A 7 Point Marketing Plan

Over the last several months, we have talked about marketing from the perspective of media choices, creative content, tracking results, and the other components outside of the advertising mix. But how does it all get started? The first key to success is the creation of a marketing plan. Why a marketing plan? What will it do for you?

First, it will enable you to focus on your corporate objectives and the strategies necessary to achieve them. Second, when it's time to bring others into the marketing activities, their roles and functions will be clearly defined. Third, a marketing plan is good for controlling expenses and offering a rationale for specific expenditures.

So, how do we create a marketing plan without the benefit of marketing professionals? By following a simple seven (7) step formula.

Step #1 The Benefit to Consumers

The only products or services that succeed are those that offer a benefit to consumers that is greater than their cost. It is essential that we focus on the benefit to our families rather than the features of our products and services. In other words, the features of a funeral pre-arrangement might include a casket, a memorial service with music, or a reception for family and friends, but the benefits are the celebration of a loved one's life or peace of mind for the family. Remember the ads for Michelin tires with the baby inside the tire? The feature was the tire quality, but the benefit was the safety and protection of your child.

Your marketing plan, or the way you tell your story to consumers, must convey the essential benefits derived from working with your cemetery or funeral home.

Step #2 Your Positioning in the Marketplace

What business are you in? It's important to clearly define your position in the marketplace. Are you in the funeral or cemetery business? Or are you Montreal's Cremation Leader since 1901? Are you the only garden cemetery in your community that offers perpetual care? Are you a low cost cremation provider with no frills attached? Be specific.

Once you have completed this exercise, you can develop your unique selling proposition, your sword in the stone. That message must be the central focus of all your marketing efforts, from both a media perspective and the internal culture. Every employee should be able to explain to any prospect your point of differentiation.

Step #3 Your Target Market

Who's the product for? One of the key principles of marketing is that you can't be all things to all people. So how do you establish whom to target? First, create a profile of your current customer through a database. Are your customers coming from a specific geographic area, are they in a specific socioeconomic group, are they over 55 years of age? Second, study market research, like Pollara, and see how your current customer profile compares with the industry averages. Finally, are you happy with the type of customers that you are dealing with? If not, how do you reposition your company in order to take advantage of the desired demographic?

Positioning is a perception your potential customers hold about you. Your marketing efforts are designed to influence customer perceptions. To make positioning one of your success factors, you must learn what's important to your customers, study your competition until you find a competitive advantage, and then exploit that strength. Or in very simple terms, find a hole and fill it. The perfect example is the emergence of 7UP many years ago when the battleground was colas; they positioned themselves as the uncola.

Step #4 Your Advertising Strategy

Your advertising strategy takes the first three components and combines them into a plan of attack. A simple summation of the following . . .

  • Product or service
  • Target market
  • Competition
  • Product / service benefit
  • How is it different
  • If the consumer gets one idea from your external marketing, what is it?
  • What action should be taken?

Step #5 Computing a Budget

The first step in creating a marketing budget is determining what percentage of sales you'll be able to devote to marketing. A good rule of thumb is anywhere from 5 – 10%. Whatever is standard in your market, plan to invest a little more if want to attain the position of market leader.

Step #6 Choosing your Tools

Once you have determined your budget, you must select the tools or media that you will utilize to deliver your message. One rule of thumb is to make sure that you do not spread your advertising dollars too thinly. In other words, it makes more sense to use one radio station combined with direct mail than to try and buy three radio stations and two newspapers. Frequency is critical in achieving advertising success. Television is an excellent medium, but unless you have a substantial budget, it is difficult to buy enough frequency. Radio is my preferred choice because it offers targetability, affordability, and frequency. Newspaper is not recommended because consumers just don't spend enough time reading newspapers, the price is high, and there is no frequency.

Certainly direct mail and database mailers are an excellent choice.

Step #7 Implementing a month by month marketing timetable

Marketing is a long term investment. Any marketing plan should be completed on a yearly basis with a small reserve of dollars for any new opportunities. Advertising doesn't work overnight; it takes time and a commitment to make an impact in the marketplace; anything that is short term is doomed to fail. Track your results so that you can determine what works and what doesn't. This will enable you to hone your plan over time, eliminating the failures and maintaining the successes.