Developing a strategic marketing plan is important to a business’s success—but—it takes time and resources. Because of this, many companies choose to forgo strategic marketing planning altogether. But we’re here to tell you that allotting even just twenty-five hours to analyze your current marketing efforts and develop a plan for next year can help your business improve year over year. And in these slower economic times, a well thought out and executed plan can mean the difference between staying in business or not. Further, the companies that do have a strategic marketing plan will likely be the ones to emerge from the current recession more quickly. So read the following tips, find those twenty-five hours, and get your marketing plan in place for next year. Need a little help from the experts? Contact AVS Group.

Step 1: Get a Handle on What Your Marketing Looked Like Last Year

Open up Excel (or whatever spreadsheet program you use) and make a list in the first column of every marketing communication you did last year. This can include advertisements, trade shows, the launch of a new Web site—even down to recording new on-hold messages. Also, think about all the ways your customers come into contact with your business—or could come into contact with your business. Begin adding these to the first column as well. Really think about this list. What are you missing? Think beyond traditional marketing to the signage on your building or vehicles, company apparel, even your company email signature.

Next, add a column for each month of the year and put an “X” in the appropriate column indicating when each marketing communication occurred. Once completed, you’ll have an at-a-glance record of when and how most of your marketing communications occurred, and some ideas for new communication avenues. Next year, you’ll maintain this Excel file as you go: it’s a simple way to keep track of all of your marketing.

Total time: 3 hours

Step 2: Start a Binder (Electronic or Print) and Add All of Your Marketing Materials to It

This will give you a feel for how consistent your messaging was, both in terms of graphics and the actual wording that was used. Put TV commercial storyboards, radio scripts, print or electronic advertisements—everything possible—in this binder. Use the Excel sheet you developed in steps 1 and 2 to make sure your binder is complete. Now take a few minutes to flip through the binder. Is there a consistent theme or message? Do the visuals carry common elements? What is the overall sense or feeling you get from looking at these materials? Keep this binder handy—you’ll need it in the upcoming steps. And next year, you’ll maintain the binder as a tool to help keep your messaging consistent.

Total time: 1-3 hours

Step 3: Hit the Streets (or the Phones) and Talk to Your Customers

The goal of this step is to understand your customers better, which will help you develop a marketing message that is highly relevant to them. A common marketing mistake is to talk about what you want to talk about—which is not necessarily what your customers want to hear. And while you may think you know your customers, what you learn in actually talking to them about their preferences, habits, and dislikes may surprise you. Asking them simple questions like “What’s really important to you when choosing a particular product or service? What really turns you off?” “How do you search for information?” can uncover some valuable nuggets of information. Just be aware—they may not feel comfortable giving you a straight answer, which is where having a non-biased third party conduct your research for you can be helpful. Also, don’t select just “friendlies” to talk to—those people you know will have only nice things to say. Sometimes the most valuable information can be the toughest to hear.

Total time: 6 hours

Step 4: Analyze Your Competitors’ Marketing Efforts

Make a list of your top five competitors. Visit their Web sites and write down their taglines, positioning statements, and the types of verbiage they’re using to promote themselves. Are they positioning themselves as the price leader? Then perhaps your positioning should be the quality leader. This step will help you develop a marketing message that is differentiated from the competition, but still very relevant to your customers.

Total time: 3-5 hours

Step 5: Write a Simple, Tactical Marketing Plan

There are a few critical components that you’ll want to include:

  • Goals & objectives
  • Message
  • Tactics
  • Measurement metrics

First, think about your goals and objectives. Reflect on the past year—were sales down? Was it because you had fewer leads, or your leads weren’t qualified enough? Do you have an upcoming product launch? Does your brand need some repositioning, now that you know what your customers really think about it? Write these down—they’ll be what you measure your success against. Goals should be high level and worded in general terms, while objectives are much more tactical and measurable.

Now, craft your message. Think about what your customers want to know—not necessarily what you want to tell them. Refer back to the interviews you conducted in Step 3. Think carefully about word choice and tone. Write a few versions of different lengths that can be used in multiple media. But be direct and concise—if you have too many ideas your message will become lost in the “noise” and your customers will be left without a clear idea of why they should choose your business. In addition, your marketing communications should always have a strong call to action. We recommend driving customers to your Web site, where you can provide the additional information they need. And maybe just as important, this allows you to measure the traffic to your Web site - a valuable measurement metric.

Next, start developing some tactics. Refer back to the excel document you created in Step 1. What marketing communications were effective last year? Was their timing effective? Were they frequent enough? What new ways can you think of to interact with your customers? What did you learn about how they like to receive information? Don’t forget to factor in your budget—are there some new tactics that are lower cost? What about new media – are there new ways you can reach your customers, such as social media? Make a copy of the Excel document you created in Step 1 and update it for the upcoming year. Make sure to leave some “discretionary spending” for opportunities that present themselves throughout the year such as special events or advertising packages.

Finally, give some thought to the measurement metrics you will use to measure the success of your upcoming marketing campaign. Building in some simple metrics will streamline next year’s strategic marketing planning process even further, and allow you to work with actual data as you make the following year’s recommendations. Using a “Web-centric” approach to your marketing efforts makes measurement easy—most Web hosting providers offer free site statistics, or you can create a more robust Web traffic report using other software. In addition, start a log to track referrals. This can be as simple as a piece of paper by the phone or as robust as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Encourage your employees to get into the habit of asking customers “How did you hear about us?” You may be surprised about the ways your prospects actually hear about you!

Total time: 5-8 hours

In summary, strategic marketing planning is important—but it shouldn’t be all consuming. Taking a few hours to review what has been done in the past and how effective it’s been, thinking about new opportunities, talking to your customers, scoping out the competition, and writing down a plan can be incredibly valuable. And yes, you can gather more and more information, and further analyze past tactics and new opportunities—and that’s great too. It all depends on the amount of time you want to put into it, your budget, your resources, and your goals. But for a get-it-done twenty-five hour strategic marketing plan, the above five steps may be all you need.

Want extra help? Contact the strategic marketing experts at AVS Group. We can help you through any part—or all of—the strategic marketing planning process. And we can help with implementation, too. Click here to learn more about our strategic marketing services.

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