By David H. Martin

Here it is the end of 2000 already, and you haven’t written your marketing plan for next year? The marketing plan is your personal road map to help you get where you want to go. And only you can write it.

Why do you need one? Haven’t you always just sort of developed your advertising, promotional and sales programs as the year went along—and stopped when you ran out of money?

A written marketing plan adds necessary discipline to your promotional activities. Without one, you’ll miss many opportunities to promote your business year round. And, without a plan, you’ll have far less control over what you spend on promotion. So get to your personal computer—or pick up pen and paper—and we’ll begin.

Old or new media?
In years past, dealers had only a few choices for reaching new prospects and keeping in touch with customers. Newspaper advertising, radio commercials, telemarketing and direct mail supplemented participation in local home shows, fairs and old-fashioned door knocking.

Today, through the PC, dealers have additional ways to reach out. A modest investment in a website can provide a less expensive way to distribute your company newsletter and promote special offers. Direct mail postcards and e-mail campaigns can make people aware of your website, and of the posted special offers. Even your ads and commercials should promote your website!

The answer isn’t “old” or “new.” The answer is both! That means you need to develop an integrated marketing plan.

Dealers of similar “considered purchase” products commonly spend from 2-to-5 percent of gross annual sales on advertising and promotion. Your budget, of course, is up to you. However, you should take the following influences into consideration.

Questions to answer
How much did your key competitors spend last year? Were you competitive or badly out-gunned? What media makes the most sense to reach your target audience—newspaper, radio, direct mail, telemarketing or yellow pages advertising? What are the relative costs?

Should you be using more than one—and supplementing traditional ads with computer-based electronic media? What times of the year deserve concentrated marketing support? Is paid “home show” exhibit space part of your budget? How about low-cost promotions at local races and other community events where you provide quality drinking water for participants and spectators?

Once you’ve determined the amount you can afford to spend “out of pocket” on advertising, look into what available funds can be secured from manufacturers and other suppliers in the form of cooperative (co-op) advertising allowances.

Water improvement industry suppliers are still non-conforming in helping you promote their products in your local market. You may want to consider switching to vendors who will provide programs as well as products, if your current promotional support needs aren’t being met.

Positive attitude
Marketing planning isn’t for the faint of heart or pessimists. Approach the subject of marketing budget planning with both optimism and common sense. Your advertising and promotion budget isn’t just another business expense. It’s an investment in your business. Well planned promotion pays in two ways:

  • Increased leads and sales immediately, and
  • Building greater awareness and relationships for future sales.

Situation analysis
Begin writing your marketing plan under the heading, “situation analysis.” Start with an honest, in-depth assessment of last year. Write down how much you spent on advertising and promotion. Be specific. How much did you spend on ad production? How much did you spend on media (what did publications or radio stations charge to run your ads)? Where did you spend it?

Next, write down the specific or perceived results. How many responses did specific ads generate? How many sales resulted? Which activities brought you in contact with the most people in your community for the money spent?

In other words, size up your position in the market as well as your competitors’ positions, their past marketing budgets and mix of activities. Did their efforts pay off?

Goals and opportunities
Once you’ve completed the “situation analysis,” write down a new heading for “goals and opportunities.” It’s important to note this section of your marketing plan stems from the marketing analysis. It’s equally important to be specific in setting your objectives. Write down things like:

  • Successfully launch a new product or service,
  • Increase point-of-use (POU) drinking water equipment sales by 15 percent,
  • Gain community recognition as the local water expert, and
  • Motivate and train the sales force to reach new goals.

Use all available vendor co-op advertising funds. Remember, people who define specific goals achieve more than those who don’t.

Programs and strategies
Once you have defined your “objectives for 2001,” you need to write down a third heading—“programs and strategies.” These are the elements in your program that will enable you to accomplish your objectives:

See how “strategies” naturally flow from “objectives”? Next, you’ll need to attach a timeframe to your strategies and programs.

2001 promotion calendar
Under the heading, “promotion calendar,” begin to write down specific dates for various promotions and other planned activities mentioned earlier in the “programs and strategies” section of your marketing plan.

Implementation and budget
The final section of your marketing plan deals with the “numbers” and implementation of your programmed activities. But before you can write it, you need to get on the phone. Call the clubs, organizations and other people involved in your tentative promotional programs. Call your newspaper and radio station reps for 2001 rates. Call your key manufacturers and other suppliers to see what kind of support they can lend, including selling aids, training meetings, co-op ad funds, literature, etc. Then write down the estimated costs of each item:

Stop once your budget limit has been reached!

Engraved in granite?
Some dealers resist putting plans and goals down on paper for fear of failure. It’s important to remember that your plan isn’t engraved in granite. You can change it (and probably will) as the program unfolds, conditions change and new opportunities arise.
The written plan is merely a guide to help keep priorities straight and to assure that you have a full calendar of activities to build your business year round.

Conclusion
Write an integrated marketing plan to define and achieve specific goals for your water improvement business in 2001. Remember to keep good records of actual costs, results and analysis of each marketing activity you undertake. Keep a promotion scrapbook and set up a “promotion planning” file on your PC to aid in planning for the future. Start planning to achieve more—starting right now.

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