Anybody can write a marketing plan. Heck, there are dozens of templates and examples available on the Web for every type of business strategy. Writing a brilliant marketing plan, though...that's more of a challenge.
The first step to writing a brilliant marketing plan is to understand what marketing is, and what it is not. And that can be difficult because the standard definition of market is, well, sorta kinda bullsh*t.
The American Marketing Association's defines "marketing" as "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."
In other words, "marketing" (at least as defined by the AMA) consists of everything that every business does everywhere and in every situation. That kind of broad definition is that it's the proverbial Jell-O that you can't pin to the wall.
The problem with fuzzy definitions is that they result in fuzzy concepts and fuzzy planning. Indeed, most marketing plans (especially those built from templates on the Web) tend to be "all over the place."
For a marketing plan to be brilliant, it must be tight and focused. That's only possible if you define the term "marketing" with enough precision that it's easy to see whether your plan hits the mark. With that in mind, here's the definition that works for me:
Marketing: the removal of obstacles to buying and selling.
Here's why that definition works.
In an ideal world, buyers would always know exactly what they want and what they want would be instantly and universally buyable. At the same time, sellers would always know what goods and services to create, and what they create would be instantly and universally salable.
In the real world, there are many obstacles to buying and selling.
For example, consumers often don't know what they want. Or they want more than they can afford. Or they can't decide which of two products is more important. Or they can't figure out how to budget and pay for a product. These obstacles make buying less likely.
Similarly, manufacturers struggle to find consumers who are willing to buy their products. They must figure out how to get money from customers and then how to deliver products in return or how to customize those products--all obstacles that make selling more difficult.
Removing these obstacles increases the likelihood that buying and selling will take place. So that's "marketing." With that in mind, here's a definition for "brilliant marketing":
Brilliant Marketing: spending as little time and money as possible to remove as many of those obstacles as possible.
With that in mind, a "brilliant marketing plan" will have these three components:
1. Messages that potential customers find relevant and timely.
The first obstacle to buying and selling is a potential customer's lack of awareness of why the customer needs it. If your customers don't "get" what you're selling, they certainly aren't going to buy it!
Unfortunately, most marketing messages are written from an "inside looking out" perspective. They concentrate on naming the product, placing it in a category, listing out its features and functions, and, worst of all, on the history of the company that made it.
- Example: "Sabeo, founded in 2007 by Google executives, is a Sales Enablement Platform that supports full integration with leading email systems and seamless connectivity to enterprise-level ERP."
Most customers, however, don't really care about any of that. Customers what to know what a product means to them (both personally and in a corporate sense) so that they can assess whether it's worthy of attention or funding.
- Example: "Sabeo helps your sales team close more deals by 1) ensuring deals don't fall through the cracks, and 2) providing advice on which deals are most likely to close."
A brilliant marketing plan starts with messages that create the connection in the customer's mind between what the customer wants and needs (right now!) and what you have to offer. Without such messages, a marketing plan is worthless.
2. Measurable vehicles for disseminating those messages.
Once you've created messages that resonate with customers, your next obstacle is the communication gap between you and your customers. Screaming your message into the wind won't do; if customers don't hear the message, they won't buy.
There are, of course, at least a dozen ways to reach customers: advertising, press releases, trade shows, websites, search engines, social media, signage, and so forth. A brilliant marketing plan will identify the communications channels that will work best.
What's important here is measurability. Without reasonable metrics, you don't know whether your messages are being heard and (even more important) whether they're having the desired effect.
For example, if you're running a print ad, you measure before/after sales in the region where the ad ran. Similarly, if you've got a website, you measure the number of visitors who sign up for a free trial. Email marketing is always measurable. And so forth.
A brilliant marketing plan will identify the specific vehicles that you'll use to disseminate your messages and, most importantly, how you'll measure the success or failure of those vehicles.
3. Methods that easily and profitably convert prospects into customers.
Once you've got messages that work and know how you're going to get those messages in front of prospective customers, your final obstacle is removing the barriers that keep customers from buying. You do this by setting up efficient sales channels and programs.
These methods might include a trial usage period, online ordering, a distribution network, retail placement, telesales, a shared sales force (reps who sell products from multiple companies), or a dedicated sales force that only sells your product.
The two important words here: "easily" and "profitable."
You want the buying method to be as easy as possible so that the mechanics of buying don't get in the way. The easier it is to buy your product, the more of that product you're likely to sell.
The other key concept is "profitable." Every sales method both costs money and determines to a certain extent the price that your product can command.
For example, fielding a dedicated sales force is more expensive that offering a product online. That extra expense is justifiable, however, if the product is too complex to sell online or if customers prefer to buy your category of product from a salesperson.
A brilliant marketing plan will identify the methods by which you'll sell your product and quantify the profit that selling through those methods will generate. It will then define, in brief, how you plan to develop those programs and channels.
If you've been reading carefully, you'll notice that there's really not all that much content in a brilliant marketing plan. In fact, the most brilliant marketing plans of all can be communicated in a single page or a couple of slides.