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It's All In The Plan
Five Serious Considerations For Your Next Marketing Plan

By: Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and co-founder of VisionEdge Marketing, Inc, a leading consulting group for metrics-based strategic marketing. Prior to that, she spent more than twenty years in business-to-business marketing, focusing on branding, customer loyalty, and product rollouts for Motorola, Evolutionary Technologies International, and State Farm Insurance.

"Don't even think of waging a battle or producing marketing materials without a plan," advises Jay Conrad Levinson, president of Guerilla Marketing, International. Most businesspeople know intuitively that successful marketing requires an effective marketing plan, a blueprint for action. In the past few years, however, many companies were too caught up in day-to-day activities and living out the drama of the moment to focus on planning.

That won't work anymore in today's sobered economy. As resources in companies tighten, a marketing plan is required to prioritize and select the best opportunities. Moreover, an effective plan can positively impact the bottom line. Research shows that companies with a marketing plan experience a 24 to 30 percent improvement in sales over those without.

A marketing plan does not need to be elaborate or overly complex, but it must be relevant and actionable. Below are five areas companies should explore and address when planning.

One: Market Research

In order for marketers to do their job of creating and keeping customers, they must conduct research to understand their markets and the shifts in the marketplace. Through research and evaluation of their products or services, companies learn what customers value most and what barriers exist to marketing their offerings. This knowledge guides decision-making and can reduce the number of projects to be undertaken and increase the usefulness of those that are done.

It is important to view market research as an investment, not an expense. Even on a small budget, companies can search on the Internet and in libraries, purchase reports, and conduct focus groups and electronic surveys. It is also crucial to conduct research regularly and periodically, as markets change very rapidly in today's dynamic environment.

Two: Positioning

A defensible market position and clear value proposition form the foundation beneath the creation of a marketing plan. Marketing initiatives within the plan should be anchored to the company's positioning to create a consistent dialogue with the customer.

Using market research, companies can better understand what their customers value about the company and its offerings. This information can guide how to position the company, locating a defensible position in the market and owning that space in the mind of the customer. They must also make sure that the company's pricing and offerings are aligned with the value perceived with the customer.

Three: Strategies and Tactics

Moving a company from a stage of awareness to one of consideration takes a sound marketing strategy designed to drive demand and influence purchasing behavior. According to famed business strategist Michael Porter, a strategy "creates a company's position, making trade-offs and forging fit among activities." Marketing strategies are often formed around selling existing products in existing markets, extending existing products to new markets, or introducing new products to new markets.

Strategies often include the expected results; they provide the "how" and the direction for the course of action. With clear strategies in place, a logical set of tactical operations and actions follow. It is from these tactics, that the timelines, resources, and budget for the marketing plan are derived.

Four: Metrics

Metrics are an essential part of any marketing plan, providing a means to assess progress. By constantly measuring actual performance against the metrics, companies can determine if they are meeting the objectives of the plan and whether an adjustment is required.

Like market research, metrics must be taken periodically as markets change in order to remain effective. Metrics tend to reveal more information when taken regularly over a long period of time, showing which initiatives are most successful and efficient. This can rally support for the plan, as metrics demonstrate accountability and provide evidence for undertaking certain marketing projects.

Five: Business Plan Alignment

Most importantly, the marketing plan must be in synch with the company's business plan. Marketing goals must be prioritized against the company's business goals. Marketing strategies should be based on how the company can best provide value. Demand generation tactics must be aligned with the sales pipeline and the goals of the sales organization. Some people create their marketing plan in a vacuum and are surprised when they find little support and success in their plan.

A Marketing Plan Checklist

With knowledge in these five areas, the marketing plan should come together easily. The checklist below will help round out the marketing plan and ensure its completeness.

Does the marketing plan address:
  Who is being served? Who are the right sets of customers?
  What are their needs and priorities? What is a meaningful value proposition and brand promise?
  How can quality product/service be provided cost effectively?
  Are outside conditions right for the company's product/service?
  What is the most convenient way to bring the product/service to the market? How can the product/service be best delivered to fulfill the brand promise?
  What are the best ways to inform the market about the products/services?
  How will the company measure if the market is satisfied?
  What can the company do to make things even better?
  How can the company become the customer's first choice?

To be effective, a marketing plan identifies options, prioritizes resources and selects the best opportunities. It serves as the foundation for the activities that create and nurture a promise of value to the customer. Properly created, the marketing plan is a living document that is anchored to the overall business goals and focuses on customer value, growth, and profitability.

© 2001 VisionEdge Marketing, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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