“I have a great new product (or service) but I’m not sure how to get customers. Help!”
Welcome to part one in our eight-part series on creating your marketing plan. There are seven key ingredients that go into a marketing plan, so this first chapter serves as a high-level overview of everything you’ll learn, while the next seven chapters will each drill down and focus in on one particular aspect of the plan.
What does a marketing plan do?
- It helps establish a business’s place in their industry or niche
- It reveals a business’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to their main competitors
- It allows a business to identify opportunities they can capitalize on for success as well as threats that might interfere with success
The marketing plan we outline here is the same process used by Fortune 500 companies, but even if your goal isn’t to become an Apple or an AT&T, you can still market like one. The beauty of a marketing plan is that it’s completely customizable and based on your unique characteristics.
If you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start with marketing, this template should lay out just about everything you’ll need to know.
We’ve also provided a marketing plan template that you can download for free and use to print out and fill in. We want this series to really stick, and we think the template is a great way to take you from knowledge to action.
So sit down, settle in, and prepare to become a marketing pro in no time!
First, an important note on inbound vs. interruption
Marketing is often more effective than outbound sales because marketing makes the target customer think that the purchase was their idea.
Let me explain.
Inbound refers to customers that come to you (marketing). Interruption refers to customers that you go out and try to get (sales).
As a consumer, which do you prefer?
Unless you’re a psychopath, you probably prefer not being sold to. Think about it, you’re going about your day when you get a phone call.
“Hi! I’m calling from AwesomeProducts(™) to tell you about a tool we think you’d find valuable. Do you have some time to talk?”
“I’m not interested. Thank you.”
Do you see what happened there? Because the sales representative interrupted the prospect with a solution they weren’t ready for, there was little chance of success.
Inbound, on the other hand, guides a prospect from problem aware to solution ready. Someone has to be aware of their problem before they’ll be ready to fork over their hard-earned money to procure your solution.
With this in mind, it’s time to introduce you to the seven components of a marketing plan.
What’s included in a marketing plan?
- SWOT Analysis: Thorough knowledge of your product or service, how it stacks up against the competition, and any external opportunities or threats to its success.
- Objectives: Based on your SWOT analysis, what will you choose as your goal?
- Strategy: The marketing mix (the “4 Ps”) is your plan of attack. How will you reach your objectives?
- Target Market: Who are your ideal customers and why do they need your product?
- Competitive Strategies: Find your unique selling proposition (USP). What makes you special enough to be chosen over the competition?
- Implementation: The campaigns you run to achieve your objective.
- Evaluation: How you’ll measure the success or failure of your marketing plan.
1. The SWOT Analysis
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) are all crucial to identify if you want your business to succeed in the marketplace.
You may have seen or even filled out a SWOT Analysis template before. It looks like this:
To fill out a SWOT analysis, you’ll first want to identify some of your direct competitors.
If you’ve created a new product and you don’t have any direct competitors, select those companies that offer different solutions, but to the same problem that you’re solving.
Essentially, you can still consider them competitors for the purpose of this exercise because they are viable alternatives to your product in the eyes of the consumer.
Some obvious examples of competitors, just for the sake of illustration, include:
- Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper
- Nike, Adidas, and New Balance
- McDonalds, Burger King, and Sonic
With your competitors in mind, you can start to ask questions like:
- What are my strengths compared to my competitors?
- What are my weaknesses compared to my competitors?
A popular next step is to brainstorm how you can avoid letting your weaknesses threaten your success and how you can capitalize on your strengths. For example, you might want to ask questions like:
- How can we capitalize on this strength?
- Should we focus on improving this weakness in our product?
- Is there any way we can turn this perceived weakness into a strength?
There’s no limit to how much information you can include in a SWOT analysis. The more, the better!
If you do end up with a lot of ideas in each category, it might be a good idea to start clustering them by topic.
For example, if Coca-Cola had a lot of related weaknesses around health concerns, they could bucket those individual weaknesses into a larger “health” category.
It’s important that you perform your SWOT Analysis prior to trying to decide on your goals. Without understanding what you need to work on and what your greatest strengths are, you probably won’t end up picking a realistic goal.
Your main business objectives will likely be tied to clear financial goals. For example, if you own a software company, you might say something like this:
By the end of Q1, we should have 500 monthly users amounting to $50,000 in recurring revenue.
What’s great about a goal like this is that it’s S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
Once you have an objective set, you’re ready to move on to strategy.
3. Strategy (The Marketing Mix)
Think of your strategy as the action plan for your marketing. This is often referred to as “the marketing mix” or “the 4 Ps.”
Here’s what your marketing strategy should include:
- Product – The qualities of your product, such as special features, packaging, UI, warranties, and more.
- Price – Anything that has to do with payment, such as your payment terms, cash vs. credit policies, special discounts, etc.
- Promotion – How will you get the word out about your product? This is the umbrella under which PR, advertising, outbound sales, social media, etc. sits.
- Place – Where the product will be available for purchase.
- (BONUS!) People – Identify your target customer and how you’re going to help them; not just with your product. Think customer service too!
It’s normal for this part of the process to be lengthy. Take your time, and once you’re ready, start thinking about your target market.
4. Target Market
The more you know about your perfect customers, the more you’ll be able to tailor your message in a way that resonates with them and compels a purchase!
You don’t have the money to throw around on advertising to people who aren’t interested in your product.
When defining your target market, you’ll want to identify characteristics such as:
- Demographics: Things like age, income, education, etc.
- Psychographics: What are their interests?
- Geographics: Where do they live?
- Behaviors – Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What motivates your target market to buy?
-> You might also enjoy this post where I talk about how to create a customer persona.
But how do you know who’s most likely to buy your product or service? After all, before you can identify these characteristics, you’ll want validation that you’re focusing your product on the right market.
To make sure you have a product-market fit, ask questions like:
- Does your product/service fill a need for a group that no one is currently filling?
- Does your product/service fill a need for a group that the competition isn’t sufficiently filling?
5. Competitive Strategies
In order to make your product or service stand out, you’ll need to:
- Be aware of what your competition is doing
- Know what makes you special
- Find your unique selling proposition (USP)
USP answers the question “What benefit does my product offer that my competitors aren’t advertising?”
Note that we said “aren’t advertising.” This is an important distinction, because to have a USP, all you have to have is a message that your competitors aren’t using.
It doesn’t matter if every other product also has the same benefit. It just matters that you’re the only one calling attention to it.
This is the step where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to run some campaigns!
What’s a campaign? Think of it as a special message aimed at drawing attention to a single idea or key benefit of your product.
A single idea can be executed a number of different ways, but as long as the idea and the messaging remains the same, it’s a single campaign.
Think back to your SWOT Analysis. You could choose to create a campaign around any strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat!
Here’s what that might look like:
- A company that sells business management software determined that their product has more features than any other competitor, so their campaign will focus on telling their target market about their feature-rich platform.
- A bicycle repair shop realized that one of their weaknesses was that customers found their storefront too dirty. They gave their storefront a refresh now they’re running a campaign to tell their target customers about the improvement.
- When Google announced that HTTPS would provide a slight rankings boost, it created a huge opportunity for providers of TLS encryption to reach a new market (SEO specialists).
Consumers no longer buy because something is the cheapest option. When creating your campaign, keep in mind that your target customers are likely asking (whether consciously or subconsciously):
- What’s in it for me?
- Why do I need this?
- What problem does it solve?
- What are the benefits of ownership?
- How does it work
- Where can I buy?
- What does it cost
- Is it easy to use?
The last, and often neglected, step in creating your marketing plan is evaluation. This step answers “How close did we come to achieving our objective?”
If you made your objective S.M.A.R.T, then this step will be fairly simple.
To use our example from before, you would ask: “Did we reach 500 monthly users and $50,000 in recurring revenue by the end of Q1?”
If yes, then remember the strategies you took to get there and repeat them!
If no, then there may have been a problem either with your goals OR your execution (sometimes both).
The beauty of having a defined marketing plan is that you can retrace your steps and determine exactly where you need to improve if you didn’t hit your goals this time around.
Now it’s your turn!
Think you’ve got the hang of it? Get the free marketing plan template and try creating one of your own.
Don’t forget though, there are seven other posts in this series! Each will drill down even deeper into each section of the marketing plan so that you have an air tight understanding of what you need to do to draw attention to your new product or service. We’ll add links to them here as they’re published.