Do we really need a marketing plan? The quick answer is yes. Look, the criticisms of planning aren’t lost on us. Why build a plan that could just gather dust in a folder on a shelf? Why plan in such turbulent times when you’re not sure what you’ll be reacting to next? Why plan when it’s only you who will actually read the plan? Why plan when I can’t keep up with the tactics?
Despite all that, the answer is still yes. You need a small business marketing plan.
No matter which of those “but why” questions resonate with you most, here are a few reasons the time, effort and expense are all worthwhile.
There’s Value in Building a Marketing Plan
Like, actual value. You can pay someone to write a plan for you, which gives it actual monetary value. The value that isn’t so literal is knowing proper thought and careful planning have gone into the process.
Ready. Fire. Aim. That’s the kind of criticism you’re likely to hear when you skip the process. Your marketing investment will be more effective when you take time to plan. Don’t get antsy when you’re creating that marketing plan, thinking you should be doing some other task so you can be making progress with your business instead of writing a plan. Writing a plan is making progress. The time you spend planning and researching helps uncover insights that can be the difference between another competitive year and a potentially great one.
Say it again: Your marketing investment will be more effective when you take time to plan.
A Marketing Plan is a Snapshot of What You Were Thinking at the Time
Some of us walk into a room and forget why we went in there in the first place. Then we stare around the room thinking it will come to us, in a slow-motion, standing version of brain freeze. We don’t remember why we went into the room, but it was probably important.
You’ll have the same experience looking back at last year’s campaign and trying to remember why you only spent $400 instead of $500. Or why you decided it would be good to target your competitors’ highest ranking search terms. Or what law was being considered for legislation when you started using that headline.
Including an old-fashioned SWOT analysis to list your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats will help you identify the variables and conditions you were facing when you decided everything from your tactical mix and your budget to copywriting on an individual ad. Taking the time to look back at the conditions when you started can keep you from continuing to react to conditions and variables that may no longer be there.
Give your planning process the opportunity to speak to future you – the same future you who wandered into the other room without any idea why you got off the couch.
It Forces You to Look at Marketing Results
Say the marketing planning process is a lot like driving a car. When we’re hurried, we don’t take the kind of precautions we should. We swerve into other lanes quickly without signaling, and we may disobey the speed limit. Perhaps looking in a rear-view mirror is a waste of time, because that’s where your car has already been! You should focus on the road ahead so you don’t crash, right?
The same is true of small business marketing. We move pretty fast to keep up with the work in front of us and our looming deadlines. If a campaign is already finished, let’s just move on, right? Avoid this temptation and check under the analytics hood at least at planning time to make sure everything is functioning properly.
Budgets play a huge role here. What was the result of cutting marketing budget in a particular tactic? Are you reaching as many people as you once were? What impact is that having on the leads or site visits you’re generating? Since 2021, we’ve seen social media budgets on channels like Facebook take a hit as more advertisers return and fewer users log in. We’re just not seeing our dollar go as far as it once did. If we’re not looking at marketing results for the investment we’ve made, we may be content to keep spending the same amount and keep reaching fewer people.
What Gets Measured Gets Accomplished
Marketing plans tend to start with marketing goals. What do we want to accomplish, by when and for how much? It’s not good enough to say, “I want more customers.” Instead, use SMART goals to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
Once you have those bigger goals in place, start breaking them down using the other metrics you have available. A single LinkedIn ad or SEO backlink may not be directly traceable back to that new customer goal you set, but they may both play a significant role in the process to win customers. Marketing tactics should be broken down to be measurable metrics that are appropriate to the tactic and what is realistically achievable for that tactic as it supports the goal. That may mean measuring impressions, or reach, or clicks, or website visits that ultimately lead to customer engagement that supports the new customer goal.
Getting a Marketing Second Opinion
Let’s say for a minute you’re not the solo marketing tactician at your office, but you’re working with (for the sake of argument) an outsourced marketing provider. That’s a great idea, by the way.
It’s a bit like getting a second opinion. Your outsourced marketing department brings a valuable resource to the mix by understanding how integrated marketing communications work. They know your customers’ journey and can prioritize your marketing tactics for you in a way that gives you the best bang for your buck. Some account planners at marketing agencies can stare at the same set of analytics you’ve been staring at and you’ll start to get weird vibes like you’re watching A Beautiful Mind.
That’s us. That’s what we do.
Planning is important. Execution also is important. Don’t skimp on either. Ready to build a marketing plan or need a second opinion?