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Essential Contents of a Marketing Plan

Excerpt from On Target: The Book on Marketing Plans by Tim Berry and Doug Wilson

Every marketing plan must fit your needs and situation. Even so, there are standard components you just can't do without. A marketing plan should always have a situation analysis, marketing strategy, sales forecast, and expense budget.

Situation Analysis: Normally this will include a market analysis, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), and a competitive analysis. The market analysis will include market forecast, segmentation, customer information, and market needs analysis.

This is one section in a business plan that must not be ignored or taken lightly, which is why businesses are even hiring professional marketing analysts to oversee its preparation. From the phrase alone, we can pretty much deduce what a “market situation analysis” is. It involves evaluation of the situation and trends in a specific market. If you are in the process of business planning to launch a new product in a specific market, you need to evaluate the situation in that market.

Here are a few questions you can ask:

  1. How well is the firm’s current strategy working?
  2. Are the firm’s costs and prices competitive?
  3. How strong is the firm’s competitive position relative to it’s competitors?
  4. What strategic issues does the firm face?
  5. What do you want to accomplish?

Marketing Strategy: This should include at least a mission statement, objectives, and focused strategy including market segment focus and product positioning.

One of the key elements of a successful marketing strategy is the acknowledgement that your existing and potential customers will fall into particular groups or segments, characterised by their "needs". Identifying these groups and their needs through market research, and then addressing them more successfully than your competitors, should be the focus of your strategy.

A marketing plan explains how to put your strategy into action. It will set marketing budgets and deadlines, but it will also describe how you're going to talk to your target customers - whether that's through advertising, online through your website or social media, via offline networking and going to trade shows, through direct marketing, and so on. Choosing the right marketing method is vital to ensure you reach customers.

Sales Forecast: This would include enough detail to track sales month by month and follow up on plan-vs.-actual analysis. Normally a plan will also include specific sales by product, by region or market segment, by channels, by manager responsibilities, and other elements. The forecast alone is a bare minimum.

Sales forecasting is crucial for almost any business, because it affects sales deployment, financial planning, budgeting, operations planning, and marketing planning. Since sales forecasts have far-reaching impact, it's critical that the forecast information is as accurate as possible. Sales forecasting is much easier than you think, and much more useful than you imagine.

It’s not about guessing the future correctly. We’re human; we don’t do that well. Instead, it’s about assumptions, expectations, drivers, tracking, and management.

Expense Budget: This ought to include enough detail to track expenses month by month and follow up on plan-vs.-actual analysis. Normally a plan will also include specific sales tactics, programs, management responsibilities, promotion, and other elements. The expense budget is a bare minimum.

One of the most difficult situations people face in life is financial difficulties. The main reason for this is poor budgeting.

Budgeting shouldn’t be the sole domain of the accounting staff and managing partner/CEO. Particularly when projecting expenses, include all of the relevant players, such as human resources, marketing and IT managers. Additionally, key leaders, partners/shareholders and department heads should be setting revenue goals annually which plays an important in developing an accurate budget.

Expense projections generally are easier to develop than revenue projections. But it’s a mistake to treat them lightly by, for example, taking the previous year’s figures and adding a flat percentage increase of 5% or 10% across the board without examining trends and other related data points. Rather, assess your firm’s current spending, identify your goals for the coming year and determine the amount of spending that will be required to accomplish those goals.

Treat your budget like the living document it should be. After all, no budget is ever perfect. Review it regularly throughout the year, not only at year end or when the annual budgeting process starts up again. Make sure to compare projected revenue to the expenses. Check every line item to ensure that it matches expectations and market rates. If necessary, make adjustments accordingly, on both the revenue and expense sides.

Are They Enough? 
These minimum requirements above are not the ideal, just the minimum. In most cases you'll begin a marketing plan with an Executive Summary, and you'll also follow those essentials just described with a review of organizational impact, risks and contingencies, and pending issues.

Include a Specific Action Plan 

You should also remember that planning is about the results, not the plan itself. A marketing plan must be measured by the results it produces. The implementation of your plan is much more important than its brilliant ideas or massive market research. You can influence implementation by building a plan full of specific, measurable and concrete plans that can be tracked and followed up. Plan-vs.-actual analysis is critical to the eventual results, and you should build it into your plan.

Talking and thinking will only get you so far; the key is there must be action. The action you take now will determine the success and rewards you will enjoy sooner.

Chuck Groot’s CPA, MPA, MBA credentials as an author, teacher, business coach and entrepreneur are noteworthy. His clients credit their success to his uncanny ability to get right to the root of any challenge that they put in front of him.  He credits his success to his clients and their willingness to being open to new ideas and desire in pursuit of excellence. 

As an entrepreneur, his enthusiasm and innovative approach have garnered him both professional success and the recognition of his peers. But his greatest delight is being able to share these skills with others and enabling them to be successful on their own.


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