By Mark Kakkuri
Whether you realize it or not, you have a marketing plan. It probably exists somewhere in a wide spectrum, from “Let’s work hard and just hope this stuff sells” to “Here’s our consultant’s 95-point plan to maximize sales in whatever vertical we’re in.”
Some view creating and executing a marketing plan as a difficult (but needed) enterprise — with emphasis on the difficult. Others live by marketing plans set out in significant detail.
Whatever your proclivity toward business planning generally and marketing specifically, creating a marketing plan is a very good and helpful exercise, especially for shooting-related businesses where the sales climate can change very quickly.
Are you looking at a new year promising to be a breeze or with significant challenges? What do you do when things change? In any case, you can keep yourself focused and help your employees know what to do with a strategic, published marketing plan. Here are three steps to help you create it.
1 Realize a marketing plan is needed …
Many successful businesses are built and grown on sheer guts and determination — necessary ingredients for success in, well, many life endeavors, let alone small business. But even character traits like these comprise something of a plan. At the least, guts and determination suggest focus and effort over time, urgency and patience in making sales happen, and even setting an example for others in your business (employees, customers) to follow.
So a marketing plan — at its simplest, a well thought out list of goals and tactics to increase sales — is just an extended, more detailed version of the guts and determination you pour into your business every day.
… and be the champion of yours.
The very fact marketing plans are needed does not mean, once created, they sustain and work themselves out. In fact, all business and marketing plans need a champion — an actual person to lead via judicious communication with all needed to make it happen.
In championing a marketing plan, keep these recommendations in mind:
Help your team see the marketing plan not as a necessary evil, but a truly helpful exercise directly affecting the company’s bottom line. Even if your marketing plan doesn’t work (by however you define it), at least you’ll have wrestled through one plan and been able to judge it accordingly.
Encourage your team to see the marketing plan as more than just a rallying cry to increase sales. Besides increasing sales, a marketing plan can have multiple positive effects related to improvements in customer service and internal/employee communication. Marketing plans are minimally about increasing sales — but they can be so much more.
Create a marketing plan your team can describe as strategic and yet simple. As a starting point, show the points where your company marketing communications affect the customer journey as he or she goes from awareness to consideration to decision. And refer regularly to the relationship between customer journey and company marketing.
2 Make your marketing plan strategic …
Strategizing and planning for marketing — from establishing a high-level vision to actually executing the communications in a campaign — can be a daunting task. Sure, it’s a complex management effort, but it’s much easier to plan and execute than you might think — even with all the terms thrown around today. Perhaps you’ve read how some consider a marketing plan “strategic” if the timeframe involves three- to five-year goals and “tactical” if the timeframe is shorter. No matter what timeframe or level of complexity your business requires (or what you think it requires), the plan becomes a useful, short- and long-term exercise if it’s created, captured and communicated.
… by writing it down.
The easiest way to improve most marketing efforts is simply to write everything down. Whether brainstorming or recording decisions made, take copious notes and make them available to all involved in this process:
Involve key staff and trusted customers and write down their ideas and feedback.
Include sales data over time along with annotations about past marketing efforts. Make sure everyone checks their “gut feel” against the facts. (Note the accuracy of gut feel vs. facts, so future marketing planning realistically accounts for each.)
Create a workable budget, taking in how past expenditures accomplished not just key marketing goals but also increases in sales. Publish spending goals clearly delineating what percentage of a budget goes toward proven initiatives vs. what percentage goes toward unproven initiatives. And based on what criteria those percentages are allowed to change.
Capture, in writing, the myriad means of achieving sales goals through marketing and how each will be used (or not) to reach company goals. Don’t just say you’ll have a great website or excellent customer service — state specifically how each of these will be used in the various stages of the customer journey. Write out a short vision or goal statement for each marketing channel your company uses.
Here’s a vision statement for a website: “Our website will provide customers with up-to-date information (well-written product descriptions with professional product photography) so they can not only make an informed decision about a product but be able to easily purchase a product on the spot or in the store.” Create something like this for email marketing, social media, gear reviews by external resources, trade shows, customer referrals, in-store promotions, customer service and whatever other marketing tools the company uses.
3 Keep your marketing plan published.
By “published” I not only mean written down (as discussed in Step 2) but also published to all the people who need to see it. Publishing it means all employees — including company leaders — will be held accountable for its execution. This is not meant to be a beat-down if something goes wrong but rather a goal for the whole team to collaboratively create and aim for. And this assumes a significant level of teamwork and regularly referencing the marketing plan over time.
Publishing a marketing plan can occur in a variety of ways and some of how it happens will depend on the company size and culture. Still, simply writing the marketing plan down (on paper or electronically) and reproducing it for employees is a good first step. Even better: Send it to employees on a regular basis (at least quarterly and perhaps monthly, along with up-to-date sales data) and regularly reference these documents/data in staff meetings. Still better: Capture the main points of a marketing plan in a printed poster or banner and hang these in conspicuous places on company premises.
Some consider a broadly published marketing plan an invitation for criticism, especially if something is not working. But the much weightier positive side of this is employees are literally operating on the same page and can engage more as a team with a common goal. Moreover, throughout the marketing campaign, leaders and staff must collaborate, goals will be clear or made clearer and discussion and engagement will be encouraged.
These are all positive for organizational health and, regardless of sales, tremendous benefits of a strategic, published marketing plan.