Providing great products and services is wonderful, but customers must actually know those products and services exist. That's why marketing plans and strategies are critical to business success. (Duh, right?)

But keep in mind marketing is not just advertising. Marketing--whether advertising, public relations, promotional literature, etc--is an investment in the growth of your business.

Like any other investment you would make, money spent on marketing must generate a return. (Otherwise why make the investment?) While that return could simply be greater cash flow, good marketing plans result in higher sales and profits.

So don't simply plan to spend money on a variety of advertising efforts. Do your homework and create a smart marketing program.

Here are some of the basic steps involved in creating our marketing plan:

  • Focus on your target market. Who are your customers? Who will you target? Who makes the decisions? Determine how you can best reach potential customers.
  • Evaluate your competition. Your marketing plan must set you apart from your competition, and you can't stand out unless you know your competition. (It's hard to stand out from a crowd if you don't know where the crowd stands.) Know your competitors by gathering information about their products, service, quality, pricing, and advertising campaigns. In marketing terms, what does your competition do that works well? What are their weaknesses? How can you create a marketing plan that highlights the advantages you offer to customers?
  • Consider your brand. How customers perceive your business makes a dramatic impact on sales. Your marketing program should consistently reinforce and extend your brand. Before you start to market your business, think about how you want your marketing to reflect on your business and your products and services. Marketing is the face of your to potential customers--make sure you put your best face forward.
  • Focus on benefits. What problems do you solve? What benefits do you deliver? Customers don't think in terms of products--they think in terms of benefits and solutions. Your marketing plan should clearly identify benefits customers will receive. Focus on what customers get instead of on what you provide. (Take Dominos; theoretically they're in the pizza business, but really they're a delivery business.)
  • Focus on differentiation. Your products and services have to stand out from the competition in some way. How will you compete in terms of price, product, or service?

Then focus on providing detail and backup for your marketing plan.

Key questions to answer:

  • What is your budget for sales and marketing efforts?
  • How will you determine if your initial marketing efforts are successful? In what ways will you adapt if your initial efforts do not succeed?
  • Will you need sales representatives (inside or external) to promote your products?
  • Can you set up public relations activities to help market your business?

The Sales and Marketing section for our cycling rental business could start something like this:

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Target Market

The target market for Blue Mountain Cycling Rentals is western VA, eastern WV, southwestern MD, and northern NC. While customers in the counties surrounding the George Washington National Forest make up 35% of our potential customer base, much of our market travels from outside that geographic area.

Marketing Strategy

Our marketing strategy will focus on three basic initiatives:

  • Road signage. Access to the forest is restricted to a few primary entrances, and visitors reach those entrances after traveling on one of several main roadways. Since customers currently rent bicycles in the local town of Harrisonburg, road signage will communicate our value proposition to all potential customers.
  • Web initiatives. Our website will attract potential visitors to the resort. We will partner with local businesses that serve our target market to provide discounts and incentives.
  • Promotional events. We will hold regular events with professional cyclists, like demonstrations and autograph signings, to bring more customers to the store as well as to extend the athletes' "brand" to our brand.

Pricing Strategy

We will not be the low-cost provider for our target market. Our goal is to provide mid- to high-end equipment. However, we will create web-based loyalty programs to incent customers to set up online profiles and reserve and renew equipment rentals online, and provide discounts for those who do. Over time we will be able to market specifically to those customers.

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Just like in the Market Opportunity section, you may want to include a few more categories. For example, if your business involves a commission-compensated sales force, describe your Sales Programs and incentives. If you distribute products to other companies or suppliers and those distribution efforts will impact your overall marketing plans, lay out your Distribution Strategy.

The key is to show you understand your market and you understand how you will reach your market. Marketing and promotions must result in customers--your goal is to thoroughly describe how you will acquire and keep your customers.

Also keep in mind you may want to include examples of marketing materials you have already prepared, like website descriptions, print ads, web-based advertising programs, etc. While you don't need to include samples, taking the time to create actual marketing materials might help you better understand and communicate your marketing plans and objectives.

Make sure your Sales & Marketing section answers the "How will I reach my customers?" question.

Next time we'll look at the next major component in a business plan: your Competitive Analysis.

More in this series:

Published on: Apr 8, 2015