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How to Make a Marketing Plan

Whether you are launching a new product, trying to get listeners on your podcast, or even looking for followers on Instagram, you need to think about your marketing. I’ve been in business helping people with their companies for years, and it is always at the mention of a marketing plan that people push back.

Reasons? I have heard them all. “I have an amazing location! All my friends and family are going to eat at my restaurant!” “Las Vegas gets 40 million visitors a year, and I only need .001 percent to be successful!” And when they tell me those things, there is some truth to them. But here is the reality; Great businesses in amazing locations fail all the time. Friends and family eating at that restaurant? Most likely, they will expect a significant discount, if not on the house. And yes, that .001 percent represents 40,000 people. Still, those people need to learn about you and be interested enough to check things out. Then, they must be impressed enough to open their wallets and happy enough afterward to tell a friend or post on social media. While it may seem that those things just happen, they don’t. Most of the time, it takes a lot more than a well-placed selfie or a random Facebook post.

Are marketing and advertising the same thing?

Before we go any further, I want to be clear about what I mean by marketing and how it differs from advertising. Let’s start with advertising. We’ve all seen and heard it. It comes in many forms: radio and TV commercials, magazine ads, celebrity endorsements like Jennifer Aniston for Aveeno.  Black Widow, released in 2021, showed brands like Converse, Listerine, and Pop-Tarts in the movie – that’s product placement. Don’t forget sponsorships and tie-ins like the Geico gecko/Black Widow commercial. The ways of advertising go on and seem to be limited only by imagination.

On the other hand, marketing is all the stuff that does or should come first.

So what, actually, is marketing?

At its core, it’s about knowing your target audiences, understanding your value proposition, and communicating that to your audience in a way they understand, a way that resonates, a way that will get them to choose you. It’s making sure you have goals set, both financial and non-financial ones. The marketing plan also outlines the budgets needed for marketing. Even if you are going for all things free, there is still the budget of time and resources you must understand and manage. Marketing plans are often the difference between failure and success.

Communicate your value proposition

If you can’t communicate your value proposition, nobody has a reason to be interested in or listen to you. If you can’t engage people, they won’t engage with you. If you aren’t consistent in your messaging, you can confuse your clients. If you don’t carefully manage your online content and comments, you can lose customers, partners, and your reputation. If you don’t have clear goals, there is no way of knowing if you are on track or what success looks like. Yes, there is a lot to think about, and yes, it can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.

Your marketing message

You can craft your marketing message and help set the goals you want to accomplish in less time than you think. Even better, you can do it by answering six questions. The trick here is to keep things simple and focused. When I work with my clients on this, I make them stick to keywords and bullet points. I often ask my favorite questions; “so what?” and “who cares?” I find they help to cut out the fluff and dig down to the core points that matter.

During workshops, I have everyone answer each question four times to define four audiences, each with their own unique messaging. You can write your answers on a post-it and for each question, create a column. When you are done, you will have six columns and four rows, that when you read across, you have your marketing plan for that audience. Each row is its own elevator pitch, so you are prepared when going to those networking events or someone asks you about your service, product, or business.

Who is your target customer?

The most common answer I get to this question is “everyone is my customer.” Even if everyone needs your product or service, like water or food, everyone is not your customer. Within that group of everyone with a need or use for your product, there are people with a particular want or need they can get from your product. You need to segment those people so you can target your marketing efforts. Everyone needs water. How does the person who drinks filtered tap water differ from the person that drinks Kirkland water? How do they vary from the person who drinks Voss?

What role do you play in your customer's life?

A baker does a lot more than just bake cakes, cookies, and treats. The value a baker delivers to people is what keeps the business alive and productive. The bakery also offers support for festive occasions and the opportunity to indulge ourselves with something delicious. One of the most famous bakers in America right now is Buddy Valastro, the celebrity baker from Cake Boss and owner of Carlo’s Bakery, which has 13 locations across the US and more in Brazil. 

Everyone knows about Cake Boss: the drama, the failures, the inevitable success of pulling off the impossible cake with minutes to spare. Getting baked goods from Carlo’s is more than just buying a nice treat. It is a certain status, and in a celebrity-obsessed culture, buying from Carlo’s offers proximity to celebrity and a connection to the drama and excitement of the show.

Same product, different roles

The sun also plays different roles for different people, depending on whether they are tanning, growing crops, generating electricity, or making sun tea. Of course, each of these things uses the same sun, but the sun’s value differs for each group.

When you define the role of your product and service for each audience, you are laying the foundation for clearly defining the added value in terms you can quickly communicate to one of your target audiences.

Why do/will customers love you?

Your customers have a choice as to who they buy from or engage with, and ultimately, you want them to pick and keep picking you. But why should they? What reasons are you giving them? Are the reasons you are giving them the same ones they are looking for? I ask this question when working with clients, and I often hear answers about how much time they spent designing a product or about their state-of-the-art back-end support. Really? 

Remember my “so what?” and “who cares?” questions? I can tell you with all certainty that nobody cares about that stuff. What people care about is what that all means to them.

How do you stand out in just eight seconds?

According to the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day. In addition, consumers switch between screens up to 21 times an hour, according to a British study, which correlates with Microsoft’s claim that the average person’s attention span is now just eight seconds. Eight whole seconds. That’s nothing. And yet, that’s all the time you have to make someone notice you, click on your ad or link, or click on one that stood out more.

Some people go with gimmicks to stand out, but you need to do more than just get someone’s attention. You must keep their attention and ultimately convert that into action. You need to have a compelling call to action that entices people to do something – click, like, share, try, etc. – One thing you don’t want to do is go from no awareness at all to asking for a sale.

What are your goals?

These goals are for what you want customers to do BEFORE making a purchase. The previous question is all about standing out, making an offer. This question is about what goals you have for that offer. Many businesses make the mistake of going from awareness to asking for a sale. Most people don’t propose marriage on the first date, but many businesses attempt to do just that for some reason. Between making the offer and asking for the sale, you will want to take your customer through a series of steps, so when you ask for the purchase, they are ready and waiting to say yes. This could be anything from downloading a coupon, watching a video, attending a webinar, or signing up for a newsletter.

What results do you want?

What is the ultimate goal? Let’s say 1000 people have responded to your CTA and watched your video or downloaded your e-book. How many of those will open their wallets and hand you some cash? If you have been in business for some time, you should know your conversion rate. If 3% of people convert and make a purchase, you can plan on 30 sales from those 1000. If what you are selling is $100, you have made about $3000 in revenue.

The reality check

Is that enough? That all depends on your business expenses and goals. Let’s assume you just have one product, so you now have the $3000 in revenue. For someone with a home-based or side business that is more of a hobby or to generate extra holiday money, possibly. For a business that wants to grow, probably not. So, this is where we need to go back and forth a bit between standing out, goals and results. If your conversion rate is 3%, and you need at least $12,000 in revenue from that particular product, then you need to have at least 4000 people respond to your CTA. You may need a more compelling call to action. If your conversion rates aren’t high enough, improve the content or quality of their experience. Those three components work in tandem with each other, driven by the first three questions about your target audience, role, and why customers (will) love you.

Your marketing plan

Once you are done with those questions, you will have a marketing plan that includes four target audiences with clearly defined messaging, calls to action, goals, and results. Having four audiences gives you some room to be wrong while not putting all your eggs in one basket. It can also identify potential new customers you never imagined. For example, ever heard of people using kitty litter to clean up oil stains in the garage? Some cleaning companies buy kitty litter just for that reason. And they tend to buy in bulk instead of one bag at a time.

Creating your marketing plan will help you focus on what matters to your audience, identify new markets, and give you some clear, measurable criteria to help you stay on track or let you know when you need to make some adjustments.