The end of Q3 and the beginning of Q4 is an optimum time to begin the development of a marketing plan to kick-off in 2014.
The following 12 steps to developing an actionable marketing plan are the same ones I have used throughout my 35+ years as a marketing professional. If you want to grow your business and get your company's name established within your market, this is the place to start.
A well thought-out marketing plan will put things in perspective and serve as a guide to achieve your goals.
1. Research to knowas much as you can about your customer, competitors, the industries you serve and trends that may be game changers for your business. It is important that your business remains relevant.
2. Define your goal and what you want to accomplish. Be as specific as you can down to the number of new customer relationships needed, customer retention rates, growth by market segment and so on.
3. Know your company's strengths and weaknesses. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis so that you can weigh your strengths against those of your competitors to uncover your competitive advantages. Analyze your weaknesses to determine where you may fall short and vulnerable to your competition.
4. Develop a competitive position that defines your niche and positions you within your marketplace. Know your unique brand and create a competitive advantage that is memorable and has the ability to make you standout.
5. Objectives in a marketing plan identify obstacles you need to overcome in order to achieve success. It might be things expanding market share, greater geographic footprint, developing new products, more market recognition, streamlining or identifying new processes and so on.
6. Define your target market. Where is the growth you need going to come from? If you did a good job defining your goal, you will have a great perspective on what will drive future growth. Understanding market share, industry growth sectors and customer share will drive how you need to target market.
7. Plan your strategies. Define the vision for establishing and owning your competitive place in your industry. This is your argument for how you will succeed. Just don’t get tactical during this part of the plan.
8. Define your tactics. Notice that this is step number 8 and not step number 1. If you have done a good job with steps 1-7, defining your tactics will become very clear.
9. Establish a timeline to guide the implementation of your plan of action. Make a list of all the tactics or action steps and prioritize them first quarterly, and then monthly.
10. A marketing budget is necessary to drive business growth, and every company should have a defined marketing budget as a part of their business growth plan—period!
11. Tracking will help you to determine which tactics are working and which are not. Couponing, surveying call-ins, traffic counts, percentage of sales increases, number of inquiries and web-driven leads are some of the common forms of tracking. What you may discover is that marketing made the phone ring, but sales suffered because internal execution was a problem. It's important for you to know what's working and what's not. It is equally important to understand the science of marketing — pulling out too soon can be pouring money down the drain.
12. Defining performance milestones and measurement guidelines to evaluate the degree of your plan's success monthly or quarterly will help you avoid taking action prematurely or waiting too long.
A marketing plan is the key to successfully growing your company. Invest quality time in planning, and it will pay off!
Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 23-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the U.S. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, firstname.lastname@example.org, @brandpro or for more information www.greencrest.com.