How to Write a Comprehensive Marketing Plan in 6 (and a Half) Steps

A written marketing plan is hugely important for any business. A well structured plan will help you to manage the ongoing performance of your business and to achieve your goals. It will bring structure to what you are doing, help you to raise finance, motivate you and your team, identify your strengths and weaknesses and so much more.

But what do you need to include in your marketing plan?

That’s a good question and one that you can answer in the following 6 (and a half) steps.

Step 1 – The Marketing Audit

You can’t put a plan together for where you want to take your business, without first understanding where your business is now. Using some simple tools such as SWOT and PEST analyses you can examine both your businesses internal and external environment.

Try to answer all of these questions and more:

What is your product, its features and identity and how is it differentiated?

Why will your customers want to buy it?

Where will you sell your product and how will you set your prices?

Who are your competitors, what are their products and services?

Which geographies are you targeting?

What’s the monetary value of the market?

Once you’ve completed some heavy thinking you’re ready to think about where you want to take your business, so move on to step 2.

Step 2 – The Mission

An effective marketing plan has to include a mission statement. It is essentially the overriding goal or direction for your business and will help you to understand and explain to your stakeholders what you actually want to achieve.

It should be a top level guide to your businesses direction, for example:

Bobs Mobile Printers will provide affordable and high quality stationary printing services to New York City based small and medium businesses delighting their customers with every order.

It shouldn’t be too specific or include any measures as these come later on in the plan, but it does need to give your business some direction.

Step 3 – Objectives, Strategy and Measures

Now is the time to get more specific. Your objectives need to spell out where you actually want to get to. For example Chris the Fish, a high street fish monger, has an objective to be the first choice on the local high street for fresh fish.

His strategy therefore is how he’s actually going to do this. In Chris’s case he has decided to sell the highest quality fish, at a premium price, with quality service. He hopes this will differentiate his offering from the local supermarket.

The measure then is how Chris will decide if he’s got his strategy right, what marketers like to call the control measure.

He has set a short term financial goal of increasing his turnover by 15% in the first year. He will also measure customer satisfaction and has set a target that 95% of customers will be happy to recommend him to friends and family.

Step 4 – Customer Segmentation

Once you’ve identified your objectives, strategy and performance measures, you next need to think hard about your customers. Marketing is as much about knowing your customers, as it is advertising or attending a trade fair. Think about who they are, what they like and dislike, when they do business, what motivates them, what their characteristics are and which newspapers they read.

The more you can profile your customers, the better you can target your offering and marketing communications.

Step 5 – The Marketing Communications Plan

At this stage it’s time to think about how you will communicate with your customers. This is all about telling your customers who you are, what you sell and, crucially, motivating them to do business with you. To be effective you need to consider a multilevel marketing approach i.e. more than one communications activity at any one time.

You should start by identifying your top three messages. For example Chris the Fish has three top messages to convey to his target audience:

1. Chris the Fish stocks only the freshest and highest quality fish,

2. Chris the Fish’s business is located on the local high street,

3. Chris the Fish has an online ordering service with free deliveries for orders over $10.

Once Chris has identified his top three messages, he can plan out how to convey these to his target audience.

Crucially for each communications medium you need to ask: why am I doing this? If you cannot answer this quickly and clearly, then it might not be the right communications vehicle for your business. Consider also what you want to achieve with each medium.

Step 6 – Budget & Cash Flow

So we’re down to the most painful part, what’s it going to cost? My advice here is to look at your annual cash flow projection i.e. what you expect to turnover in the first year. Once you have this figure in mind you can identify the percentage of your turnover you want to reinvest in your business. It might typically be anything between 1-10%, but each business is different.

Remember that marketing is an investment in your businesses success and not just an expense.

Step 6 (and a half) – Getting Buy-in from your Team

The final step is probably the most difficult of them all, but it’s crucial. Present your plan to your employees, family, friends and anyone who has an interest in the success of your business. This will help you to generate support and to keep you motivated.

Don’t forget, your marketing plan should be kept on your desk and reviewed periodically, at the very least once a quarter. If you are going to take the effort to write a plan you might as well use it effectively.