The Marketing Planning Process: Four Steps to Success

marketingplanningprocessEvery company, product, and service needs a marketing plan to succeed. No matter the industry or merchandise, the guiding principles and strategies of every successful marketing plan remain the same. This plan is the overall company road map for selecting a particular target market and then satisfying consumers in that segment. Developing and managing a marketing plan is the foundation of a solid business plan and can be achieved through a process of four basic steps.

One: Objective and Goal Setting

Like a project timeline, you have to have an end date before you can determine when to start. This is your chance to think big and picture those profits or media recognition at the end of your telescope. What is it that you want to achieve in one, three, five years? How does your marketing plan fit into the overall business mission statement of the company? Who is your primary target audience? Is there a profit margin you want to reach?

While the marketing planning process should be limited to the marketing arm of the company, it doesn’t hurt to harness the experience of key stakeholders in the organization. Bring a few people in from multiple levels of the company to help with this vision. Upper management may have more overarching ideas, but they may not have the knowledge of the day-to-day organizational structure that mid-level managers and coordinators have.

Many organizations are utilizing the S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-specific) format to identify their achievable goals. After gathering these S.M.A.R.T. goals, use and compare these with the greater vision you have for the marketing plan to shape your final plan. Need more goal setting direction? See visual guides to Goal Setting 101 here.

Two: Assessing Your Current Situation

Before you set out to gain, you must first identify what you already have. It can be more useful – and economical – to use or restructure a current environment than to bring in outside talent. Gather your team and use the S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to assess your team’s current status. This will help you consider whether the marketing objective is attainable. If the marketing objective is not attainable with the current team or resources, it is time to re-evaluate and a different set of objectives should be considered. Make sure to ask questions that generate meaningful information for each SWOT category to make the exercise useful to find your company’s “competitive advantage”. Conducting market research, analysis, and segmentation will come useful for you. There are many outside consultants that can provide this service if you don’t have the capability in-house.

This is also the step where you evaluate risks along with opportunities. External factors such as the political climate, competitors, state of the economy, and technology also influence marketing opportunities. Emerging new technologies opens doors for more active email and social media marketing, giving rise to traditionally underrepresented products and more channels to reach out to your population. For instance, with the tremendous growth of smart phones, promotional emails need to accommodate the smaller screen and navigational restrictions of this population. Therefore, marketing managers are utilizing more mobile-friendly avenues such as phone apps and matrix barcodes as part of their strategy.

Three: Writing the Plan and Strategy

Whether it is two or thirty pages, as long as the plan recognizes your target customers and has steps to take action towards delivering your product or service to them, it is a solid plan. The strategies you and the company stakeholders choose must be directed toward establishing marketing strategies that are affordable and flexible. The famous four P’s come into play here:  Product, Place, Price, and Promotion.

What is right product? Yours, of course, given that it functions and has a good appearance.

What is the right price? An amount that will entice consumers to buy a larger quantity, as your bottom line is profit.

Where is the right place? Your product or service must be desired in a certain marketplace at a certain time.

What’s the most suitable promotion? Your target audience will determine the most appropriate marketing mix that will bring the most profit.

As mentioned before, selecting your target market is one of the first major points of your plan, as it will dictate your entire marketing strategy. After selecting your target market, the plan must identify effective ways to use the marketing mix tools of product, promotion, price and distribution to reach and influence prospective buyers.

If it applies, be sure to separate each of your company’s units, commonly referred to as Strategic Business Units (SBUs). Your plan should have a way to identify which parts of its services or product lines to support and which to reduce or sell. A company should see its different SBU’s the way an investor sees her portfolio of investments. Compare these results with how well the industry is doing (market growth rate) and how well the company’s brand is doing within the industry (relative market share).

A standard Table of Contents for a thorough marketing plan should include:

  • Executive Summary
  • Marketing Objectives
  • Internal SWOT Analysis
  • External factors
  • Current Marketing Performance
  • Marketing Strategies for: Target Markets and Marketing Mix
  • Implementation
  • Marketing organization and allocation of responsibilities
  • Evaluation and Monitoring Protocol

Your plan should also include a section on forecasting your results. Identify the expected volume of sales to flow from each marketing effort, the cost of goods sold attached to that sales volume, the budget, and any other financial figure that you expect to achieve as a result of accomplishing your plan. Learn more from the Essential marketing strategy skills guide.

Four: Implementing and Managing Your Plan

Now that you have your plan, it’s time to put it into action! The steps that you’ve outlined (or thoroughly defined) serve as the guide for a series of actionable items needed to move the organization toward the objectives that you set during the first step of this process. At every step of the marketing planning, marketing managers should use evaluation periods and feedback to assess if the current strategies are meeting goals and expectations. Remember to stay flexible – the opportunities and risks you established in your S.W.O.T. analysis may not coincide with expected results. Changes such as consumer demand, channel diversification, competitive responses, and supply costs changes might affect outcomes and should be factored into the management of the plan.

There is definitely a lot of project management in implementing your plan. For more on successful management of a marketing plan, see this tutorial on Project Management in Marketing.