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Where will your business go in 2013?

January 2, 2013
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A marketing plan will help it get there!

The last months of the year are critical for marketing professionals. At this time of the year, we look back on previous months to see which types of activities have helped our organization grow, which efforts have yielded the highest return on investment (ROI) and which ones should not be repeated. Based on this analysis of what's worked and what hasn't, we can then make our forecasts and take our most crucial step toward success in the new year: developing a solid marketing plan.

The most important role of any marketer is to increase market share and stakeholder value, and a marketing plan lays the tactical groundwork. First, it provides an overview of where the business stands, what the competition is doing and where business owners want to be within a certain period of time (usually 12 months). Then it outlines specific steps to achieve these goals. With a solid plan in hand, marketers have a much better understanding of their businesses' current situation, of growth opportunities, and of course, of the strategies needed to carry out marketing activities.

A strong marketing plan establishes both direction and method. First, every business needs some marketing operating capital. Before committing any activities to paper, businesses should establish a clear marketing budget for the next fiscal year. This will guide the marketer on the types of activities the organization can afford to pursue and how often. Without a budget, it's hard to develop a plan of action with the right scope and focus to be effective.

Next, the plan should present a comprehensive, logical picture of where the business currently stands and where it hopes to go. The company's mission statement makes a good starting point: it reinstates the company's priorities and values, with which the plan should be consistent. After the mission statement, the organization can summarize its situation at the end of the present year and lay out its marketing goals for the next one. It's a good idea to include a comparison of the business's products or services to their competitors' - many marketers use a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) to guide their sales and growth projections.

The next part of the plan is the one most valuable to marketers: Exactly how will the company accomplish the goals just outlined? This section addresses strategies and tactics: specific marketing activities, channels, schedules and costs. It identifies specific prospects and paths for expansion and establishes which members of the organization will be charge of the proposed activities. Most important, the results of any marketing endeavors need to be measurable, so the plan of action should also clearly define target performance levels and metrics.

Whatever its objectives, the marketing plan should be realistic (the targets should be attainable within the business's means) and fluid (it should be monitored and revised at least once per quarter). Successful marketers stick to their plans and keep them up to speed with the competition as well as other external forces like market trends and the economy.

A solid and attainable marketing plan is the blue print for a successful business year. Whether large or small, every business should invest the time to make theirs as sound as possible. Spend some time developing your marketing plan for 2013!

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