Marketing Planning Process
- Understand the business situation.
The purpose of marketing is to enable a firm to achieve its business goals. If you do not start with a clear understanding of those goals and any constraints that limit your ability to achieve them, you will be unlikely to succeed.
Look closely at the factors that affect your standing in the marketplace:
- Has an influx of new competitors slowed your growth?
- Is price sensitivity squeezing the margins on your existing services?
- Are you competing in a commoditization market?
- Are you poised to lose key players to retirement?
These are just a few of the key business drivers of marketing strategy.
Often, you can use a SWOT analysis to organize and evaluate your business drivers. Within this framework, observations about the firm or practice are categorized as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats.
- Research and understand your clients.
It’s rare to meet practicing professionals who do not believe that they fully understand their clients, their needs and their priorities. Sadly, they are almost always wrong about some key element of their clients’ thinking and decision-making. They clients’ real priorities and they rarely understand how clients choose new providers.
For example, you may realize that your clients value you as a trusted advisor. What you may miss, however, is that almost no potential client goes looking for a trusted advisor. Instead, they are almost always looking for someone to solve a specific business problem.
If you understand that key distinction — and build your marketing plan accordingly — you will win more new clients, and then evolve into their trusted advisor. Remember this every time you see a competitor position their firm as trusted advisors. They’ve got things backwards.
When you are doing research, focus on your best, most desirable client segments. Which ones do you want more of? This will help you isolate which important benefits you derive from them and equip you to find more clients like them. It will also help you learn how your clients get information and search for new providers. This will help you in subsequent steps.
- Position your brand in the market.
Successful positioning rejects conformity. At its best, positioning elevates a brand above the fray so that people can’t help but take notice. The human brain instinctively looks for things that are different and unexpected. So a brand that stands in stark contrast to its competition will attract people’s attention and have a distinct advantage in the marketplace.
This starts with identifying what makes you different. These are called your differentiators, and they must pass three tests. Each must be:
- True— You can’t just make it up. You must be able to deliver upon your promise every day.
- Provable— Even if it is true, you must be able to prove it to a skeptical prospect.
- Relevant— If it is not important to a prospect during the firm selection process it will not help you win the new client.
It’s best to try for three to five good differentiators. If you have fewer than that, take heart. Sometimes one great differentiator may be enough.
Next, you must use your differentiator(s) to write a focused, easy-to-understand positioning statement. This is a short paragraph that summarizes what your firm does, who it does it for, and why clients choose you over competitors. It positions you in the competitive market space and becomes the DNA of your brand.
- Define your service offerings.
Often overlooked in the planning process, your service offerings can get stale. Evolving your services over time is how you develop and hone a competitive advantage.
As clients needs change, you may want to create entirely new services to address those needs. Your research may uncover issues clients are not even aware of yet, such as an impending regulatory change, suggesting a range of possible service offerings. Or you might change or automate part of your process to deliver more value at a lower cost with higher margins.
Whatever these service changes turn out to be, they should be driven by your business analysis and your research into clients and competitors.
- Identify the marketing techniques.
This starts with understanding your target audiences and how they consume information. Once you gain insight into how, where and when your prospects are looking for information about services like yours, you can identify and exploit their preferred channels. It’s all about making your expertise more tangible and visible to your target audience. We call this Visible Expertise.
Achieving high-level visibility requires a balance of marketing efforts — our research has shown that a 50/50 blend of offline (traditional) and online (digital) techniques works best.
Examples of offline marketing:
- Print Publications
- Direct Mail
- Cold Calls
- Print Advertising
- Associations/Trade Shows
In addition to balancing your marketing techniques, be sure to create content for all levels of the sales funnel — to attract prospects, engage them and turn them into clients. To keep things as efficient as possible, plan to use content in multiple ways. For example, a webinar could be repurposed as blog posts, guest articles and a conference presentation.
- Identify the new tools, skills and infrastructure you will need.
New techniques need new tools and infrastructure. It’s time to add any new ones you may need or revise those that aren’t up to date. Here are some of the most common tools:
Website – Modern marketing begins with your website. Your strategy should tell you if a new website is needed or if adjusting your current messaging or functionality will be sufficient.
Marketing Collateral – You may need to revise your marketing collateral to reflect your new positioning and competitive advantage. Common examples of collateral include brochures, one-sheet service descriptions and trade show materials.
Social Media – Adding or upgrading your firm’s social media profiles is often required. And don’t forget to update the profiles of your subject matter experts.
Video – Common ways to use video include firm overviews, practice overviews, case stories, blog posts and educational presentations. If your subject matter experts have limited time to devote to developing content, video may be an efficient way to use the time they have.
Email – You’ll need a robust email service that allows you to track reader interactions and manage your list — it may even be built into your CRM or marketing automation software. Also take a look at your email templates and decide if they need a refresh.
Proposal Templates – Proposals are often the last thing a prospect sees before selecting a firm, so make sure yours sends the right message. At the very least, make sure you’ve included language that conveys your new differentiators and positioning.
Don’t forget the skills you will need. Even the best strategy will accomplish little if you don’t fully implement it. Many leaders find it challenging to build a full marketing strategy with just the right balance — and it can be even more challenging to keep teams up-to-date on today’s ever-changing digital tools. Your choices are learn, retain or hire. The fastest growing firms use more outside talent.
- Document your operational schedule and budget.
This is where your strategy gets translated into specific actions that you will take over time. Your written plan should include specific timelines and deadlines so that you can measure your progress against it. Did a task happen as scheduled? Did it produce the expected results? These results will become the input for the next round of marketing planning.
You will need two key documents, a marketing calendar and a marketing budget. The marketing calendar should include every tactic you will be using to implement your plan. It can cover the upcoming quarter or even the entire year. Begin by entering any events you know about, such as annual conferences and speaking events. Include every regularly scheduled blog post, emails, trade shows, webinars — everything in your plan.
Recognize that you may need to adjust your calendar regularly, possibly as often as weekly. The purpose is to build in consistency and predictability. Leave room for last-minute changes — but don’t get too far away from your plan and budget.