You’d never start a business without first creating a solid business plan, and marketing is no different! A company’s marketing plan is a document that outlines the marketing and advertising campaigns a company wants to carry out over a certain period of time – usually a year. This helps with numerous things, including time management and SMART goal setting, and it also helps make sure every knows the role they are playing in the marketing team (which in turn leads to seamless teamwork).
Following our steps, you’ll be able to structure your own startup marketing plan and make sure you pull off this year’s marketing without a hitch!
What Should Be Included in a Marketing Plan?
- Research the Market
The very first thing you should do is carry out research on the market your business intends to sell in. This involves looking where customers are currently purchasing the products/services you sell (i.e. your competitors) and what other products competitors offer, finding any seasonal patterns, what your customer demographics would be and why they make certain buying decisions.
If you’re not sure where to start with your market research, why not create a SWOT analysis? This is a strategic planning technique that helps you identify: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. By looking in-depth at your business’ advantages, identifying areas for improvement and spotting trends/opportunities to take advantage of and obstacles you might face, it’ll be easier for you to work out how you’re going to differentiate yourself from your competitors in the market.
There are loads of ways to find out more about your potential customers and what they want; spend some time in a competitor’s store, see what’s popular among customers there and also what times of day it’s busy, or even just ask people you know what they think. You could even give a selection of people (business colleagues, mentors) a sample of your product and ask them to use it for a certain period of time (a week or so) and see what real-life suggestions you can gain from that – you might just be surprised!
One prime example of market research is technology giant Apple’s ‘Apple Customer Pulse’ which began in 2011. Customers with Apple accounts were asked to sign up to receive emails linking to surveys that took 5 minutes or less to complete. Online surveys through free sites like SurveyMonkey are great because you can gather lots of data without much effort, and because they’re completely anonymous you know you’ll get totally honest opinions of your business!
- Find Your Niche
Now you’ve figured out what’s going on in terms of what people want and what your competitors can offer, you should have some idea of any gaps in the market for your business. The next bit of your marketing plan should be identifying your niche/target market. This is a particular group of people you’re going to be targeting. You might identify them by their gender, age, income, interests etc.
One way of defining your target market is to conduct surveys with existing customers in the market research stage, or those of competitor brands, to figure out what groups of people would be interested in your product. You could even get a marketing company in to help you with this, or use data that you’ve previously collected. Analyse that data to figure out which groups responded positively, and choose those as the group you want to target.
One brand with a specific target customer is cosmetics company Lush. With around 80% of their products advertised as vegan and numerous campaigns for issues surrounding human rights, animal protection and environmental preservation, the way Lush presents itself is indicative of its strong values and ethics. In our guide to marketing your business to students, we’ve already discovered that this is the group most likely to place importance on social and environmental responsibility. This is further reinforced by Nielsen’s global study of consumers which found that respondents under the age of 30 are most likely to spend more for goods and services from companies that ‘give back’. In this way, Lush are able to match their values with those of their target customers, which makes them appealing to that demographic.
- Find Your Fit
To determine your position in the current market, you need to communicate how you want to be perceived. Why are customers going to choose to come to you rather than somewhere else? Your market position is how customers perceive you in relation to your competitors. If you were a restaurant for example, customers might perceive you as high-end, fine dining, or they might think of you as the best place to go for a vegan burger. How customers perceive you will depend on how you market yourself – which messages you decide to promote about your business.
- Set Your Objectives
This is the part where you need to describe the outcome you’d like from your marketing plan. To make sure your targets are realistically achievable, check out our guide to SMART goal setting here. Most commonly, these marketing goals will be quantifiable, meaning you can turn them into numbers, and will include things such as total market share and segments, number of customers/clients, retention rate, return on investment (ROI), number of products you’ve sold.
By measuring these metrics, and sharing the results with your team, this really helps with motivation levels across the board, you can help unite different teams within the business because they all have the same goals to work towards, and you can spot the warning signs of any problems before they escalate – it’s 100% beneficial for your business!
- Determine Your Strategy
Now it’s time to get down to the really nitty gritty bit – how are you going to promote your business to prospective customers? Think about the year as a whole, then plan out what seasonal campaigns you’d like to run, what kinds of monthly promotions you’d like to include, and even things like how many marketing emails would you like to send a week. Marketing strategies normally cover the 4Ps of marketing, which are one way of defining the marketing mix and are great for figuring out the best way to start promoting your product. These are:
- Product/Service – what do customers want from the product? What does it look like? What’s its name?
- Place – where can customers buy your product? Online or instore? Do you take your product on the road to fairs or send out samples?
- Price – will a slightly lower price mean big gains in the market share? Will you offer discounts? How do your prices compare with competitors’?
- Promotion – where can you get your marketing message across? Where will you advertise? Does seasonality affect the market? How are you going to advertise? Promotional posters? Direct mail campaign? Flyer drop?
- Set Your Budget
The next step is to create a schedule for how much money you plan to spend on marketing. Remember that this budget is not set in stone – if something isn’t going as well as you expected it to, you can reactively stop spending money on something if you’re not seeing expected ROI. If you’re not really sure how much of a budget you should set aside for marketing, Entrepreneur have come up with their own ‘marketing math’ to help you determine how much you can afford to spend on elements such as your website, social media, advertising, content and events.
To summarise, your startup marketing plan will involve lots of research early on will let you lay a solid foundation for the rest of your plan. Follow this by analysing the data you’ve collected to figure out your target market and position in the current market. Next, create realistic and achievable SMART targets to strive towards, and then figure out how you’re going to reach out to prospective customers with a strategy. Finish it off with a month-by-month schedule for your budget and your marketing plan is good to go. All that’s left is to test it out and see the results your business deserves!