The value of a marketing plan
For marketing to be effective, whatever the size of the business, it is important to work to a plan.
The purpose of a marketing plan is to match the particular strengths of a business - price, quality of service, reliability, innovation - with the requirements of its customers and to use those strengths to set the business apart from its competitors.
A good plan - broad in its scope but specific in its ambitions - should cover, therefore, a number of areas.
It should assess, honestly and realistically, the strengths and weaknesses of the business, and measure how those strengths and weaknesses play in the marketplace and are perceived by existing and potential customers.
It should map out the general contours of the marketplace, identifying areas of change (price, technical innovation, new competitors, new customer purchasing trends), and detailing how those changes may affect the business and how any opportunities may be exploited.
Also part of the plan should be a detailed profile of the customers the business already has and those it is looking to attract, setting out what they require and how the business may best meet those requirements.
Other elements of the plan may involve separating out the requirements of various sorts or groups of customer, and pinpointing any gaps or niches in the market that the business could fill.
Use the plan to establish ways of identifying potential customers and the means of reaching them (advertising, direct mail, trade shows, the internet).
Examine, too, the level of customer service the business provides - retaining existing customers can be as important as winning new ones, if not more so. And investigate ways of developing a closer business relationship with those customers that provide the business with its largest profits.
A plan provides the opportunity to appraise the services or products the business is offering, comparing them to those of competitors and judging whether they are performing well or whether they need to be improved or completely overhauled.
Similarly, scrutinise pricing policy to determine whether products or services are priced competitively or whether price is secondary to other considerations such as quality or innovation.
The plan should set meaningful, realisable goals, along with the amount of time and money the business is prepared to invest in achieving those goals, and it should include a means of measuring how successful any marketing activities have been.
Most importantly of all, it is vital that any marketing plan be updated and reviewed on a regular basis.