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How to Write a Killer Marketing Plan

Jan. 16, 2015
Small Business
How to Write a Killer Marketing Plan
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Regardless of their industry, entrepreneurs have to put their companies on the map. A small business owner’s ability to create buzz around his or her new product or business can spark the company’s growth. But the first step toward building that hype is drafting a strong marketing plan.

Before you put pen to paper, here’s a look at why marketing plans matter and what they entail.

A blueprint for drawing in customers

While a traditional business plan gives you a better sense of your company’s infrastructure and objectives, a marketing plan sheds light on your brand as well as how you plan to attract customers.

“A marketing plan is meant to accomplish a measurable result to solve a specific issue,” says Michael Denning, professor of practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “It could be to create awareness in a market, to access a new market, to announce a new product or to combat competition.”

Each of these goals ultimately boils down to increasing profit. But to reach those goals, you’ll need to develop a marketing plan, which begins with understanding your target customer.

1. Identify your target customer

Your marketing plan should start by describing your target customer in as much detail as possible. Knowing whom you want to appeal to will shape the kinds of marketing campaigns you’ll develop. A company that finds tutors for high school students, for example, should cater their advertising efforts toward a younger audience and might therefore rely heavily on social media. Your target customer will even affect the type of language you use in your advertising campaigns.

Some companies, of course, have mass appeal. Knowing that about your company is equally helpful, and your marketing plan can discuss potential pitfalls of limited advertising efforts. For instance, a newly opened used bookstore that only publishes ads on Facebook or Twitter risks alienating potential customers who don’t use social media.

2. Figure out what separates you from the pack

The first step in reaching your target customer, is writing down the ways in which your company is unique. You’ll then have to determine which of those features are worth underscoring in marketing campaigns. Doing so might require some trial and error, according to Bryan Clayton, CEO and cofounder of GreenPal, a service that connects people with lawn care professionals in their neighborhood.

“What is it about your product that compels people to say ‘yes’?” says Clayton. “For instance, when we first launched, we thought people would like our service because it’s a cheaper way to get their grass cut. What we found through testing in different channels, such as [Google] AdWords and Facebook, is that the customers’ ability to get same-day service is a much more effective and compelling subset of our value proposition that drives more visitors and more conversions on our landing pages.”

Once you have a list, you’ll be able to start brainstorming ways to accentuate the aspects of your company that make it stand out. It’s up to you to convince customers that your product or business is worth taking a chance on, despite established competitors.

3. Set a budget

You should carefully consider how every dollar is spent on building your brand. The name of the game is maximizing the return on your investment. The good news is that you’ve already minimized the risk of wasting money by thinking about your target customer and figuring out which of your company’s features to highlight.

After determining how much money you can dedicate toward advertising, you’ll have a much better sense of the kinds of marketing campaigns you can actually afford. As your company expands, so too will your marketing budget, so it’s important to be willing to spend more money on promotional campaigns as your resources increase. On the flip side, if certain advertising techniques didn’t pan out, consider scrapping them in the next quarter.

Going forward

Because young startups are such rapidly evolving entities, your marketing plan won’t be set in stone. Consider reviewing it every quarter to make sure your branding efforts still align with your company’s goals. Adding a new wrinkle to your business, for example, will probably force you to change your marketing priorities. Examining what worked and what didn’t will ensure that funds are properly allocated, which will ultimately put you on the right track toward increasing your customer base.

Image via iStock.