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It's the planning - not the hammering - that makes an outstanding result.
Some things are obvious. When you build a house, you start with the foundation, not the roof. But when it comes to the marketing plan, most companies are in a hurry. They grab the hammers and paintbrushes.
Marketing plans and marketing strategies aren't difficult. It's just that there are no short cuts...they have to be thought out in a straightforward, logical fashion.
So when management is busy fighting fires and making sales calls, marketing takes a back seat. Look at your own company, does the responsibility of marketing and sales fall on the same set of shoulders? Can you really expect anyone to take an objective, long-term company viewpoint when the pressing issue is making this month's sales numbers? Can anyone create the road map to the future when they're focused on the crisis du jour? Unlikely. Nevertheless, many companies try.
The first step
In building a home, the first step is to look at the family that will be living there and how they fit into the community. The first step in a company planning process is describing in detail the company products or services and how they fit into the marketplace. But be concise, a marketing plan should be measured in pages, not pounds.
Describe the situation. For a new home, it is akin to analyzing the site orientation, the view, access, traffic patterns, proximity to neighbors, noise, etc. The list will cover a wide range of topics, depending on the situation.
The marketing plan also will cover a wide range of topics. They might include demand trends, competitors' activities and the state of technology. Purchase patterns and business and economic conditions; governmental conditions; public opinion and special interest concerns might also be valuable. And finally, objectively assessing your company's experience, resources and reputation will be important topics.
This step is akin to describing for the architect the family that will live in the house, their ages and special considerations such as lots of entertaining, gourmet cooking or performing music.
The marketing plan must address the target market segment (the customer-family, let's say) by using whatever is important-demographics, psychographics, geographics, life style or other appropriate segmentation. This is also a good place to answer the questions: Why is this your target market? How large is it? Is it growing or shrinking? Problems and Opportunities
Is your building site a rocky 45 ( slope? That's a problem. But does it also have a 267 ( vista of ocean sunrises and sunsets? That's an opportunity!
The problems for your company's marketing situation need to be stated along with what can be done about them. Ignoring the problem is what an ostrich does when it sticks its head in the sand. Besides limiting vision, it's very difficult to work in that position.
Opportunities also need to be clearly described. Equally important is why each is an opportunity and how your competitive advantage differentiates you from others.
Marketing Objectives and Goals When you deal with objectives, it pays to be specific. In our home building example, you want accurate cost estimates. In a marketing plan, you want to talk in specific terms of your expected sales volume, units sold, market share or other measurable parameters. Also important: the time period allotted to achieve your goals.
This is where the creative juices begin to flow. But based on the information you've already collected and thoroughly understand, it should be quickly apparent which strategies make sense and which ones are duds.
Is your best strategy to defend your niche? Open new market areas? Target a different segment? Maybe you're riding a mature product while you ready new products for launch.
Whatever strategy you may choose to pursue for a particular product or product line, remember to be thoroughly consistent. Determining the strategy is like determining the style of the architecture. Once you decide on contemporary, you better forget about gingham curtains.
One last thing to keep in mind: the marketing of the product impacts the perception people hold of the company, and that the latter is usually the more important.
You know your goals and you have determined the strategy. Now you need to add detail: tactics. These are the specific and individual steps you need to accomplish your plan. In marketing, tactics encompass a lot of ground, including product design, pricing, distribution and advertising, among many others.
In architectural terms, tactics might be how the overhanging roof on the south side provides shade, directs the afternoon breeze through the house and accommodates larger solar panels.
Unfortunately, tactics are where many companies jump right in without going through the discipline of the marketing planning process. In the search for profit increases they make random attempts at improvement while overlooking more important basic issues.
Lastly, never forget that tactics involve an area where competitors can respond to your actions. For example, if you elect to cut prices to gain an advantage over a competitor, you may lose if he drops his prices too.
Your building contractor will diligently track materials, expenses and progress. So should your marketing campaign. Build in methods of measurement all the way along. Track inquiries or orders from new customers for an early indicator; it usually takes too long for sales figures to jell into something meaningful. Determine break-even levels and make a chart of sales and cash flow on a month-to-month basis. Visual charts are a quicker way to see trends than studying raw numbers. The faster you can measure results--both good and bad--better.
Writing your summaries
. You're almost done. You need to write two summaries for your marketing plan. One is the normal concluding summary that condenses the essential thinking and says why the plan will succeed. The other is an executive summary. It is the last thing written but the first page read. It is an overview of the entire plan including the situation, differential advantages, the required investment and anticipated results in sales and profits. Now it's up to management or the board and you can take a breather.
But don't rest for long. With a go-ahead on your plan, you'll likely be the one to do the implementation -- and be the hero when it succeeds.
Mick Woodbury is president of Ripley-Woodbury Marketing Communications, a company that has helped businesses market products for over 50 years. It is located in Cerritos, CA. (562) 860-7336.
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