10 Questions You Need to Answer to Create a Powerful Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is an essential marketing tool for every small business. To create an effective plan, you'll need to ask yourself—and answer—such important questions as: What do I want to accomplish and why? What is my target market? Who is my competition? Consider these important questions and more before taking any other action. 

Marketing Strategy: How Will Your Marketing Plan Support Your Business Goals?

Before you start developing your marketing plan, you need a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. It is your marketing strategy, and it's directly related to your business goals and objectives. Your marketing strategy outlines what you want to do, and the rest of the marketing plan provides details on how to do it.

For example, let's say one of your business goals is to expand your brick-and-mortar retail store into an e-commerce website. Your marketing strategy for that goal could be to introduce your products to a new national market segment. You would then break down your strategy even further into short- and long-term objectives while defining your specific marketing message. Delve into how a marketing strategy and a marketing plan work together.

If you don't have them already, create specific business goals with a business goal setting guide to get started. Also, make sure you are attaching a specific timeline to your goals, such as a 90-day plan. Having a time frame helps you create a more targeted and realistic marketing plan.

Mission Statement: What Are You Trying to Accomplish, and Why?

Your mission statement addresses what are you trying to do and why you are doing it. You may have already created a mission statement as part of your business planning process. If so, add it to your marketing plan.

Your mission statement is the foundation of your marketing plan. Although it may not play a direct role in your marketing activities, the mission statement focuses on your business goals and helps you make sure that your marketing activities support the business's overall objectives. It's an effective tool to refer back to whenever you start to question if you are still on the right track.

If you haven't finalized your mission statement yet, do so now. A mission statement tutorial can help you to get started.

Target Market: Who Are You Trying to Reach With Your Marketing Activities?

Your target market is the specific audience you want to reach with your products and services or the group you are trying to sell. The more details you include as you determine who is in your target market, the more targeted your marketing plan will be.

Take time to conduct market research so that you can identify:

  • Who makes up your target audience
  • Where you can find them
  • What they value as important
  • What they are worried about
  • What they need right now

Create a sketch of the person or business; you would consider your ideal customer. This exercise helps you identify specifics about that customer as well as personalize your marketing messaging.

Competitive Analysis: Who Are You Up Against, and Where Do You Rank?

One of the best ways to research your target market and prepare your marketing activities is to study your competition. Know who is out there selling what you are, especially if they are selling it to consumers who fit your ideal customer profile. Take a hard look at what your competitors are doing right, and what they may be doing wrong.

One way to conduct a competitive analysis is with a SWOT analysis, a strategic tool that evaluates a company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Take time to measure the SWOT of your top competition as well as your own business.

Conducting a thorough analysis of your competition will help you identify areas where you can beat the competition, fine-tune your niche market, and make sure you are prepared to address competitive challenges.

Unique Selling Proposition: What Makes Your Business Unique?

Once you know what you're up against in the market, it's time to identify the approach that sets you apart from everyone else. 

A unique selling proposition (USP) outlines how your business, products, or services differ from your competition's. The statement identifies what makes your business the better choice, and why your target clients should choose you over the competition.

unique selling proposition tutorial can help craft a USP for your business.

Pricing Strategy: What Will You Charge, and Why?

If you have a traditional business plan, you already have spent a great deal of time researching the best price point for your products and services. Now relate that pricing information to your marketing activities.

One highly important factor is determining how you will work your pricing strategy into your marketing message. In most cases, you want to be able to support your price points by providing your customers with a clear idea of the value and benefits they receive in return. A high-value proposition often leads a customer to make a purchase.

If you haven't identified your pricing perspective yet, review a pricing strategy primer to explore different approaches and consider how they may relate to your business.

Promotional Plan: How Will You Reach Your Target Market?

As a key element of the marketing mix, your promotional plan covers all of the communication that will take place with the consumer. 

Your promotional plan should combine a variety of marketing activities and may include:

  • Advertising
  • Packaging
  • Public relations
  • Direct sales
  • Internet marketing
  • Sales promotions
  • Marketing materials
  • Other publicity efforts

Don't want to start with too many variations in your promotional plan. Select three to five specific activities to help you execute your marketing strategy.

For example, if one of your goals is to provide five free initial consultations within three months, your promotional plan may include focusing on targeted leads through a cold calling campaign, a social media outreach plan, and a direct mail campaign. You can get some idea on specific activities by browsing lists of 101 small business marketing ideas.

Complete this step at the same time as the next step since your budget affects the activities you can include.

Marketing Budget: How Much Money Will You Spend, and on What?

As you outline a promotional plan, you need to have a budget in place so that you know which activities you can afford. Unfortunately, most new small businesses have a limited budget when it comes to marketing, so creating a promotional plan that works with your available funds is vital.

You may have an annual marketing budget, but you should also break it down into separate monthly budgets so that you can track results and modify the promotional plan to focus on the activities that provide you with the biggest return on investment.

A marketing budget template from Entrepreneur.com and another template from Microsoft Office can get you started.

Action List: What Tasks Do You Need to Complete to Reach Your Marketing Goals?

Outlining exactly what you need to do and when is an important part of your marketing plan. This outline becomes the task list to guide you through every one of your promotional activities. Your action steps help you stay on track so that you can make consistent progress without having to re-create the wheel every time you're ready to take a step.

To formulate your marketing plan action list, follow the same process for managing your daily tasks: take the end goal, and break it down into a series of single-step tasks that lead you to achieving your desired result

For example, if one of the activities outlined in your promotional plan is launching a direct mail campaign, your first few action steps may look like this:

  • Determine your budget for the campaign.
  • Clarify your objective for the campaign.
  • Determine the type of direct mail you will send.
  • Hire a designer or firm to create your collateral.
  • Write (or hire out) the copy for the direct mail piece.
  • Clarify the call to action.
  • Have a draft of the direct mail piece created.

Your action list can take a number of different forms, as long as it's created in a way that supports progress. Each action item should also include a due date that works with the timeline you created for your marketing plan. Typically, the smaller the steps, the easier it will be for you to complete tasks and build momentum.

Metrics: What Results Have You Achieved, and Where Can You Improve?

All of this work you've put into creating a marketing plan for your small business will be rendered useless if you can't track and measure the results. This step allows you to take your marketing plan from a one-time, static document and turn it into a plan that grows and develops with your business.

The way you track and measure your results depends on your particular type of marketing tactics. For example, online marketing can be tracked using analytics and other internet-based metrics, while tracking offline marketing methods requires a more manual approach.

In general, the more standardized your tracking system, the more relevant your results will be. By measuring your results, you will become much better at tailoring your marketing activities to focus on the areas where you will have the most success.

For some ideas on how to track your marketing results, read more about marketing metrics.

Success for Small Businesses Starts with Good Planning

Success comes with hard work and good planning. Create a blueprint, follow it, fine-tune it, update it, and always go back to it. Planning is essential.