A formal strategic marketing plan can seem daunting if you’ve never developed one before – but don’t panic! Even if you haven’t thought too deeply about your priorities for next year, there’s still time to work out a solid plan that clearly defines your business goals and lays out the pathways to reach them. In fact, though a successful marketing plan is never rushed, getting started can be as simple as answering a few questions.
Where are you?
Before you can figure out how to get anywhere, you need to develop a clear picture of where your business currently stands – including the overall state of your industry, current trends and data within your market, and of course, how your company itself fits into that broader scenario. This business summary can involve several different factors:
- Your current mission, vision, and values statements. These are the fundamental guiding principles behind your organization. Now is a great time to get them solidified on paper, if you haven’t already!
- Your unique selling proposition (USP). What do you do or offer that sets your business apart within your competitive market? Hint: a USP isn’t necessarily about being the best at what you do, but being distinctive.
- An analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT grid is incredibly helpful, both for compiling this information and for keeping it easy to refer back to.
- Your target audience. The more you know about the people who could potentially use your offering, the more effectively you’ll be able to reach them. That includes demographics, attitudes, and challenges – and don’t forget that markets can change over time, too.
- The competition. Who are your biggest competitors (both direct and indirect), and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Where do you want to go?
Marketing strategies can’t evolve without direction, so nail down some concrete goals (long-term results to achieve within a certain time frame) and objectives (smaller steps to accomplish en route to those end goals). For instance, if your goal is to increase social-media-driven conversions, your objectives might be to boost the number of shares on your posts, or to increase your followers from 250 to 500. Remember that your goals and objectives should always be realistic, though – i.e., results you can feasibly achieve with the time and resources available. They should also be specific and measurable, so that you can allocate an appropriate budget and accurately evaluate your efforts further down the road. If your goals don’t involve direct profit or volume measurements, make sure you’ve focused on an end result that’s easy to identify.
How will you get there?
A marketing plan outlines the strategies and tactics that will help you achieve your goals, based on the resources and insights you’ve already determined. While strategies are more general activities (such as posting more original content on social media), tactics are more concise actions (such as creating a monthly content calendar). Both are essential to a solid marketing plan, but for your efforts to be successful, they must be integrated, and unified in working toward a common end. It’s helpful to keep a few things in mind when deciding on the best ways to reach your marketing goals:
- How does each task address a specific marketing challenge?
- What kind of budget (or resources) can you allow for each one?
- How will you measure the success of each activity?
- Where does each activity fit into the timeline of your goals?
- How will you ensure that each task is completed accurately and on time?
Though there are many ways to approach a strategic marketing plan, pinning down a few basic elements is the first step to creating the biggest impact from your 2014 marketing efforts.