Key Issues to Cover in a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan is a request for funds and a commitment to deliver specific amounts of revenue, unit volume and profit in return. The acceptance or rejection of a marketing plan is based on the analysis, reasoning and inventiveness of the proposed actions. Fact-based support (marketing research or test market data) is the key to building a good marketing plan.
There are a number of important issues which must be addressed to ensure the success of a marketing plan. These can be organized into the following categories:
- Situation Analysis
- Overall Strategy
- Specific Strategies and Plans
- Financial Projections
- Risks and Contingency Plans
- Business Building Tests
This section states the purpose of the plan and presents its major points. As a request for funds, the plan recommends a certain level and type of spending in order to deliver a specified volume and profit contribution. The summary should always include the spending rate and other required capital allocations plus targeted volume, profit and market share, but can also include other highlights from the plan.
Objectives are the commitments the plan makes in exchange for the funds requested. They are measures of success and of key factors that determine success. Three fundamental objectives are included in every plan. These are the primary measures of success for any business: volume (unit and dollar), profit contribution, and market share. Volume and profit are the principal measures of short term success, while market share determines future profitability.
A few other objectives may also be included. However, to keep the plan focused, the total number of objectives should not exceed six. These additional objectives are accomplishments that are critical to achieving the volume, profit and share goals. They also must be measurable. Examples include:
- awareness, trial and/or repeat rates
- expanded distribution
- greater sales productivity
- sales mix targets
- improved customer service
- targeted level of customer satisfaction
The Situation Analysis presents the context for the proposed plan of action. It provides the uninitiated reader with the information needed to evaluate the plan. Basic market and product information is included. Changes in market conditions, their implications, and any other major risks and opportunities are highlighted.
A Situation Analysis includes the following subsections:
- Business Review
- Market Analysis
- Competitive Situation
- Consumer Profile
- Source of Volume
This section provides an overview of the plan's approach and why it is appropriate in light of market and competitive conditions, including risks and opportunities. It answers the three "basis for interest" questions that set the direction for all specific marketing activities:
- Why would anyone buy this general type of product/service?
- Why will someone buy our product/service?
- Why will we meet our volume and profit goals?
The answers to the preceding questions define the overall strategy and specify the target audience and positioning for a product or service. In addition, they determine the overall level and types of spending that will be used to convince the target audience to buy at prices and in quantities consistent with the objectives.
The very essence of the marketing strategy is embodied in the brand positioning. This statement presents the brand's reason for being and makes clear why consumers will choose this brand instead of a competing brand. The positioning is the part of the strategy that guides the development of all communications, including the brand name, package graphics, advertising and promotions.
Specific Strategies and Plans
This section describes precisely what will be done, and how, along each dimension of the marketing mix. These include product, packaging, pricing, advertising, selling, distribution, consumer promotion, trade promotion, merchandising, customer service, and public relations. Also included in this section are the plans and rationale for any test marketing or other research associated with running the business/executing this plan.
Each subsection defines in detail what will be done or offered and how it is consistent with the overall strategy. The timing, budgets, and anticipated results of specific events or activities should be made explicit. An explanation of who will be responsible for different tasks should also be given. For each piece of research there should be specific objectives, timing, a methodology and standards for evaluating the results. How the different elements of the marketing mix will work together must also be explained.
This section translates the plan into financial terms. It provides an overview and detail about the plan's required investment and projected return. The specific financial estimates are key management tools, both for planning and for monitoring performance throughout the year. Four types of financial projections are included:
- Profit and Loss Statements
- Balance Sheet
- Cash Flows
- Financial Exposure Analysis
The profit and loss statement spells out all sales and expenses in detail. Sales should be in units and dollars. The cash flow and balance sheet projections are developed primarily from the P&L. They show the cash and average investment required to operate the business. The financial exposure analysis builds off all of the preceding three projections. It shows profit or loss in each month and cumulatively as the plan unfolds. By illustrating where the business stands every month, this analysis is a key management tool for understanding when decisions must be made and the implications of going ahead or delaying.
Risks and Contingency Plans
This section discusses key risks to the business and presents contingency plans to be followed to minimize the negative impact of these risks. Key risks are likely events that will significantly lower the volume base, raise the required spending rate, or have some other adverse effect on margins or market share.
Most key risks involve competitive actions not directly addressed in the marketing plan, possible internal operating problems or the failure of the marketing programs to deliver what is expected. The type of problem defines the kind of contingency planning that is appropriate.
Each likely adverse event is described. The impact on the volume base or spending rate is then estimated and a specific contingency plan to overcome the situation is proposed. Also included is an explanation of what performance measures and levels will trigger implementation of each contingency plan. Close monitoring of these measures is consequently an important control function.
Business Building Tests
Every plan should include a proposal for one or more business building tests. These are tests of single marketing variables designed to find more effective or efficient ways of spending marketing resources. They involve monitoring and comparing the results of different spending levels, types of promotions, pricing, advertising, sales approaches, etc.
Although there are many kinds and variations of business building tests, most fall into one of three categories:
- Heavy-up or extra spending tests in support of current programs.
- Purchasing more consumer trial or buying new retail distribution.
- The introduction of product improvements or new marketing ideas.
Positive test results identify ways to increase next year's volume base while disappointing ones help prevent future mistakes. A test conducted early in the year may also uncover opportunities to strengthen the current year's performance. The test proposals and their results also provide specific direction about how to spend additional resources that may become available at short notice; in particular, they increase the chances of winning such additional resources by identifying ways of spending them effectively.