Why have a marketing plan?

Many start-ups are setting themselves up to fail due to their lack of cohesive marketing plans. Business and marketing plans can play an instrumental role in helping you impress potential investors and make the best possible start. Some would-be entrepreneurs still find it hard to give a convincing answer when asked about what their marketing plans entail. Vague answers given by people attempting to get businesses off the ground might involve mentions of SEO and social media, but it seems far too few businesses are taking steps like approaching magazines for reviews, attending trade shows, creating databases of bloggers and producing lists of potential contacts. Those take to writing an app marketing plan tend to achieve more success from the outset than those who fail to do so.

Companies that get off to a successful start with a cohesive marketing plan tend to achieve more success in the long run than those that don’t. It seems that companies that gain around 20 to 30 customers each month can expect to watch numbers fall as the months go by. The best marketing plans are designed to attract and keep large numbers of customers whilst drawing them away from similar companies. Many start-ups fail because they don’t think carefully about what their businesses need to achieve long-term success. People who fail to create convincing detailed marketing plans risk leaving a number of things to chance. Hoping for the best without a coherent business plan can mean setting your venture up to fall, losing vast amounts of time and money.

There are three things to consider carefully before you start trying to get your business off the ground.

  • You need to work out how much you can or are willing to invest in order to hit the ground running. Companies with big ideas need to think about how much they are willing to spend on things like staff, business premises and advertising.
  • You need to take a good look at your existing assets and strengths, what you’re already able to do in-house, what skills you currently have and the kind of team members you need to get on board.
  • Do you already have a list of industry contacts? If you don’t, you may have to pay a marketing company to provide you with the information that you need. Are you able to conduct sales-based tasks yourself or do you need to enlist the services of an experienced sales person?

The less money you have, the more important it is to think of efficient yet affordable ways to getting things done. It’s important to be realistic about goals without making your aims unnecessarily modest. You should also be realistic about how long it will take to achieve your goals. Some would-be entrepreneurs claim they will be able to hit the ground running via SEO, without considering the fact that effective SEO campaigns can be extremely expensive. Without the budget needed to invest in a powerful SEO strategy, you may find it tough to get the results and exposure your brand needs. SEO campaigns can also be very time-consuming – even if you have the skills needed to implement an SEO strategy, it could be wise to outsource these tasks if your time would be best spent focusing on other objectives.

Create a Marketing Plan

Putting together an efficient marketing plan means spending time working out who your target market are, who your competitors are and how much you’re likely to achieve in the opening months of your venture. It’s worth investing a significant amount of time in researching your audience and your competitors so you can put a clear and coherent plan together. The more you can find out, the easier it will be to focus on your aims and communicate your ideas as your venture gains ground. The last part of your plan is known as an Executive Summary. This summary sums up everything you’ve talked about and gives all concerned a clear, punchy overview of the plan. Let’s now look at the sections you should include in your plan.

Part 1 – Aims and Objectives

In this section, you outline what your marketing activities will be focused upon during the forthcoming twelve months. Your aims could include

  • Creating a market
  • Winning customers from competitors
  • Launching products or ranges
  • Distributing products

You need to conjure up efficient ways of creating revenue and exposure. These can include winning new customers, retaining existing ones and/or investing specific sums of money. It’s wise to identify the exact amount of capital you want to set aside for each investment, as vague numbers won’t impress investors and won’t provide you with the robust focus that you need.

Goals might include growing revenue by a specific percentage each quarter. You need to identify objectives that will help you achieve these goals, such as winning a certain amount of customers and increasing repeat purchases by a certain figure each month. The Aims and Objectives section will help you lay down the foundations for the remainder of the plan. As you work through your plan, you should hopefully become more focussed on your aims and identifying your place in the market. The more you develop your plan, the clearer it should become.

Your mission statement

This should be a short but powerful paragraph explaining why you are entering your market, who your audience is, what you offer that isn’t available elsewhere, why investors should get on board with you, what your services and products are, what your business philosophy is, what your selling points are, what you want to be known for and how you want investors, customers and partners to perceive you.

You also may need to talk about the history of your company so far, how and why it was launched, what your strengths are, who your competitors are and what your edge over them. You may not need to mention all of this in the statement, but it’s wise to have the answers outlined somewhere nonetheless. The more you consider these factors, the easier it should be to identify your strengths.

Valued propositions are designed to make companies appealing to customers, telling them how your product or service can solve a problem and be of use to them (relevancy), offers specific benefits (quantified value) and is better than what your competitors have to offer (unique differentiation). Your value proposition can appear on your home page, so it’s the first thing visitors see when they enter your site, though it’s also wise to ensure it’s the first thing they see no matter where they land.

Part 2 – Target audience

You should outline as much information about your target customers as you can in this section. Demographics might include age, gender, level of income, marital status and location.

It can also include psychographic profile information including hobbies, movies, websites, TV shows, music, magazines and websites enjoyed by your target audience. This information should help you position your brand identify relevant to local markets, places to advertise and the tone of your advertisements. The clearer the picture of your target market becomes the easier it should be to adopt their language and make your marketing investments pay off.

“Will you be targeting a niche market or aiming a broader level of appeal?”

You also need to think about how your products or services will benefit your market, who will be using them, why they will be using them, when they will be using them and how they will be using them. In this section, you should discuss how customers will look at your product against competitor products. Is there anything customers are looking for in your product category that isn’t widely available?

It’s also important to talk about the process of purchasing. How do customers arrive at decisions when faced with them? What kind of information do they need before you reach a decision? What influences purchases? Who does the product appeal to?

You also need to think about market size estimates? If everyone who your product might appeal to bought it, what would figures be like? How big is your market likely to become? What fraction of the market has already bought your product? How much growth do you think you can achieve during the next twelve months?

Part 3 – Situational Analysis

In this section, you need to offer a clear picture of where your company currently stands. Producing this section can be time-consuming as it can involve a vast level of detail. Information about various parts of your business need to be explored, as does your market, competitor activity and your current place in the market.

If your business is already established, you need to rigorously assess what is working and areas that need to be reassessed. If you’re a new business, you need to engage in research to gain a deeper understanding of your market.

The areas you need to analyse are

1. Current Products

Think carefully about what your product or service’s attributes are. What benefits are those purchasing from you likely to enjoy? If there are similar products on the market, what edge does yours have over the competition? Why should customers buy from you other than from others?

You also need to talk about prices here, including not only the prices paid by customers, but by wholesalers and retailers too. Will you be offering discounts to create more exposure for your brand? How can you afford these discounts?

How will you be distributing your products? What benefits will distributors receive and how will you handle orders? You also need to talk about how your product will reach the market and become available for purchase.

This section also needs to feature information about how you will be promoting the product. What will PR activities consist of? If the product is already available then how is it currently being promoted and perceived? How do you plan to reach your customers? Which on and offline channels are you using? Are you using promotions? Have you used promotions during the last year? What were the results like? Did you meet, surpass or fall short of expectations. It’s vital that you use specific figures whenever possible.

Talk about the various services you’re offering not only to customers but distributors, including information about after-sales support. Include information about how your services have performed so far if possible, and the effect they have had on your bottom line. You might wish to include information about how much customers using certain products spend compared to those that buy other products or who your most prolific wholesale customers are and how much they order.

2. Distributor Networks

This involves assessing how your products are distributed, or how you plan for them to be distributed. You should talk about your own e-commerce service, other online marketplaces, physical shops and any affiliates helping you sell your products. Take a look at your own website and identify whether you’re getting the majority of sales via Adwords, organic search (SEO) and so on. You need to list all these channels and rank them in terms of performance.

What kind of benefits do distributors enjoy or look for? Do they receive referral fees for example? Do you need to build better relationships with local physical shops? How important are your products to your distributors? Do they favour you over your competitors? How are their purchases made? What influences them? It’s a good idea to make a list of your distributors and include information about how big they are, who their own audiences are, how big they are and which geographic markets they serve.

3. Analysing the competition

In this part, you need to take a close look at your main competitors. You need to think about their prices, their target markets, how they promote themselves, the services and products they offer, their distributors and promotional strategies. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What do you know about their research and development strategies? How are they perceived by the target market? Where do they stand financially? Obtaining all this information can be time-consuming, but any efforts made to seek it out how can have an excellent impact on the strength of your business plan. A S.W.O.T. analysis could be useful. This will give you a robust insight into their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

4. Current Financial Conditions

You can offer an efficient insight into financial conditions via an array of tables and graphs. You should add a short but punchy paragraph about the information you’re assessing.

Current Analysis of Sales

  • Overall industry sales and share of the market
  • Total of market sales
  • Total for your company’s products
  • Total for your competition
  • By segments and product categories:
  • Total of segments/product categories
  • Total for your company’s products
  • Total for your competition
  • By distribution channel
  • Total for each channel
  • Total for your company’s product by channel
  • Total for your competition by channel
  • By region
  • Total for each of the regions
  • Total for company’s products by region
  • Total for your competition by region

It may be tough to find competitive information alone, but you may be able to access the data that you need by collaborating with an agency that will be able to provide you with what you require.

Profitability Analysis

You also need to look at how expenses have impacted sales. Think about areas where you could be able to scale back.

Marketing expenses:

  • Direct – expenses you can link directly to the product like money spent on advertising
  • Indirect – expenses linked to fees paid for technology and talent

This will help you decide whether specific channels, regions and markets still need to be explored.

If you have a very detailed plan, you may need to break things down into product categories or individual products.

5. Forces outside of your control

This is where you look at external forces, which you don’t have any control over, like trends and seasons. You may also want to think about social and cultural events, changes in the behaviour of demographics, political events, climate changes and economic considerations such as housing price crashes or rises if relevant.

Are you already established? If so, you may look at these forces whilst examining the previous year to make forecasts. If you don’t have existing data to use, find out how these forces have affected your competitors.

It’s wise to try to be as prepared for external factors as possible. Extreme weather can bring many sales opportunities. For instance, you may wish to stock up on warm clothes, shovels and medical equipment if relevant. The more prepared for external forces you are, the easier it is to gain an edge over the competition.

6. Summarising situational analysis

Situational analysis can be confusing, so it’s wise to come up with a summary so you can make sense of all considerations. In this analysis, you should talk about opportunities that could surface because of factors and decide what you want to spend more on and invest less in.

Part 4 – Positioning and Pricing Strategy

In this part of your plan, you should decide where you want to be positioned in your field and how your pricing will help you to achieve it. Pricing may decide by factors like regions, competitor behaviour, distribution channels and more. It’s wise to avoid being too competitive with distribution partners who sell the same product as you could risk destroying the relationship. Talk about how you want to position your product with distribution partners.

Will you be launching exclusive product lines for your distributors? Maybe you’ll use offer incentives such as bonuses for customers who purchase products through your partners? Will you be making certain items available only to people who order direct? These are all questions you should answer in this section of your marketing plan? You need to come up with numbers and show how your bottom line will be affected.

You need to show the impact of things like:

Customer sales (by volume and growth percentage, customer segments)

Channel sales (by volume and growth percentage, channel)

Show the margins linked to each channel and expose how profitable changes to prices and positioning are likely to be. You need to show how changes will be linked to the objectives explored in Part 1.

Part 5 – Distribution Plan

In this part of your plan, you should talk about how and where your customers will be purchasing your products. Will they be buying products and services directly from you or through distributors and retailers? Maybe you’ll be running a pop-up shop? Whatever the case, it’s vital that you include this kind of information here. You should organise your main distribution points into regions if you’re running a sizeable campaign.

Part 6 – Promotions

This part should feature information about your whole promotion plan and talk about existing channels and well as other ones you’re interested in exploring in order to boost growth. You need to talk about your position in each channel and give detailed information about your plans for each of your distributors. Work out how much time and money you are going to spend on each channel and how growth is likely to be influenced. It’s vital that you talk about all the channels you’re interested in exploring, including SEO, Facebook, on and offline advertising, magazines, radio and TV, per-per-click, affiliate marketing and any others.

You may wish to use direct mail and even blogs to get your voice heard. Although it may be tempting to oversee things on your own, it may not be practical. Therefore, it could be wise to enlist the help of experts for each field you’re thinking about exploring in order to get the best results possible and make your budget go as far as it can. SEO can be particularly tough to implement, so it may be wise to leave things to the professionals so you can focus on what you do best. Some avenues that may seem easy to get to grips with yourself often turn out to far more challenging than expected. It could be wise preparing documents for each part of your online marketing strategy, as campaigns can be extremely complex and detailed.

Part 7 – Marketing Assets

In this part you need to talk about how you will promote your content not only to existing customers but new ones too. Assets can include your website, in-house designers and copywriters, business cards, brochures, catalogues and more. Think about what you already have and avenues that you need to explore to make your promotional strategies count. Again, it may be worth getting help from outside if you suspect you might need it.

Part 8 – Strategy for conversions

When potential customers reach you or your distributors’ site, how you will you turn them into full customers. With sites that you don’t have control of, you could try to improve your written content and photography and make use of testimonials. You will be freer to experiment when it comes to sites you do run yourself. You may wish to enhance the value proposition, add features or make existing ones more visible or make improvements to the search function. Think about different customer segments like frequent and infrequent buyers and come up with ways to encourage them to spend more.

Optimising your site and campaigns for conversions can take a great deal of time and is always like to involve more than a few tactics. However, making a short list of key ideas is a good way to get started before you produce a more detailed document further down the line.

Section 9 – Partnerships and joint ventures

In this part of your marketing plan, you need to talk about the agreements that you have entered into with other organisations in order to target new customers or get existing ones to buy more products and services from you. There are many well-known companies famous for collaborating with other global organisations, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. You should talk about the other products and services your customers are buying before, during and after they buy from you. Make a list of relevant companies that you could benefit from working with and identify ways to secure the interest of their customers. Joint ventures can make a significant difference to your fortunes.

Part 10 – Strategies for boosting orders

Use this section to talk about ways of getting individual customers to spend more. Ways to boost the revenue you raise per customer might include bundling products together, offering free shipping limits, subscription services or simply raising prices when you feel that the time is right. Examine methods used by similar businesses to increase revenue per customer. You need to talk about the amount each idea might cost to implement and how much it’s realistically likely to impact on growth. You should use any relevant research or data you’ve found to support your plan.

Part 11 – Strategies for referrals

Talk about how you will encourage your existing customers to refer potential new customers to you in this section. It’s wise that we try not to underestimate the importance of referral marketing, but it’s also vital that we plan these strategies carefully in order to make them as efficient as we can. The rewards offered to existing customers need to be valuable enough to make them refer others to you. Think about which customer segments are the most likely to refer others to you and when you should implement your campaign. It could be wise to start with your most frequent buyers and make changes further down the line when necessary.

Part 12 – Financial projections

In this section, summarise all expenses from previous sections and show timelines and projected growth rates. Don’t expect the figures to be completely accurate, but do expect them to give you a valuable insight into the bigger picture so you can plan accordingly and get the focus that you need. As time progresses, you should use this document to identify which actions have been taken and what still needs to be done. You also need to produce parallel documents so you can see how well specific campaigns have performed. This will hopefully help you to remain focused and beat your expectations, giving you more revenue to invest the following year.


Coming up with a marketing plan can be very time-consuming, but also extremely rewarding. Without the right amount of planning in place, you may find it tough to maintain focus and work towards goals. Marketing plans can also help you secure the investment you need and show others that you are running a serious organisation. Whether you’re running an established organisation or starting afresh, your marketing plan could become one of your most valuable assets. Marketing plans can help you make your money go further and make more sense of the task ahead of you. The more growth you experience, the more channels you should add to your campaigns. Marketing plans can also help you assess which channels and segments you need to ditch before you waste more of your precious capital on them. No matter how big, small, new or established your business is, trying to run it without a robust marketing plan in place can be extremely dangerous.

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