4 Key Steps to Marketing Plan Success

Now that 2014 is well underway, the messy business of planning can begin. I know we all think that preparation and resolutions are solely a January pursuit, but in my experience the real planning begins somewhere between recovering from New Year and just before Easter eggs start appearing.

Coffee in hand, it's worth considering the following 4 steps when designing your marketing plan.

Step 1 - Ask

What does your business want to achieve this year and how can marketing contribute to meeting those goals?

Define specifics, (marketing will do XYZ) and then tactics, which are the tools to make XYZ happen (social media, direct mail, campaigns etc).  Asking what your business needs from marketing, makes it far easier to choose tactics and show your contribution month on month.  The result might be something like - increase sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography.  With this goal in place you can weigh up the options to decide which marketing activities will have most impact.  These are the bare bones of your marketing plan.

Step 2 - Agree

Make sure everyone in the organisation knows what to expect from marketing by agreeing specifics in advance.  The devil really is in the detail, so make sure you include timelines, budget/resource constraints and a definition of what success looks like.

To go back to the example, increasing sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography - this could mean you need to attract more new customers or make existing customers more profitable.  The timeframe set could be to coincide with a product launch or quarter earnings release and the geography target might be building on work done in previous years, or to gain first mover advantage.  Being clear on the “why's”, will clarify future marketing decisions and highlight any budget or resource constraints before they become critical.

Step 3 - Build

Produce a detailed marketing plan.  A month by month overview of marketing activities will highlight any gaps or clashes with projects from other departments and help you see how your brand will reach customers. Remember to show who each activity is aimed at (existing customer, new lead, internal etc) and what you expect the target group to do as a result of each marketing activity. Setting the scene will help your business feel informed and open communication channels.  Without this, sales teams (and others) often develop their own materials, leading to all kinds of mixed messages to your market.

Think of your marketing plan as a story.  What do your potential customers need to know about your company, to help them choose your product over all available alternatives? What are the frequently asked questions you need to address?  Your plan should focus on delivering consistent, relevant and personal information to the waiting world.

Step 4 - Engage
  • Create your marketing plan so your activities flow like a conversation between your company and your audience.  
  • Get your brand recognized both off and online, by using the same fonts, tone, colours and imagery.  
  • Create messaging and employ tools which meet the needs of your audience. 
  • Consult with sales and customer service before crafting content to ensure best fit. 
  • Spend time creating content that resonates.  
  • Show how your product/service solves a problem or provides a benefit.  
  • Think about why customers might use/buy your brand rather than alternatives.  
  • Make it clear what makes your product unique. 
  • Listen for feedback from your customers, fellow employees, bloggers, social media etc.

Simple as it seems, planning is never a sequential exercise, so grab whichever part gets your attention first and get started.  For new businesses much of the above will involve educated guesswork using one of the many free tools available to better understand your target market.

Having a plan means you have something to chart your progress and measure your results against. How else will you know when to crack open the champagne?


Customer dis-service

As everyone predicted, yesterday was the biggest online shopping day so far, as we all rushed to splurge on that perfect gift. I joined that rush. I found the perfect gift, paid my money and got my online receipt. Then today I received an email which said

In the interest of online payment protection, please respond to this email to confirm that you as the Paypal account holder placed the order.
Your order will now be held for 48 hours from the date at the top of this email. Failure to verify this order will result in the order being cancelled and a full refund will be processed.

Call me old fashioned but this seems to be the equivalent of being held at the store exit until I show my passport. I'm a new customer. I stumbled onto their site, bought a rather expensive gift and should be on my way to a wave of monumental customer service, designed to build my loyalty and secure repeat business. Instead, my first 'touch' from this company is one which doubts my humanity.

At this time of year when everyone is a little bit more frazzled than usual, we all have a great opportunity to win new business and pamper our existing customers. Imagine if your website was a physical store. How would your assistants behave?
  1. Can you look and buy products without registering?
  2. Is the Search button obvious to find and easy to use?
  3. Do you ask for the same information twice when you could prepopulate?
  4. Does your content read like an instruction manual or sound like you're having a conversation with your visitor?
  5. Do you say thank you for their custom and then keep them engaged with other links to follow?
Bring back the ho ho ho this season or risk finding yourself on Santa's naughty list.


Who are your best customers?

Best can mean
  1. most profitable - relatively easy to find the biggest spenders
  2. most loyal - harder to quantify, but generally a better measure. If someone spends 100% of their overall budget with you, their trust in your product/service is undeniable. These are your advocates.
  3. most beneficial - perhaps hardest to quantify, these are the customers who will bring most value to you in the long term, buying whatever you produce, sharing their purchases online and staying with you even when their circumstances change.
Each group has engaged and invested in your company. Your marketing needs to reassure them they made the right choice, keep them engaged and give them that feeling of exclusivity that makes frequent flyers clammer for the first class lounge.


Communications - Speaking your customers language

One of the delights of living in Edinburgh again, is hearing the English language spoken in a Scottish accent and readjusting to the colloquialisms that result.

The current summer exhibition at the National Library for Scotland, beautifully summarises this It not only shows how Scotland has been portrayed through the ages, but also how using local expressions might have rewritten the famous big screen one liners.

Often our working knowledge results in us speaking a different language to our customers'.  If you are an SME or even a larger entity launching a new product, the chances are your customers' won't search by product name or description. They'll look for what they need, using their terminology. Reflecting this, in your on and offline marketing, is a great way to build confidence and encourage your visitors to read/hear more.

Where to start
  1. Customer conversations. Note the words your customers are using and try to incorporate them in your marketing. Ask your sales team, attend events or simply talk to them.
  2. Google Adwords Research tool. A free and easy way to see which words and phrases are most popular when you're deciding on keywords
  3. Google Suggest. Similar to Adwords this helps you find related words and phrases for particular search enquiries
  4. Join relevant LinkedIn group so you can monitor the discussions for terminology, how people typically describe your product/services etc. It's also a great way to test ideas by participating in such groups, but that's another blog post
  5. Read your industry blogs. Not just the technical ones but especially the customer focused ones. They are likely to shape perceptions, plant words in the minds of your web visitor and generally provide a window on best communications
What you want to say to your customer may be very different from what they hear, so build your communications as you would a conversation. Think about how much a particular group already know about you. Do they need education, reassurance, guidance, a reason to buy? It's likely to be a mixture of many things, so tailor your outreach accordingly.

Haste ye back.


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