A marketing plan is a document that outlines a set of actions necessary in order to meet specific objectives.
It’s one of those things many of us, especially those who have been doing search marketing for a while, probably keep largely in our heads. We know roughly where we’re going, the strategies needed to get there, and the objective is to get great rankings and increased traffic. So who needs to write it down?
Here’s a couple of good reasons.
Writing forces an analytic approach. The act of writing something down often brings about new ideas because it gets us out of the routine of “just doing”. Secondly, writing plans helps us write better proposals. A marketing plan is about both an analysis and a form of communication. It’s a means to get across your ideas to clients and other partners and convince them of the merits of what we’re doing.
If your clients are anything above small business level, then they likely already have formal marketing plans, of which search marketing is a part, so doing this sort of planning makes us better able to talk their language.
This post looks at the steps involved in writing a marketing plan, and how to optimize it so it will be most effective.
What Is A Marketing Plan?
A marketing plan:
- provides an analysis of the current situation
- lists goals
- outlines strategies, tactics and recommendations to achieve those goals
Above all, a marketing plan is a recommendation for a course of action.
How To Write A Marketing Plan
A marketing plan should cover the following topics:
- Summary & Recommendations
- Situation analysis
The summary and recommendations outline the state of the market and your recommendations for achieving goals. The rest of your document supports these recommendations.
A situation analysis covers what is happening both inside and outside the company - the internal and external conditions. There are various methods of defining these conditions including SWOT analysis, Five Forces, and 5Cs. Whatever method you choose, they will include these three areas:
- The Customer
- The Competitors
- The Company
Customer: A company must serve the interests of the customer. What does the customer need?
Competitor: What do competitors offer? What are the points of difference between their company and yours? Do they serve the needs to the customer well? In what areas don’t they serve the needs of customers?
The Company - what makes sense in terms of existing resources? Could the company restructure to meet marketing goals? Could some product and service lines be switched?
A situation analysis is typically detailed and draws a picture of the state of play right now. It’s a list of known facts about internal and external forces.
The situation analysis is where you are now, the objectives are where you want to be and when. Objectives, as far as a business is concerned, are typically about the bottom line and increasing profitability.
Search marketers often think of micro-objectives in terms of rankings and positioning, but a question a client is much more interested in is how this ranking or positioning effort supports the macro-objective: greater profitability?
A high ranking might lead to more inquiries, and inquiries convert at X%, which are worth, on average, $X to the business. Once you link search marketing objectives to business objectives it’s a lot easier to sell search marketing and convince people of your strategies, particularly to decision makers.
Objectives such as convert x % more customers, get x more customers to landing page y, get x% more signups are all valid marketing goals as they are quantitative and therefore concrete. “Getting higher rankings” may be measurable, but it doesn't, in itself, align with a business goal. If we can marry those two things together - rankings and higher profits - then search becomes an easy sell.
Traffic is another measurement we could use, or break it down further into types of traffic i.e. tightly targeted vs loosely targeted traffic. Whilst these facts may be difficult to pin down, this type of analysis helps people think about exactly how much each visitor is worth to them, and why. If each visitor has measurable value, then the value of search marketing plans are easy to prove, so long as the total search marketing spend is lower than the added value the visitors represent. One way to illustrate this potential is by using Google Adwords search volume data, or for a more accurate barometer - a trial PPC campaign run against desired keywords.
Budget: How much will the plan cost to execute? Once you can demonstrate the value of search traffic, then it becomes easier for a company to allocate budget.
Strategy: the nuts and bolts of how you will achieve your goals. In search marketing, this is typically split into two areas, PPC and SEO. A marketing plan typically doesn't go into exact detail in terms of ranking and positioning technique. Keep it high level, else it’s likely to confuse, or people are likely to get bogged down in unnecessary detail.
Execution: Define who is responsible for what and when. Include milestones.
Evaluation: Evaluation is critical in that you need to establish if the plan is on target to meet goals, or has met goals. If not, then you may need to revise goals and strategy in order to get the plan back on track.
Planning often seems dry, but the very act of putting together a marketing plan will help give you fresh ideas, help clarify your approach, and makes it all easier to communicate with stakeholders.
One problem at this stage is that the marketing plan is likely to be a dull read. I’ve seen chunky marketing plans that never get read - a lot of managers appear to just read the summary on such documents - because they are too dense. In the next section, we’ll look at ways to optimize marketing plans so that people will read them, remember them, and get enthusiastic about them.
It's useful to split out the phases and a different type of thinking is required for each. Phase one is an analysis - a list of what is happening now. Phase two is all about strategy and tactics. It’s all about “how”. Phase three is about communication and getting people on side. It’s about making specific recommendations backed by analysis and strategy.
Optimizing Your Marketing Plan
Think of your audience. What would you want to see if you were reading a marketing plan?
You’d want to know what needs to be done, and even more importantly, why this is the best course of action. Recommendations need to be anchored by solid analysis and presentation of facts. If you assert something as a recommendation, ask yourself what questions such a recommendation invites, then have the facts to back them up. Always answer the “why are we doing this?” question.
A good way of engaging people is to use a story format. Stories pull people in as they have internal consistency whereby one sentence logically leads to another. A story is simply this: something that moves from status quo (your analysis), to a problem that must be resolved (the customers needs), to a new status quo. Show how you resolve that problem (target the customer and deliver what they need).
Example Marketing Plan
Some marketing plans are long and detailed, but that doesn’t need to be the case, especially on small, contained projects. Here’s an example of a brief marketing plan incorporating each of the steps outlined above.
Many people want to travel by private plane, but can’t afford it.
Many private planes sit idle, or make return journeys with no one on them. PrivateJet Inc has adapted their existing booking system to provide a service whereby people can book a seat on a private plane just like they can on a regular airline. When carriers have spare capacity, they post it to the system, and pre-approved customers who want to book a seat can easily do so.
Currently, private plane operators don’t have an easy way of making their spare capacity available, except as charters. There are no direct competitors in the private “book a seat” market. People who wish to travel on private aircraft don’t have an easy way of accessing this type of travel. There is space in the market for a nationwide booking system that pre-screens appropriate passengers and matches them up with available planes, much like a conventional aircraft booking system. PrivateJet Inc has this system, and this plan outlines a plan to reach our identified market segment of prospective cash-rich but time poor business customers who can’t afford to own or charter a private plane but would benefit from the convenience of being able to book a seat on one. Private Jet Inc already have a number of private aircraft operators lined up to provide the service.
The goal is to sign-up 2,000 interested members of the public to the prospects database by July 20th. We plan to achieve this goal by using pay per click advertising on Google. The budget for this activity is is $15,000. We’ve noted that there is significant search volume for “private plane charter” and various related keywords, so feel confident on achieving this goal given we an estimated conversion rate of 5%. We intend to set-up specific landing pages for each group of related keyword terms explaining the offer and requesting interested users sign up to our mailing list.
Search Inc will implement the plan immediately and report progress to PrivateJet Inc on a weekly basis. By July, PrivateJet will have 2,000 interested members signed up to their prospect database.
That’s a very simple plan for the purposes of illustration. Marketing plans are typically significantly longer and more detailed, but they will follow that same basic structure. It’s clear what the problem is, how it will be addressed, by whom, and when things will happen.
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