Effective marketing rarely happens accidentally. Successful campaigns are most often the result of good planning and execution.
Planning a marketing campaign can provide an excellent opportunity to focus on a business's unique marketing problems or challenges and the proper actions required to address those very problems or challenges.
Regarding Marketing Planning
Unfortunately, some entrepreneurs simply don't know what a marketing plan is or how it should look. Is there a form one can download and fill out to ensure complete success? Not really. Are there marketing recipes to follow that include search engine marketing combined with pay-per-click ads and a blog post or two? Not exactly.
Instead marketing planning varies greatly from organization to organization or even campaign to campaign. What follows are seven steps that may help ecommerce merchants make better marketing plans. Apply these steps as they make sense in the context of a particular campaign.
1. Know Where the Business Is
Marketing is frequently thought of as "those activities involved in the process of selling products or services to customers." But another possible definition — or perhaps restatement of the definition — might be "those actions required to move a business from its current state to a desired state."
For example, imagine an online store that sells $10,000 worth of digital widgets each month. That store would, however like to sell $20,000 worth of widgets. The store's current state is "sales of $10,000," and its desired state is "sales of $20,000."
In the example, it is marketing that moves the retailer from its current state to its desired state — i.e., to double sales.
In application, a good marketing plan should begin with a thorough understanding of the business's current state. What are current sales and inventory levels? Are new products available? What is the business's cash flow or available marketing budget?
2. Know What the Opportunity Is
In marketing textbooks, one will often find the term "total available market" or "TAM." The TAM references the revenue opportunity for a particular product or service. It describes the value of the entire market.
It is unlikely that a single business will have the ability to sell to the entire market. That business will, instead, have some share of the available market. An increase in revenue or sales frequently represents an increase in that market share.
When developing a marketing plan, consider what kind of opportunity may exist. Is the TAM for a particular product or segment growing? Are there opportunities to gain market share.
Knowing how large or small an opportunity is will help with goal setting later.
3. Know Who the Customer Is
Recently, a major clothing manufacturer specializing in work wear and outerwear profiled its typical customers. This manufacturer aggregated information about the customers' ages, occupations, locations, hobbies, and favorite places to shop. Similar customers were grouped together and represented by personas with names like Mike, Matt, and Mary.
The manufacturer then shared this data with many of its retailers, including brick-and-mortar stores, pure-play ecommerce merchants, and multi-channel retailers. This kind of customer information can be very useful.
The Mike persona, which was a 40-year-old, blue collar worker earning around $65,000, was the only customer type shopping at relatively small specialty stores. This fact helped the marketers at those specialty stores do two very different things with their marketing plans. First, they aimed at strengthening relationships with Mike persona customers. Second, they looked at other similar personas, which were not currently shopping at specialty retailers and sought ways to win them over.
4. Have S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Once a marketer has taken stock of a business's current state, studied the market to understand the available opportunity, and researched customers, it is time to define the desired state or the goals that marketing is supposed to achieve.
There is an acronym, S.M.A.R.T., that can help a marketer set good marketing goals. I've addressed S.M.A.R.T. previously, in "Setting SMART Goals and Measuring Success."
Put simply, marketing goals should be:
5. Choose Reasonable Tactics
Once a S.M.A.R.T. goal has been created, it is time to select the specific tactics or actions that will move a business from its current state to its goal or desired state. These tactics will be things like creating a special landing page, sending emails, posting on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, publishing content, or purchasing pay-per-click ads on Google, Bing, or similar networks.
Each tactic selected should be responsible for achieving some part of the goal. As an example, if the goal is to get $10,000 in new monthly revenue, pay-per-click ads might be made responsible for producing $2,000 in new sales while a multi-part email tactic might be responsible for another $2,000. Other tactics would need to make up the remaining $6,000 in new sales to meet the goal.
Reasonable tactics are those actions or advertisements that help achieve the goal while remaining within budget or time constraints.
Step No. 6: Create a Schedule or Calendar
Every tactic in the marketing plan and every goal milestone should be laid out on a schedule or calendar. This schedule will first help to coordinate tactics avoiding overlap or other potential issues.
Second, the schedule will help with execution and measurement, since the marketer will know ahead of time which tactics are coming up and, presumably, what must be done to execute those tactics.
7. Build in Room for Change
A good marketing plan also should assume that some tactics will change during the course of execution and accommodate those likely changes.
This does not mean that the planner should seek to figure out possible changes in advance or be unwilling to commit to some tactics. It suggests, instead, having some margin or room in the plan for change.
The plan should spread marketing investments out so that there will still be room in the budget — in terms of money and time — if new opportunities arise or if some tactics underperform.