Build a Marketing Roadmap That Works

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A marketing plan is like a road map. You need one to see where you’re going and what progress you’re making. If you don’t know where you are, or where you’re going, any road will take you there.
No business should ever be without a marketing plan. And don’t confuse this with a “business plan.” A business plan incorporates many different aspects of how to run, finance, market, control, and sustain a business over time. The marketing plan is just one part, likely the most important.
Accountants might take exception, but the old adage “nothing happens until someone sells something” is most apt. To put an effective plan together, first understand what it is. People tell themselves that marketing is the same as advertising or selling, that it’s really just merchandising and promotions. The truth is that it’s all of those — and much more.
Marketing is every step taken to find potential customers whose needs are not being met, then fulfilling those needs at a profit. Marketing is everything. Specifically, marketing involves four basic but extremely important steps.
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WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Answering this question involves doing a detailed examination of the environment in which you do business. It means dividing that environment up into the political, economic, social, and technological aspects of the context in which you compete. For example, if a new law is passed mandating that bicycle riders have to wear protective eyewear, how would that affect your business if you were selling eyeglasses?
Next, check out your competitors. Use the Internet first to Google them. Also use Ask.com. Discover what articles have been written about them, what interviews they have given. Are they listed in Wikipedia?
Visit your competitors’ outlets, buy their products, call their business phone, listen to and read their ads, pay to have them “mystery shopped.” Find all you can about your own industry or niche. What are the key things you have to do really well in order to be profitable in your type of business? Are you and your competitors doing those key things? If not, why not? Who has the most market share? Why? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that face you and your competitors in the marketplace today?
If necessary, conduct some primary research. Investigate and determine who the primary and possible secondary target groups are. What motivates the people in your target group? Who are they? Are there enough of them? Are they willing to pay you enough to justify your being in this business? In other words, closely examine the current “demand” for your product or service and then the “supply” of it currently being offered by you and your competitors. Is there enough room for both you?
WHERE DO WE WANT TO BE? BY WHEN?
Now you should have a very good idea of where you are in the marketplace. Step into question two and set realistic goals and objectives. This is where you use numbers to clearly define your destination. If it were a road map, your goal might be to get to Nanaimo by no later than 10:00 tonight. The next step would be “how do I get there?”
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
First, let me stop you…for just a second. This next step is critical because, unfortunately, this is where most business owners begin their planning. They don’t get a good handle on just where they are now, vis-à-vis the marketplace, the competitors, and the forces out there that can seriously affect their business. Most operators just decide “…this is where I am going to advertise, this will be my logo, here are my business cards, and I will use radio perhaps, or print ads. Of course, I need a big, fat, flashy web site, with lots of bells, whistles, and special effects.”
Yeah, right. There is still a bit more to do before you start making those tactical decisions. You still need to craft your strategy. Then later, use the tactics designed to help you implement your strategy.
You need to adopt what is called the Unique Selling Proposition, the USP. The USP is the linchpin of your entire marketing plan. It is the means by which you will “differentiate” yourself preemptively. It is not enough simply to be different. You must be positively different and also be the first one to do it this way.
When Denis Ranger, a Salt Spring Island photographer, wanted to compete on the “island of artisans,” he knew that he would have to differentiate his photography from all the others. He did this when he invented the patent-pending device/photography system he calls “The Giraffe” (see naturewatchstudio.blogspot.com). Denis is the only photographer able to use this technique for taking photos, particularly for realtors. His equipment and techniques are both unique and preemptive. So are his photos. The Giraffe is his USP.
Next, lay out all the sub-plans that relate to the major marketing communications tactics, such as advertising, public relations, industry relations, community relations, word of mouth/mouse. Additionally, you must take a look at the less obvious, but still important aspects of marketing: pricing, packaging, channels of distribution, transportation, trade shows, consumer surveys, mystery shopper visits, and such. Each should be a mini-plan within your overall marketing plan. Over time, every tactic implemented should contribute to building your brand.
Your brand will relate back to your USP: how you want to be seen as positively different and, hence, better than the others and as being proactive, not reactive.
Don’t forget about objective, expert advice. Know when to get and accept some. Susan Worrall, owner of Street Smarts, a Victoria-based retail and small business consultancy (streetsmartsbizcoach@gmail.com), advises: “Don’t rush through this marketing planning process. Talk to as many experts as you can. Get feedback from business colleagues, friends, and family. You can’t possibly know or be an expert at everything. Make sure you plan for enough money to hire experts. It will be the best money you spend.”

HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’RE GETTING THERE?
We monitor progress and track sales, profits, expenses, and any other relevant measures that allow us to see how we’re doing. If you’re using your marketing plan as your map, at least you know what’s likely up the road, or around the bend. Without a map, you are literally driving blind in a fog.