One of the best pieces of advice I was given by my friendly Business Link advisor when I set up Sarah Hall Consulting was to keep my business plan next to my desk and to reference it regularly. Now a habit, one of the big benefits is that I am forced to think about where I want the business to be in five or so years time. When I sit down with other organisations, they often already know where they would like to be but are unsure of what marketing they should carry out in order to get there. This article is therefore designed to provide a brief reminder of the type of thing to consider when planning marketing activity and allocating spend.
As referenced earlier, the business plan is an extremely helpful port of call because it is a bona fide secret weapon – if drafted thoroughly and continuously updated, it gives you all the details you need to make positive marketing decisions. All the information that was painstakingly compiled can be used as a guide to positioning and what you should be saying to whom, as well as how, where and when (not to mention why), which is ultimately what you’re looking for. If you know all of this, deciding what to do becomes a common sense process.
To illustrate, whether or not you carry out the exercise regularly, in the beginning you will have done an environmental scan to help you understand the economic climate, most probably looking at political, economic, social and cultural, technological, legal and environmental factors (the old PESTLE workout!). Important for understanding the context you’re operating in, often developments within these areas have a huge impact on what marketing options are available to you – for example changes to gambling legislation opened up new opportunities relating to advertising on certain mediums and at certain times. Equally, changes in exchange rates can open up new markets, affecting how and where you place your message. You need to stay abreast of these developments so you can redefine your strategy accordingly.
All the background on your products and services, the market and your customer profiles are also in the business plan ready to be revisited – and this is really valuable stuff. Looking at the marketplace helps to remind you about where your products and services fit in, whether they are still relevant, whether the consumer has stayed the same and how you differ from your competitors, which in turn helps you decide how your marketing should evolve. It can happen rarely that nothing has altered but I bet that for most businesses, various changes will (or should) have been made to the traditional four P’s of product, price, place and promotion. Was every element tweaked at the time? When you reevaluate, it can be shocking to realize how out of date your website or packaging looks – or to see how quickly a competitor has started to dominate the online marketplace and is able to undercut you on price.
Promotion is the perfect case in point. Even if your client base has stayed the same, that may not be the case for that particular group of people’s consumption habits. Print media no longer dominates – is your organization adapting and looking at online, social and broadcast options too? Take packaging – is yours environmentally friendly? It’s amazing how many people will choose one product above another due to its green credentials.
Prioritisation remains the key when planning marketing activity - driving the greatest amount of revenue means targeting your top customers first and foremost, before then looking at the groups that do purchase from you but have the potential to buy more. Revisit your business plan, because understanding your customers and the context you’re operating in means you can pick your marketing tools efficiently and effectively, which then helps you develop that highly sought after competitive advantage that’s so difficult to secure.