In our last post, we showed how a marketing plan differs from, but is as important as, a business plan. Now that we know it’s beneficial to have a business plan and a marketing plan, the next question is:

When is the best time to create a marketing plan?

There’s some debate as to whether you should create a marketing plan immediately or if you should wait a year to see if your business has legs. Or perhaps your business has been humming along profitably for years without a marketing plan, so maybe your strategy is fine as is, and you don’t want to fix what isn’t broken .

Which Comes First, the Success or the Marketing Plan?

First, knowing your market is not the same as having a marketing plan.

Any good business owner can tell you who their customers are, what their needs are, their average age, annual household income, and in some relevant cases, their professions. These details are important to any successful business. However, while they make up the foundation for your marketing strategy, they are not the plan itself. Let’s call these the pre-plan steps, or the strategic analysis.

Depending on your business's age, your marketing plan may have a different goal. Depending on your business’s age, your marketing plan may have a different goal.

The difference between strategic analysis and plan

Strategic analysis will also include what niche your product will fill in the marketplace, how your competitors measure up, what distribution channels best suit delivering your product, and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.

These details are vital to a marketing plan, but they are not the marketing plan itself.  Target audiences have never been smarter, and you must be able to demonstrate not only how your product benefits them, but how it outstrips your competitors.

These questions help you decide whether you need a marketing plan.

•    Are you maximizing your business’s potential and convincing your customers they’re getting the best deal on the best product?

•    Are you reaching those people who truly need what you have to offer?

•    Are you anticipating the growth of new revenue streams and stepping in at the right time to satisfy the demand?

Setting up a marketing strategy in the beginning will help you be proactive when the time comes to implement your plan. A good plan includes the natural cycles of your business, so perhaps at first you concentrate on gaining new customers, and down the road you can shift your focus to increasing order sizes.

Build a marketing plan that has room to grow

Your marketing plan should adapt with your business as it changes. Whether you start small and build it layer by layer, or think big right from the get-go, you control how and when to implement each segment.

Timing of your plan is crucial.

•    Pre-Launch: Building your marketing plan at this stage gives you a head start with testers of your beta product so you can nail the target market from the very beginning. A staunch support team of betas who believe in your concept can help spread word-of-mouth and secure seed funding, which can mean all the difference in your launch.
•    1 Year or Younger Business: Beginning your marketing plan here determines where and how you enter the market. How will you compete with others in your industry? Is social media your best tool or growing your customer base through other means?
•    1 Year or Older Business: Marketing strategy here has more to do with the scale of your business and how you intend to grow it. You’re still concerned with your competitors and how compare, but experience plays a key factor in the conversation between you and your target audience, and you have some under your belt at this point. Play to that strength.
•    3 Year or Older Business: Brand awareness is your friend at this stage, and maintaining that brand as well as managing your reputation among your clients is more of an asset because you’re established and can tailor your focus and target more specific audiences.
•    7 Year or Older Business: A marketing strategy here benefits a business in ensuring you’re seen as a key player and not an old trend on the way out of the market. Are you continuing to grow and launching new products or services? A marketing plan can refresh your image and keep you relevant so your customers you’re changing with the times and they can trust you to keep up in a fast-moving world.
•    10 Year or Older Business: Stay in the game with a plan that uses your well-known brand to help discover the next emerging platform. Who will become the next social media giant, and how can you get in on the ground floor to maximize it to your benefit? A marketing plan of attack gets your foot in that door so you can help steer the conversation.
•    20 Year or Older Business: Refreshing your brand message can build on a legacy you’ve worked long and hard to establish. Big or small, your business benefits from assessing how you reach your market and deliver your products and services. Maintaining loyal customers is great and necessary, but reaching the next generation is just as key to keeping or growing your momentum.

If you have never had a marketing strategy, and you’re afraid building one will change your business in such a way that it will kill the goose that laid the golden egg, don’t be.

There’s no such thing as knowing your customers too well. The very nature of business is that it needs to evolve and grow with its customer base, or eventually, those customers will be wooed by a competitor who has thought of the next trend, the next evolution. For the company that has never had one, a marketing plan is a great tool for staving off complacency, and it can open doors in entirely unexpected directions that will not only keep your business relevant, but very well could make you an innovator in your field. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about this point more in a future post.)

Whatever your business situation, a marketing plan narrows your focus and allows you to plot your course with measurable steps toward your ultimate goal. These steps can make all the difference toward the growth and success of your company.