The five questions every marketing plan must answer

Are you dying to get started on your marketing but no clue where to begin? Or worse – spending money on ad-hoc items and schemes, with no real understanding of what you’re doing?

If either of these scenarios sound like you, then you need a plan. Or more specifically, a marketing plan. To help you get off to the right start, marketing and PR specialist Samantha Crowe shares the five questions every marketing plan must answer, and helps you identify the right answers for you.

A marketing plan can make a BIG difference to your success

It’s that thing that stares up at you from your to-do list. The thing that the bank manager has said you need, the thing that you know will take you places if you could just work out how to get your ideas down on paper.

That thing is your marketing plan. And for most people it’s one of the business activities they dread (and put off) most of all.

One reason for this is because it sounds so difficult, so time-consuming and so scarily out of your comfort zone. But it doesn’t have to be any of the things.

A marketing plan can make a tremendous difference to your success if you have a focused strategy for marketing and a clear picture of what you want to achieve. And to help you get started on yours quickly and easily, I’ve outlined my tried and tested approach to writing business plans. It comes from 16 years’ experience and is how I recommend you tackle the task.

The five questions every marketing plan must answer

Every marketing plan must answer five key questions if it’s going to deliver the results you want and warrant your investment. These are:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • Why?
  • How?
  • When?

Each question is a building block and you need to answer them in sequence. (The first three questions should be directly informed by your business plan.) Only you can answer them but they should give you focus and help you think about what it is you do, why you do it and therefore why you are relevant.

Get started on your marketing plan

To help you answer the five questions and get started on your marketing plan, I guide you through what each one means.

1) What do you want to be famous for?

What’s the product or service that is going to make your business shine? You may sell hundreds of products, but narrow it down to a few you really want to be known for. This will be what you use to showcase your brand time and again.

It may change over time, but a core offering is what you will use to position your business in the market.

2) Who is your target audience?

If you have a customer base already then use this as a starting point. Is there a type of customer you wished you had more of? Is there a type of customer that you think you could sell more to? Or are you after a completely different type of customer?

Build a picture of what that customer looks like. Are they 10 years old with pocket money or nearing retirement? Self-employed or a stay-at-home parent? Do they listen to the radio, read the Sunday papers, or browse online for inspiration? Are they cash rich or time poor?

Once you know this you’ll be in a position to work out how you market to them and what will make them listen.

3) Why will customers come to you and not someone else?

This is the glue between your ‘what’ and ‘who’. Is what you offer or do unique in any way? Is your customer service what makes you different? Is it the price?

Be really clear about why you will be the destination. This is so often forgotten, but it is absolutely essential – it’s what makes your brand the brand it is and is the reason why people will come to you, even if you are more expensive or further away. It’s the thing that pulls people in.

4) How will you market yourself to your customers?

I suggest you make a list of all the ways you could market your business and put your ideas into a set of ‘buckets’. Most likely the headings will be:

  • PR.
  • Social media.
  • Online and SEO.
  • Your website.
  • Advertising.
  • Events.
  • Customer relationship marketing (CRM).

You may need an ‘other’ column for items that don’t fit into the distinct buckets neatly, such as branding your car or joining a business network. Don’t rule anything out at this stage.

Next, sift through your ideas and, knowing what you do about your target customer, start to prioritse them according to how much impact they will have. You’ll arrive at a list that should tell you which ones must be done, should be done and could be done. Finally you need to look at the ideas in relation to budget, time and your skills, and you’ll be able to see very clearly where your effort and money needs to go and where you need to get expert help.

This may seem like a long process to go through but it’s crucial as you will make a conscious decision about what you will do and what you won’t. This gives you focus so you won’t be tempted off track if an offer for a last minute ad comes up in a title that isn’t read by your target customer.

5) When will you do your marketing?

This final question is where you pull together a calendar that outlines what you are going to do, where you will do it, and what you will be saying. Build your plan in terms of what you will do on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, six monthly and annual basis. And be single minded about your message.

By that I mean you should make sure that what you are promoting on your website is the same thing you will promote in your newsletter, and is the same thing you will be promoting in store. It’s easy for you to manage, and easy for the customer to act on.

Don’t worry if you can’t fill the whole year to start with, but do try to have the first three months mapped out. If you’ve never written a plan before then allow yourself time to ramp up and build in time to learn what works well so you can fine-tune your activity.

And finally – dress your business for success

Now you’ve written your plan, test your business operations – will your advert paint a picture you can deliver? Are your processes and people up to the standard you’ve set for your brand?

I call this dressing for success. It takes seconds for someone to make up their mind about your business, so make sure you can (and do) deliver what you say you will, every time.

Need more marketing help?

You’ll find more helpful marketing advice in these articles:

You can find out more about Samantha’s marketing and PR services on her website