Every start-up entrepreneur sets out, armed with flip chart and pens, on a mission to draw up the perfect business plan. This often starts with a grand vision, and is accompanied by the financials to get there.
But what continually surprises me, is just how few businesses consider the customer drivers that will achieve those numbers, nor incorporate an up-to-date marketing strategy to reach those customers.
Your plan cannot be articulated without demonstrating that you understand who your customers are, how you plan to reach them and what your proposed sales activities will be. Thus a business plan lacking these elements remains unachievable.
Successful growth businesses evolve too quickly for static “shelved” plans. But without a blueprint for your marketing strategy you risk becoming a reactionary business that commits valuable time, money and resources on fleeting projects of fancy. To make marketing an effective part of your business plan, your strategy needs to be a living breathing document that the whole business is part of. Here are my five top tips for laying the best foundations:
1. Embrace it, commit to it, co-create it
You may spend weeks developing the most brilliant plan under the sun but the reality is that it’s worthless if it’s not acted upon. First and foremost, you need to ensure that you are committed to developing and working to the strategy you implement, and that your team understand and support the plan. The best way, of course, is to ensure that you have all the best minds working on the plan from the outset.
2. Intrinsically link it to your business growth drivers
All too often marketing is seen as a periphery function when actually, as the key representatives of the customer in the business, they should be the leaders of the growth plans.
Marketers need to root all activities in the business growth drivers that each activity will deliver against. Marketing strategy development should begin by focusing on the key business goals, opportunities and risks; it should use market, competitor and consumer insight to identify new opportunities; and present future plans in the context of what they will deliver for the brand P&L with operational and financial plans to deliver them.
3. Make it achievable, motivating and measurable
Be sure to avoid the temptation to set general or unrealistic objectives. Instead be as specific as possible and keep your customers front of mind. An objective that is described in terms of the change you are creating for the customer is much more motivating than one that is generic.
Ensure you have clearly identified the means of measuring success and that when you set out your goals you are clear in what you want to achieve.
4. Assign responsibility and ensure accountability
The success of a marketing strategy is based on how well it is implemented. Long-term goals should be broken down into short-term objectives and projects — with individuals made responsible for individual streams of activity. Through the implementation phase, these individuals should then be accountable for measuring and reporting back on the progress and results in their particular area.
5. Review and revise
As a growth business that is continuously evolving, a degree of flexibility is needed to adapt to changing market conditions. When opportunities or threats pop up, a strong marketer will return to the core business growth drivers and assess these opportunities versus the strategy — pivoting or continuing accordingly.
A good way to keep dynamic is to place the marketing action plan on the agenda for every senior team meeting and use that opportunity to review and revise according to the market and the results so far — enabling swift action to be taken if needed.
Christina Richardson is a business marketing specialist and founder of The Nurture Network, the on-demand marketing department for ambitious SMEs, which works with GrowthAccelerator to support high growth SMEs.
Go on, admit it, have you started thinking about your marketing plan for next year yet? Every December, I take a day or two out to write my marketing plan for the new year. Well to be honest, I do a little more than that, I write my business plan for the year.
Last year, my plan looked pretty exciting: launch our design and marketing agency, Flourish, grow the turnover and profit, and cement our position in the marketplace. And you know what? We’ve done it! All of it and then some…
For me, one of the key differentials has been getting Suzanne, our fabulous book-keeper to get involved in the financial plan from the outset. You don’t often think of a book-keeper as being someone that has much to do with a marketing plan – but surely the role of the marketing plan is to help you achieve your business goals? And if your goals are financial, well then you need to write down a proper model.
Last December, for the first year ever, I told Suzanne how much profit I wanted the business to generate, and she went away and created a realistic model for me. I know it sounds obvious, but to me it was a revelation! And it made such a difference. It has focused my mind and we’ve achieved our goals.
In the past, I’ve hoped that we might achieve a certain profit level, but I’ve always been a little unsure about exactly what we needed to do — month on month, to achieve that.
A couple of years ago my goals were very different — I was pregnant and I simply wanted to get the business to a “safe place” where we could continue to deliver the level of service we were known for, whilst I enjoyed five months of maternity leave following the birth of my son.
We all have goals for our businesses, and I find it really helps to sit down and focus on them. It doesn’t matter what your goals are: financial, personal, intellectual — but you do need to work out what they are.
My next job of planning my marketing is to re-examine the market, what our customers value about our offering, where our strengths lie and whether our niche is still as relevant today as it was last year. The launch of Flourish in February was all about putting a name and a brand to a service and an expertise we were already delivering, and it really has paid off. But markets change, companies grow and customer needs shift — is your offering today as compelling as it was last year? Last month?
Once you have a space in the market that you’re confident that you can deliver and that your clients want, you need to own that space. Build a marketing plan that communicates what you do, that helps you own your space. Mix up the low cost and no cost marketing activities with a few things that you’ll need to invest some more in, but will pay off.
Write yourself out a calendar of events — what are you doing when? I often write myself Macro Marketing Plans (xyz in February, abc in March etc) as well as Micro Marketing Plans with very detailed lists of jobs for each campaign. Sounds like hard work? It is, but it’ll pay off in the long run, I promise.
For a business that needs to gain a general view from a large cross-section of the population, and in as short a time as possible, there is no doubt that online research offers a viable benefit. This affordable way to test one’s target market is ideal for existing firms and new business start-ups and can play a vital role in obtaining financial support for your company.
Do It Yourself or with an agency?
The DIY method will allow you to carry out quantitative online market research (surveys) for little cost. It is definitely a method to consider when it comes to researching one’s market but it is also important to know how it differs from agency solutions. Here are some differences:
Moreover, with DIY surveys, the client puts the questions directly to the respondent so it compromises the objectivity of questioning and the impartiality of interpretation:
In addition, the agency will give you its expert opinion on the order and the formulation of the questions:
See the Marketing Donut resources on Market research