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Creating a Marketing Plan That Will Give You the Competitive Advantage You Are Looking For

Are you a small business owner wondering how to get ahead of the competition and increase sales? Generally, the one goes with the other, unless you are one of the few who are lucky enough to have more business than you can handle. And if you’re in that situation, you should probably think about expanding! Either way, your business can benefit from a solid marketing plan. If you need to grow by attracting more customers, or improve your margins by lowering costs, putting some thought into how you market your business is the first place to start, especially if you think you will need to seek additional funding to move your business to the next level.

A marketing plan is like a business plan for an already existing company, although for new businesses seeking funding, a complete business plan should always be a subset included in the overall business plan. Marketing plans define what your objective for your company is and present the various short and long-term strategies you plan to use to achieve that objective. Marketing is often painfully oversimplified in the minds of people who don’t understand or have experience in it. This is easy to do because certain elements of marketing appear to be quite simple. For example, anyone with a few hundred dollars can pay for a radio or print ad. Relatively few people however can clearly define a measurable result by which they will determine how successful the ad was or define how it will fit into a larger, more comprehensive marketing plan.

The marketing plan begins at the most fundamental level of your business: why you exist. What is your mission, your vision? If your answer is simply “to make money,” you need to put some more thought into it! Marketing plans force you to examine this and many other questions in order to become more competitive. Once you have defined why you’re in business and what customer need you are satisfying, it’s time to evaluate how you’re doing in context of what you need, and in comparison to your competitors.

Forming a strategy in part by comparison to your competitors involves completing a comprehensive market analysis, which includes detailed research and consideration of every individual competitor, with their strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities and threats they provide or pose. Where are they doing better than you and what can you do better than them? Conducting such a detailed analysis will help you uncover your core competency. Or in other words, the thing you can do better than all of your competitors.

If your marketing plan helps you identify this one piece of information, it will be a success. For an investor considering funding an existing business, the magnitude of your core competency and resulting competitive advantage will do more than any other information in your marketing plan to convince them to give you their money. One important factor in further refining your market analysis is evaluating your current market share. How much total demand is there, and how much of that have you captured? How will that demand grow or shrink in the coming months and years?

Marketing Plan Outline

This marketing plan outline will help small business owners put together a strategy to launch a new product or service or will help those who are starting a small business or working their business.

Marketing Plan Outline:

1. Executive Summary:

The executive summary is really a spotlight page of the contents of the marketing plan outline. Typically it needs to reference the key points of your strategy and answer the who, what, why, when, where, and how questions. This summary is always done at the end – after the other parts of the strategy are completed.

2. Company Review:

* Background information on the company (date incorporated, operation purpose, history, number of workers, primary product/service.
* Include the company’s vision statement, which is a view of the company’s long-term and future route, and the company’s value policy. Both will keep your strategy focused and aligned on your business.

3.Environmental Scan:

* Industry examination
* Competitive Analysis; including an outlook of competitive advantage
* Suppliers to your business
* Regulatory
* clients

4. Market:

There are two types of markets: mass markets (you’re marketing to the world – much like an online operation) or target markets (you’re selling to a specific targeted section of the market) – also referred to as target marketing or marketing segmentation.

As a small business owner, typically you will want to direct your market and you will therefore need to do market segmentation.

* Market segmentation is about segmenting the target market so that you can better target them with your offer. This could be done at a fairly basic or at a very detailed level.

5. Identify Your Target market with your marketing plan outline:

* Select your main, secondary, and perhaps even your tertiary markets based on your marketplace segmentation.

6. Build Your marketplace Strategy:

Your marketplace strategy needs to contain a main goal or mission statement (that connects to the Company’s mission statement). It also needs to contain your marketing objectives and how you plan to accomplish them (the action plan next steps).

* Why does what you sell benefit your (potential) customer?
* Describe your market’s needs and wants.
* Describe how your operation will meet them.
* Define your product’s place from the perspective of your target customer and relative to your competitors.
* Define the general techniques you will use (keeping in mind your target market’s need and wants and your operation product or service benefits.
* Define marketing mix:
* Product or Service: Features, advantages, benefits, specifications, improvements, problems/challenges.

7. Measure Your outcomes:

Your marketing plan outline must contain a strategy to measure operation performance and specific selling outcomes.

* How many sales did you get through your affiliate or referral programs?
* How many sales through the web; through walk-in?
* Did buyers inundate your phone lines after they read about you in the local paper?

Keep track of your marketing strategies, programs and tactics and measure results against these activities. Focus on those activities that give you the best results and spend less time, energy and money on those activities that don’t increase sales.

8. Marketing Plan Outline – Additional Elements To Include:

Your marketing plan outline needs to also include the orders plan, the operation operations system and business financial strategy.

Internet Marketing Plan Development

To be successful, the first step is to create a plan. Knowing where and how to reach a goal seems like common sense but an overwhelming number of businesses fail to do this step.

There are four steps in developing a good internet marketing plan:
1. Be clear on what you want to accomplish
2. Know what vehicles for internet promotion are available
3. Understand the competition
4. Understand the Prospects

Be Clear on Goals

The first step is to decide the aim of the online marketing plan. The tasks that you want to achieve, do you want to give information, provide services or sell products, etc have to be made clear. It may also include decisions regarding creation of online community, the budget planning for online marketing, clear goals and budget makes the end result more practical and profitable. There are two methods for developing a good plan. The first approach is to decide which tactics can work the best for the business in terms of manpower available, money, budget etc. These considerations can have a huge impact on implementation of any marketing plan. The second and more classical approach to marketing planning is to establish your goals and develop a plan for the best chance of success to reach those goals. Tactics that cannot be implemented are discarded in the plan, either intentionally or unintentionally. The first method is known as “bottom up” planning and the second is “top down” planning. Both methods work but it is up to the business owner to discover which method works best in their situation.

Know the Choices

Again it seems like common sense, but many business owners only have a limited knowledge of the many promotional opportunities available on the Internet. Marketing plans aren’t made overnight. They require a great deal of research and planning to get results.

Understand the Competition

This step is out of order from the method taught by many marketing courses but the truth is that competitors may have been working on implementing their marketing plans far longer and have likely worked out some of the “kinks” in their marketing plan. Determining what has been successful for them is likely to produce similar or better results by only slightly improving upon their plan.

Understand Potential Customers Decision Making Process

Knowing how your target market makes decisions online is the backbone of any Internet Marketing Plan. Assuming that the market follows the same decision process online as off is a mistake. They don’t. Any good internet marketing plan must begin with this understanding of the process. This process should not affect the goals but should certainly affect the implementation of the plan.