6 Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing Plans

Marketing programs end up like leaky boats very easily. Each activity seems worthy at the time, but too many of them fail to produce a positive return — ending up as holes in the bottom of your business’s boat.

Get too many of those holes, and the water inside the boat starts rising. The next sections share some of the common ways marketers lose money (so you can try to avoid them), plus two effective strategies for using your cash wisely.

Don’t ignore the details

Good marketing plans are built from details such as customer-by-customer, item-by-item, or territory-by-territory sales projections. Generalizing about an entire market is hard and dangerous. Your sales and cost projections are easier to get right if you break them down into their smallest natural units (such as individual territory sales or customer orders), do estimates for each of these small units, and then add up those estimates to get your totals.

Don’t imitate the competitors

You may be tempted to just do what your bigger competitors are doing, but don’t fall into that trap. You need to have some fresh ideas that make your brand and plan unique.

Imitation isn’t a winning strategy in the long run.

Do find your own formulas for success

Start by building on whatever successes you’ve had in the past. For instance, if you ran an ad this year that got a good response, double or triple the number of ads of this kind in next year’s plan.

Don’t feel confined by last period’s budget and plan

When putting together your marketing plan, don’t allow past results to trap you in what you want to do. Repeat or improve the best-performing elements of the past plans and cut back on any elements that didn’t produce high returns. Every plan includes some activities and spending that aren’t necessary and can be cut out (or reworked) when you do it all over again next year.

Be ruthless with any underperforming elements of last year’s plan! (If you’re starting a new business, at least this is one problem you don’t have to worry about. Yet.) Also, monitor your plan over the business cycle and adjust it as you go so you can catch problems early and avoid wasting too much time and money on underperforming activities.

Don’t engage in unnecessary spending

Always think through any spending and run the numbers before signing a contract or writing a check. Many of the people you deal with to execute your marketing activities are salespeople themselves. Their goal is to get you to buy their ad space, use their design or printing services, or spend money on fancy websites. They want your marketing money — and may care less about whether you get a good return on it.

So keep them on a tight financial rein. Google and Facebook both provide excellent support for small business advertisers, for example, so it may pay to do some advertising yourself. See what you can accomplish before you run into a wall and have to hire the experts.

One of the biggest areas of waste is advertising agencies. Sure, sometimes you need a good agency, like when you want to design and run a large ad campaign. But if you’re placing fewer than a thousand ads, you probably can’t afford the typical agency with its big upfront fees for consultation and design.

A local, independent graphic designer who has created successful ads in your industry before is a more affordable alternative. In terms of placing the ads, you may need to be the one who negotiates good rates, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do some of the work yourself.

Do break down your plan into simple subplans

If your marketing activities are consistent and clearly of one kind, you can go with a single plan. But what if you sell services (like consulting or repair) and also products? You may find that you need to work up one plan for selling products (perhaps this plan aims at finding new customers) and another plan for convincing product buyers to also use your services. And if you have multiple stores (physical and/or on the web) or multiple products, consider a short plan for each rather than one big, confusing umbrella plan.

If your plan seems too complicated, simply divide and conquer! Then total everything up to get the big picture for your overall projection and budget.

For example, if you have 50 products in five different product categories, writing your plan becomes much easier if you come up with 50 sales projections for each product and five separate promotional plans for each category of product. (This method may sound harder, but it really is much simpler, and forecasts that are built up from smaller forecasts are often the most accurate.)

Every type of marketing activity in your plan has a natural and appropriate level of breakdown. Find the right level, and your planning will be simpler and easier to do.

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