The Marketing Plan
Many people make the incorrect assumption that a marketing plan simply comprises the famous ‘4Ps’ marketing mix of Product, Price, Place and Promotion, and that it is a straightforward matter of using social media to connect with hundreds of potential customers who will rush to buy your product or service. Unfortunately, this is just not true, and good marketing plans involve a great deal of research to understand what is happening in the marketplace, how competitors are behaving, what it is that customers want and need. And, most important of all, how to present a new product or service in a way which is different so that customers will want to buy it.
There are a number of tools which can be used to conduct this assessment and audit, beginning with a macro assessment of the wider marketplace, followed by a consideration of competitor activity and also customer needs.
The most popular and useful macro analysis tool includes a PESTLE analysis in which the full acronym stands for:
A macro environment contains influences that can impact on the entire economy of a business and if left unchecked, can cause significant issues and implications for the organisation.
There are a number of ways to analyse the activities of competitors, and the overall competitive environment. For small business, but one which trades nationally via its website, it is important to consider broader competitor activity. Ideally this should be conducted in two stages, the first of which considers wider general market activity, and the second step considers immediate and direct competitors.
The final step in the process is to conduct an internal analysis, also named as a micro analysis, of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Ideally, a SWOT analysis should be matched to the external assessment, so that an organisation can see where their unique strengths can be used in the marketplace and where they may face threats or vulnerabilities. Understanding what these threats and weaknesses are means that they can take action to address these before they become problems.
In a social media driven world where it is possible for customers to provide instant feedback, both positive and negative, understanding how customers and competitors perceive an organisation is also an important consideration.
Being responsive to and aware of market conditions, and always remembering that markets are dynamic is absolutely fundamental to appreciating where they are now and where they would wish to be. It is always worth spending time and effort conducting a situational analysis and monitoring the wider marketplace to avoid unexpected risks and challenges which have been known to cause a business to fail. Irrespective of the size or industry sector in which a business operates, a thorough situational analysis is always firmly recommended.
The objectives of the organisation will largely depend entirely upon its size, resources, and the markets in which it functions. However, the fundamental principles of setting realistic and achievable objectives which are measured and monitored remains true irrespective of any of these factors. There are two ways of setting objectives in a marketing plan. The first of these is to use the well-established SMART principle of goals and objectives which are:
- Time bound
This element of the SOTAC framework refers to the longer term strategy matching the objectives of the marketing plan to long-term goals. It draws upon the situational analysis and is likely to include techniques such as Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning (STP) and creating a compelling Online Value Proposition (OVP). This provides an organisation with direction and the fundamental goal of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.
This stage of the framework refers to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of exactly how the strategy will be achieved. It includes specifics of the content of any marketing material, such as web content, and identifying how the inventory management software will be linked to the website portal so that customers know that the stock information is accurate when they order. Similarly, checking that the detail of an up-to-date mailing list is accurate and that all of those on the mailing list have consented to be contacted (remembering that there is quite strict legislation regarding spurious marketing activity and the protection of customer data). If there is uncertainty about the scope of the target market, identifying exactly how the target market can be defined and contacted, and how it will be possible to attract greater customer numbers. This might include referral using electronic word-of-mouth and specific advertising campaigns on social media channels.
This element refers to allocating specific responsibility for specific tasks to specific individuals. This is important to ensure that the plan proposed in the tactics and strategy sections is actively achieved, and if not, someone will be in a position to explaining why. Obviously this will depend very much upon the resources available to an organisation. Larger businesses with greater resources are likely to find this element much easier and will be able to allocate specific elements to appropriate individuals and departments in order to achieve the tactics described above. It is always sensible to link these actions back to objectives to ensure that they are achieved within the timeframe and that individuals understand exactly what is expected of them.
The final element, control, is concerned with monitoring activities and performance to ensure that those responsible for carrying out the specific actions are doing so and, to a lesser extent that the objectives are being achieved. In more common terms, ‘checking that everything is on track’. It is important that this is a proactive and positive exercise and used as an opportunity to identify any areas which may be falling behind and can be addressed quickly and effectively before they become problematic.
Budgeting is likely to be an important element of the overall process of developing and then implementing a marketing plan. Few organisations have limitless resources, particularly financial ones, and therefore it is usually necessary to make decisions about budgetary availability and distribution. Marketing budgets ensure that the marketing plan or campaign has been realistically costed. A marketing budget presents the estimate of projected costs in order to successfully market the selected products and service being implemented into a selected marketplace. Typical marketing communications costs include advertising, sales promotion, public relations and direct marketing.
One final consideration is the possibility of international marketing as a potential long-term means of expanding the marketing reach of the business. In the current UK marketplace, mindful of political activity, UK businesses are being encouraged to engage in export activity in order to help forge international trading links. In marketing terms, it is therefore important to consider how, if at all, to approach the international marketplace and whether there are any barriers or challenges which could be incorporated into the situational analysis and also marketing objectives.
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