All of the giants of industry are putting their marketing plans and budget together now. It is essential to have a well thought-out marketing plan that is proactive, not reactive. A marketing plan without a firm foundation merely sways in the breeze, with decisions being made willy-nilly about each shiny and novel marketing opportunity that is pitched by a company – some with the best of intentions, and others with more questionable purposes.

Step 1: Gather the Information

Before drafting your marketing plan, it’s critical to answer some key questions that will shape the plan to meet the specific marketing goals of your business. Here are a few you should start with:

    • Who is my target customer? Be specific. Look at demographics and consumer preferences.
    • What needs does our company meet? List the ways your products and services uniquely serve your customers.
    • Who are our competitors and what sets us apart? Look at the products and services they provide, and see where you can exceed their offerings. Research the marketing efforts of your competition. By doing so, you might notice that you’re missing the opportunity to take advantage of a “new” or previously underutilized marketing channel.
    • How are we going to reach those target customers? Learn how your target customers prefer to receive information (e.g., email, social media). Demographics can tell you a lot about this.
  • How will I quantitatively measure the results of my marketing efforts? This is huge, because you cannot know what is working for you unless you have hard data to reflect on at the end of the day.

Step 2: Determine the Marketing Channels You Will Use

Successful budget allocation depends on a thorough examination of the marketing channels you’ve used in the past, as well as promising new activities you can explore. If you’ve identified your target customer, you will already have a better idea of which marketing channels will take precedence over others. For example, if your target audience relies heavily on social media to make buying decisions, this may be a channel you want to fortify with more resources. Some of the ways companies reach their target customers are:

· Online/radio/TV/print advertising

· Promotional products

· Direct mail marketing

· Cross-media marketing

· Social media marketing

· Email marketing

· Search marketing

· Blogging and article writing

Step 3: Determine How to Allocate Your Budget

A marketing plan must have a comprehensive budget that encapsulates all resources required to achieve its goals. Some things to consider:

    • According to the Forrester Research Interactive Marketing Forecasts 2011 to 2016 (US), 32% of the average 2015 marketing budget was spent on interactive marketing (such as social media, mobile marketing, and search marketing), and it’s expected that this amount will increase to 35% in 2016.
  • Many businesses allocate a portion of their budget (say, 10-15%) for new or novel marketing opportunities that come up over the course of the year. This way they can test the waters of a new venture while knowing their spending limit.

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