Q: My partner and I want to write a marketing plan for our business, but it seems really complicated. Is there a way to simplify the process?
A: Writing a great marketing plan doesn't have to be a headache. I recommend a simple plan, broken down into five sections, that's easy to write and follow. If you're creating your marketing plan for in-house use, you can bullet the sections and make the writing as brief as possible. Content matters most--not your writing style. Here's how to write a five-part plan that works as hard as you do:
Section 1: Situation Analysis
This introductory section contains an overview of your situation as it exists today and will provide a useful benchmark as you adapt and refine your plan in the coming months. Begin with a short description of your current product or service offering, the marketing advantages and challenges you face, and a look at the threats posed by your competitors. Describe any outside forces that will affect your business in the coming year--this can be anything from diminished traffic levels due to construction if you're a retailer or a change in law that could affect a new product introduction if you're an inventor, for example.
Section 2: Target Audience
All that's needed here is a simple, bulleted description of your target audiences. If you're marketing to consumers, write a target-audience profile based on demographics, including age, gender and any other important characteristics. B2B marketers should list your target audiences by category (such as lawyers, doctors, shopping malls) and include any qualifying criteria for each.
Section 3: Goals
In one page or less, list your company's marketing goals for the coming year. The key is to make your goals realistic and measurable so that you can easily evaluate your performance. "Increase sales of peripherals" is an example of an ineffective goal. You'd be in a much better position to gauge your marketing progress with a goal such as, "Increase sales of peripherals 10 percent in the first quarter, 15 percent in the second quarter, 15 percent in the third quarter and 10 percent in fourth quarter."
Section 4: Strategies and Tactics
This section will make up the bulk of your plan, and you should take as much space as you need to give an overview of your marketing strategies and list each of the corresponding tactics you'll employ to execute them. Here's an example: A client of mine markets videotape and equipment. One of her goals is to increase sales to large ministries in three states by 20 percent. Together we've developed a strategy that includes making a special offer each month to this prospect group, and one of her tactics is to use monthly e-mails to market to an in-house list.
Your tactics section should include all the actionable steps you plan to take for advertising, public relations, direct mail, trade shows and special promotions. You can use a paper calendar to schedule your tactics or use a contact manager or spreadsheet program--what matters most is that you stick to your schedule and follow through. A plan on paper is only useful if it's put into action.
Section 5: Budget Breakdown
The final section of your plan includes a brief breakdown of the costs associated with each of your tactics. So if you plan to exhibit at three trade shows per year, for example, you'll include the costs to participate in the shows and prepare your booth and marketing materials. If you find the tactics you've selected are too costly, you can go back and make revisions before you arrive at a final budget.
You can adapt this plan as your business grows and your marketing programs evolve. Soon you'll find it's a simple tool you can't afford to be without.