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Five Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

August 11, 2011
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220148

While your business plan generally outlines your entire business, a standalone marketing plan focuses specifically, and in more detail, on just that one function. When business owners want to dive deeper into their marketing strategy they will likely put together a detailed plan that outlines their marketing goals -- as well as the steps needed to accomplish them.

The standard components of an effective marketing plan can vary depending on who you ask. Here is my recommended five-step process for developing a marketing plan that will help you achieve your goals for business growth.

Step One: Look inward.
Think of your company as if it were a person with its own unique personality and identity. With that in mind, create separate lists that identify your business's strengths, weaknesses and goals. Put everything down and create big lists. Don't edit or reject anything.

Then, find priorities among the bullet points. If you've done this right, you'll have more than you can use, and some more important than others. Kick some of the less important bullets off the list and move the ones that are important to the top.

This sometimes requires input from your managers as well. For example, your management team thinks being conservative on spending is a weakness but you don't. That might be something to drop off the list.

Related: Guy Kawasaki on Writing an Effective Mission Statement

Step Two: Look outward.
The next list you'll need to make outlines your business's opportunities and threats. Think of both as external to your business -- factors that you can't control but can try to predict. Opportunities can include new markets, new products and trends that favor your business. Threats include competition and advances in technology that put you at a disadvantage.

Also make a list of invented people or organizations who serve as ideal buyers or your ideal target market. You can consider each one a persona, such as a grandmother discovering email or a college student getting his or her first credit card. These people are iconic and ideal, and stand for the best possible buyer.

Put yourself in the place of each of these ideal buyers and then think about what media he or she uses and what message would communicate your offering most effectively. Keep your identity in the back of your mind as you flesh out your target markets.

Steps to Create a Marketing PlanStep Three: Focus on strategy.
Now it's time to pull your lists together. Look for the intersection of your unique identity and your target market. In terms of your business offerings, what could you drop off the list because it's not strategic? Then think about dropping those who aren't in your target market.

For example, a restaurant business focused on healthy, organic and fine dining would probably cater to people more in tune with green trends and with higher-than-average disposable income. So, it might rule out people who prefer eating fast-food like hamburgers and pizza, and who look for bargains.

The result of step three is strategy: Narrow your focus to what's most in alignment with your identity and most attractive to your target market. In other words, focus on the area that is shared by all three lines in the diagram here.

Related: Creating a Unique Selling Proposition

Step Four: Set measurable steps.
Get down to the details that are concrete and measurable. Your marketing strategy should become a plan that includes monthly review, tracking and measurement, sales forecasts, expense budgets and non-monetary metrics for tracking progress. These can include leads, presentations, phone calls, links, blog posts, page views, conversion rates, proposals and trips, among others.

Match important tasks to people on your team and hold them accountable for their successes and failures.

Step Five: Review often and revise.
Just as with your business plan, your marketing plan should continue to evolve along with your business. Your assumptions will change, so adapt to the changing business landscape. Some parts of the plan also will work better than others, so review and revise to accommodate what you learn as you go.

Related: Five Signs You Need a Marketing Makeover