future growth. Don’t neglect it. If you have to start small and work your way up, do that. Look at the current position of your business in the market, the current industry trends, and your future goals so you can create a plan and budget that will help to set your business up for success. Marketing plans should be living documents that you can amend, tweak, adjust and change as necessary. Keep in mind, the better you track your marketing successes and missteps each year, the better equipped you’ll be to create the following year’s plan.
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