The first thing you should do when forming a marketing plan is define the structure in which it will be presented. The structure of the plan should allow the presentation of strategic information in a logical and progressive manner. This structure should be prepared in a written outline detailing the progression of topics and how they will appear in the marketing plan.

The structure of a marketing plan will usually vary according to the business, its product or service, and the objectives of the marketing plan. Generally, however, each marketing plan will include the following information:

Executive summary

Product description

Market analysis

Competitive analysis

Product development

Operations

Goals & objectives

Marketing tactics

Financial projections

Summary

Keep in mind that the outline illustrated above is just an example. Go through and determine just what topics will be appropriate for your own marketing plan. You'll find that some of the items listed above will not be relevant to what you are proposing, or will require a different approach in order to define them in your marketing plan.

To determine just what you do need to include in your marketing plan, let's take a look at each topic and its significance to the overall plan.

Executive Summary

The first item listed in the outline is the executive summary of the marketing plan. The executive summary is a brief synopsis of the entire marketing plan. It provides the reader with the following information:

*A short description of your product or service

*Why it is different from your competitors' products or services

*Your objectives and goals

*The competitive advantage your product or service has over your competitors' products or services

*The amount of expansion capital needed to meet your objectives

*Financial results (i.e. return on investment, sales, profits, market share, etc.) and strategies that will be utilized to reach your objectives.

A solid, hard-hitting executive summary is an important element of a marketing plan, especially if you are trying to raise capital to fund the product. It provides busy investors and lenders with a quick glance of your proposed idea. It can be a few paragraphs long, but should be no longer than a page and a half. The idea is to present a well-thought-out and succinct executive summary that will grab the reader's attention within the few minutes allotted to review the plan. It must convey the impression that you are a responsible individual who can get things done, and that your plan has potential and a good chance for success.

Although the executive summary is usually prepared after the plan has been drafted, we are including it at the beginning of this section because that is where it will be placed in the presentation of the marketing plan. You want to prepare your executive summary after the plan has been completed because it is impossible to summarize a plan if you haven't formed it yet.

An executive summary is developed by reading through your marketing plan after it is completed and extracting the information you feel is key to the success of your proposal, such as size of the market, growth forecasts, relative competition, and your objectives. Start your summary with an attention-grabbing statement that describes your market, product, and any unmet customer needs. Follow this up with the specific thrust of your marketing strategy. What are you trying to accomplish?

For instance, suppose you're in the business of manufacturing disposable diapers. It's a huge market with several major players and many minor ones including private-label manufacturers and direct marketing companies. This doesn't even take into account peripheral competitors like diaper services and cloth diaper manufacturers. Through your research, you've come across a little-exploited gap in the market, and based on that information have developed a biodegradable disposable diaper. You want to act fast and place this product on the market to develop product brand association with your company before your competitors launch themselves into this market segment.

Given this situation, your executive summary might look like the following:

Sample Executive Summary

With over 1.6 million pounds of non-degradable disposable diapers finding their way into garbage dumps across America, many Americans are turning toward a more environmentally safe diaper for their babies to avoid the continued build-up of non-degradable diapers. Americans spend approximately $2.7 billion dollars per year for disposable diapers, but that number has been shrinking due to the encroachment of cloth diapers and delivery services with an estimated $400 million in sales each year.

Needless to say, the disposable diaper market is a huge, billion-dollar industry. These products are especially attractive to dual-income families and single parents who don't have the time to wash cloth diapers and don't want to spend the extra money for a diaper delivery service. Competitors in the market all boast the same type of product with absorbent pads, surrounded by a snug-fitting plastic diaper that is secured using tape connectors. There is some product differentiation in packaging, non-allergenic claims, and pad size ranging from ultra-thin to thick, but other than that there is very little difference between products. Despite the popularity of disposable diapers, however, many consumers are turning away from disposable diapers because they are not biodegradable.

Given this gap in the market, Bio-Diapers has been developed to provide ecology-minded consumers with an environmentally safe disposable diaper. This new line of biodegradable disposable diapers will feature all the elements that are popular among users of disposable diapers, but will include that added benefit -- biodegradability. The revolutionary new advancement in the disposable diaper market will attract consumers who are concerned about the environment as well as those consumers using cloth diapers and diaper services because the disposable diapers currently on the market are non-degradable.

Bio-Diapers will be available for babies ranging from newborns all the way up to 30 pounds and over. We will offer them in a variety of colorful designs and pad sizes. Our marketing objectives and strategies are highlighted in the following pages. We anticipate placing Bio-Diapers on the market by the summer of 1995.

As you can see, the executive summary for Bio-Diapers is not a long, drawn-out account listing all the profit projections, strategies, tactics, etc. That is for the plan itself. It does provide a descriptive summary that grabs the reviewer's attention and creates the curiosity necessary to impel the reader to the next section of the marketing plan.

In part II of our Marketing Plan series, we'll be covering the Product Description. Tips are updated daily at 5:00a.m. PST.