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A Marketing Plan is one of the most important business tools for any company to utilise.  If you are looking for funding to start up a business, a bank will want to understand your marketing plan.  If you are looking for investment to take your business to the next level, and investor will want to see a marketing plan to understand how his money is going to generate a positive return.  And if you are selling your business, your potential acquirers will want to understand both your marketing strategy and your marketing plan. 

If you are not looking for any external support and have the internal resources to grow the business organically – you still need a marketing plan to help you achieve this in the most efficient manner.

What is a Marketing Plan?

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So, anyone who has read any previous articles that we have written, will know that we are strategic marketers.  We believe all marketing activity should be guided be a clear marketing strategy.

The marketing strategy should outline how the business is positioned, how its offering is segmented, who its target audience are, what it’s route to market is, what its core mission, vision and values are and how that informs the marketing messaging.  A strategy should also include the overriding objectives of what the marketing activity needs to deliver.

The marketing plan, meanwhile, is the blueprint of how the marketing strategy is going to be implemented.  It is much more tactical in its nature.   As Sun Tzu once famously said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory”.  This was also counterbalanced balanced with “tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat”.

Why is a Marketing Plan so important?

Young businesswoman drawing her marketing plan on screen

The marketing plan is the missing link between the strategic direction of the business and the delivery of results.  It is the glue that connects everything together and ensures that the right activity is taking place, at the right time, to the right audience through the right channels.

If you have ever felt that you are trying loads of different things on an ad-hoc basis and not really knowing what is and isn’t working, then that is a clear sign that you are lacking a marketing plan.  Similarly, if you feel that the activities you are doing are very insular and potentially conflicting with other areas of the business, you are lacking a clear strategy.

When you have a business strategy, marketing strategy and marketing plan lined up in perfect harmony – that is when the magic happens.  That is when the individual activities you are doing on a daily basis are feeding into the bigger picture of where the business is going and starts to deliver much greater returns on the investment made.

Here are our 5 key reasons why a marketing plan is so critical….

#1 A marketing plan provides FOCUS

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As mentioned earlier, a marketing plan is the blueprint of how the marketing strategy is to be implemented.  By this very fact, it shows that everything has been carefully thought through.   You know all the activities that are taking place are positively feeding into a clear chosen direction.

If you consider an entrepreneurial business which, by its very nature, many SME’s are, the leader often lacks focus.  Entrepreneurs get excited by new opportunities and end up changing tack on a regular basis.  Although this flexibility can at times be beneficial, this lack of focus generally ends up meaning most opportunities are never seen through to their full potential.

A marketing plan ensures all activities that are taking place, are in line with the direction the business is strategically going, rather than merely following the entrepreneurial leader’s latest idea.  Without a team delivering specific marketing plans, the majority of Richard Branson’s visions would never have seen the light of day.

#2 Enables you to plan and manage resources effectively

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Most businesses we work with do not have a marketing strategy or marketing plan in place at the very beginning.  This is also mirrored by the fact that they also do not have a marketing budget set aside for the business, nor a dedicated member of staff to focus on marketing.

The main reason for a lack of budget, or resource, is the fact that they don’t really know what they need, or what they should be doing.  With a clear marketing strategy and marketing plan in place, it enables the business to understand what sort of budget they need to set aside, for what specific activities, and what level of resource they need to deliver it.

Resource doesn’t always mean internal manpower.  After all, some activities can be outsourced to specialist providers such as a web agency, social media agency or a marketing consultant. Alternatively, it may help the business realise it is in their best interests to have a dedicated full-time marketing manager, executive or assistant.

The final area of resource a marketing plan can help manage is your time.  With a clear plan of action and an activity schedule in place it avoids any procrastination or getting side-tracked by time-consuming activities which aren’t in the plan and can lead you off-piste.

#3 A marketing plan provides transparency

KPI Key Performance Indicator for Business Concept - Modern graphic interface showing symbols of job target evaluation and analytical numbers for marketing KPI management.

Ultimately a marketing strategy and accompanying marketing plan of action is designed to generate a positive return on investment from your total marketing spend.  Unless it is adding more profits to the business, than the costs it incurs – what is the point?  A marketing plan will have some measurable metrics that can be tracked, tested and measured over regular periods of time.

For example, one area of the marketing plan may be to improve the ranking of the company’s website through an SEO strategy which focusses on site content.  If you know this is a key objective, which should lead to more traffic and more leads in the pipeline, it is then easy to measure metrics such as website traffic levels, Google rankings, and online enquiry levels to gauge how effective this part of the plan is performing.

The above example can be replicated across many areas of marketing activity.  This then provides total transparency how each element of the marketing plan is performing in its contributory role to the overarching marketing strategy.

This data then allows you to make much more insightful decisions about future activities, budget allocation and growth targets.  It can also highlight potential flaws in the current plan and identify metrics that are underperforming.  For example, your marketing plan could be delivering the volume of leads you anticipated, but you may not be hitting your anticipated sales growth targets because your conversion rate is letting you down.  You now know where you need to focus some attention, allowing you to analyse why your conversion rate is low.

#4 A marketing plan ensures consistency

Peaks a troughs being shown on a financial performance graph

Most businesses without a clear marketing plan, who market themselves sporadically, find that they only really focus on marketing activity, when they really need some sales.

What typically happens is that there is a wave of marketing activity which generates some new clients.  Then, because they have no plan or dedicated resource, there attention switches to meeting the needs of those customers that they have won.  Meanwhile, their marketing activity has completely stopped.

What this results in is peaks and troughs of activity, which provides an erratic pipeline of sales opportunities.  A marketing plan, with a dedicated resource allocated to it, allows you to market the business continuously and consistently.

Ultimately, what this will provide is a solid foundation from which you can grow the business.  It is much easier to make investment decisions in the business if you can see a month-on-month consistency of leads and sales flowing through the business.

All that a “stop-start” nature to marketing achieves is creating a reactive environment where decisions are based upon gut instinct or on a whim. 

#5 A marketing plan provides clarity

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The best performing businesses are those where everyone within the business has absolute clarity of what they are doing, what is expected of them and how they are performing.

Through having a clear strategy and marketing plan, all associated staff have absolute clarity over where the business is going, it’s growth targets, their role within hitting their targets and how they are contributing.

You cannot underestimate the power such clarity provides to staff.  Everyone knows their own, and each other’s, personal responsibilities and can manage themselves and support each other far more effectively.   

In summary

Hopefully you can now see the importance of the humble marketing plan to any business, at any stage of their lifecycle.

Referring back to the Sun Tzu quote in the introduction to this article; it is possible to build a successful business without a marketing plan, but it will take you a lot longer to get there.  It is no coincidence that the most successful companies in the world absolutely nail their marketing with a clear strategy, plan, budget and resource allocated to each of the elements that play a pivotal role in the successful implementation of their marketing plan.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.