How to create a marketing plan
We create different types of marketing plans for a wide variety of clients, from start-up businesses and SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) all the way up to blue chip organisations. Our clients operate within both the private and the not-for-profit sectors, and within a wide variety of industry sectors and sales channels, including both the B2B and B2C marketplaces (as well as more complicated distribution and sales channels). Every marketing plan we create for our clients is bespoke in size, structure and form. Some clients require a marketing plan for a specific industry sector they are wishing to enter, or for a new product or service they are planning to launch, rather than for the business as a whole. For the purposes of illustration, the process outlined below assumes we are delivering a full business-wide marketing plan for an SME company employing up to 50 people, with an annual revenue of less than about £5 million. It is important to remember that the essence of a marketing plan is always created by the people working within the business. The role of a marketing agency (such as Abacus Marketing) is to enable a successful outcome, by ensuring that the directors, management and staff are all involved every step of the way and during every relevant stage in the process.
We take a close look at our client’s business plan and their sales forecasts, as well as by analysing historical performance and future trends. We always speak with company directors or senior management on a one-to-one basis first of all, to ascertain their views and opinions as to how successfully they feel the business is performing at this moment in time, how well they feel it has performed over the past few years, and what they believe the business needs to do to perform well in the future. Very often, we will encounter a situation where there is some degree of misalignment as to the preferred direction of travel that they individually feel that the business needs to head in. This first stage in the process therefore ensures that any incongruences are identified and a mutually acceptable agreement reached before we proceed too far down the wrong path. Typical examples of issues we see on a regular basis include disagreement on: whether traditional revenue streams are still profitable enough to warrant continued effort; whether the company should be looking to develop new services/products and/or to move into new market sectors; and whether there is a need to look at pricing, overhead and distribution. This organisational assessment can in itself create huge benefits for our clients, by creating much greater clarity amongst senior stakeholders. Often, a third party such as Abacus can get to the heart of a matter more quickly and less painfully than an internal review is able to do. For smaller businesses and start-up enterprises, we also offer a full business plan service, including full financial modelling, including sales forecasts and cash flow modelling.
We interview all staff on a one-to-one basis, though this is of course dependent upon the numbers of people involved, and the geographical location of the office network. This stage enables us to establish how well employees understand the business in terms of the business plan, the company’s financial performance, the corporate brand proposition, the quality of the products and services it offers, the importance of customer service, staff morale, and so on. Apart from providing very helpful information that will assist with the creation of a high-quality marketing plan, a secondary benefit of actively involving staff in this process is that that they are likely to feel that they as individuals, plus their opinions and views, are greatly valued by the organisation – which is of course the way it should be. This process also provides them with a reasonably safe and unthreatening environment in which they may feel comfortable to share any grievances or concerns that they might otherwise have kept to themselves, but that it would be useful for the company to know about. Once we have established individual views, we will then often ask staff to complete an anonymous online questionnaire, the purpose of which will be to further clarify any issues raised during these first two stages.
We analyse the company’s competitors. Normally, the client will provide us with a list of competitors whom they are aware of, a list which we will add to from our own online research. We will then review these websites during a facilitated workshop session attended by a mix of directors, management and staff. This is an extremely efficient way to objectively evaluate competitor websites, and to identify the campaigns, tactics and strategies that are being used by the competition. It can provide a rich source of ideas, which our client can emulate or improve upon. We follow this workshop up with a technical survey of competitor websites, which enables us to identify keywords they are using for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes. We also review their social media profiles/hashtags to better understand their social tactics, strategies and campaigns for building audiences and developing relationships. Finally, we use various tools to investigate the investment by competitors in digital advertising activities such as Google AdWords Pay Per Click (PPC), network advertising and remarketing.
We strive to better understand the messages that competitors use to promote their products and services to prospective customers. It also enables us to efficiently establish the profile of the potential customers they are targeting. We look at three key elements – demographic traits, rational needs and emotional drivers – which enables us to articulate key messages that are likely to resonate with the target market. It is absolutely crucial to try and understand better who one’s consumer audience is, by modelling various features, traits and characteristics. The ability to put oneself in the shoes of a prospect so that one can understand their needs and wants is the hallmark of a successful business.
The purpose of a brand strategy is to create a framework that explains the essence of the company’s character in terms of its values, views, virtues and vision. Having a formal brand proposition in place enables the delivery of a consistent experience to prospects and customers at every single touchpoint. We consider three key areas during this process – product quality, customer service and thought leadership. The outcomes from this process include positioning statements, USPs and other points of difference, key customer messages and a customer service charter. We also look at CSR as part of the brand proposition, as corporate social responsibility should reflect the personality of the business. Once we have looked at the strategic side of things, we then look at the creative side – although this does not form a formal part of the plan, it is perhaps worth mentioning quickly. We always create three sets of design concept visuals and work in close partnership with our clients to develop the design until we map out a corporate identity that will subsequently be applied to the full suite of sales and marketing communications collateral required by the client. This is also the basis for the brand guidelines we will also create.
We identify the sales and marketing communications materials that are required by the business to present itself in a professional and credible way to internal and external stakeholders, including suspect, prospect and actual customers. This collateral will include company website, corporate presentation, brochure, folder, case studies, corporate video, stationery, leaflets, signage, uniforms, badges, vehicle livery, exhibition stands, posters, and so on. Again, although the creation of these elements falls outside the remit of the plan, it is worth mentioning briefly that the designs are taken from the corporate identity agreed during the creative brand proposition process outlined above. This will enable us to create a brand guidelines document in due course.
We require an efficient sales pipeline framework in place, with all employees clear on the internal processes that need to be followed to ensure that the management team is supplied with the information they need on a regular and consistent basis to run the business. We will look at the frequency and structure of sales meetings and we will assess the quality of the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, to ensure that the sales pipeline is working as efficiently as possible. It is our view that all employees need to think of themselves as having an essential role to play in the sales pipeline process, to ensure that a consistent brand experience is achieved at every single customer touchpoint.
We need to determine the best mix of lead generation activities – and the budget that will be required – to fill up the funnel of the sales pipeline. Most of our work these days falls within the digital marketing arena, simply because digital marketing media are likely to deliver the most efficient returns on investment in most circumstances for SMEs in particular. Paid digital activities (which deliver immediate results) include pay per click advertising on Google AdWords, network marketing, affiliate advertising, remarketing and social media advertising and promotion. Unpaid digital activities (which deliver better quality longer term results) include social media marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing (such as blogs, newsletters, white papers, video tutorials, webinars and presentations) and email marketing. Where we deliver lead generation activities for our client, we always identify key performance indicators (KPIs) and provide detailed monthly reporting and ongoing support as an inclusive part of our service delivery, to ensure that we are constantly searching for ways to improve results on an ongoing basis, rather than ever resting on our laurels. In terms of traditional marketing, we also look at the potential benefits of PR, guerrilla marketing and live events (exhibitions and conferences), as well as advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing – as there will sometimes be occasions when these approaches will yield better returns than the digital space is able to do.
Customer lifetime value
It costs a great deal more to find a new customer than to retain an existing one. This is why it is essential to look at ways to maximise the lifetime value of a customer. This can include enticing them to repeat a purchase of the same product or service, and/or to incentivise them to purchase additional products and services offered by the company. We also need to look at ways to encourage customers to provide positive feedback, testimonials and case studies – as lifetime value means third party sales too. Therefore, we always look at “word of mouth” strategies that encourage customers to recommend the client’s products and services to unknown suspects. Marketing automation software can be an efficient way to deliver significantly greater value from existing customers.
The final but often forgotten stage in the process is to identify ways to motivate and inspire staff to promote the business as effectively as possible on a consistent and ongoing basis, once the marketing plan has been successfully deployed. We look at communication, education, recognition and rewards to applaud and encourage effort and achievement. Ultimately, employees are the face of the company in the eyes of prospects, customers and partners. It is important to ensure therefore that every member of staff understands that they are brand ambassadors and that their behaviour at every customer touchpoint will impact to some degree either directly or indirectly upon the financial success of the business.
We hope you have found the process outlined above helpful in understanding the various stages we go through when developing marketing plans for our clients, and that you can imagine how this process might enable you to create a highly effective marketing plan for your own business. It is also worth reminding ourselves that creating a plan is one thing but that successfully delivering it is quite another. It is therefore essential to put together an implementation plan to ensure that key tasks are assigned to specific individuals with clear responsibilities, and a detailed timescale of deliverables is in place, to ensure that the plan is delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible.