The average company spends 3 to 5 percent of revenue on marketing, which is certainly not a trivial expense. Why, then, do so many companies invest so little time in the construction of the marketing plan that ensures that investment is well spent?
Your organization's ability to maintain, let alone grow share, is riding on the strength of that plan. Let this be the year you bid farewell to the "hope and a prayer" marketing planning process, and allow ample research to guide an informed plan with a predictable return on investment.
Building a solid marketing plan begins with conducting research for two primary reasons. You are inevitably too close to your company to be truly objective about the current situation, the competitive landscape, and the perceptions and needs of customers and prospects. Also, you don't know what you don't know without engaging the market.
Begin with qualitative research, which is necessary to ensure you fully understand the broad scope of the opportunities for growth as well as the various obstacles you will face in executing your plan. Qualitative research is subjective in nature and often takes the form of focus groups or interviews with a small sampling of internal stakeholders (e.g., employees, management, board), as well as external stakeholders (e.g., customers, prospects, influencers). Be sure to layer a competitive assessment into your qualitative efforts by shopping competitors and assessing their public-facing messaging and marketing efforts.
With your qualitative findings in hand, you are ready to validate those findings -- through quantitative research -- against a large enough sample size to provide confidence that the findings are accurate. Quantitative research is more objective in nature, and is based on hard data, often featuring fixed-response options. You will typically see this type of research in the form of surveys to your various stakeholder groups. Skip this step and risk making major marketing decisions based on findings that may not be representative of your market.
Include a high-level financial assessment and prior year marketing audit in your research as well. With the financial assessment, ensure you have a solid understanding of profit margins by product/service line, as compared to internal capacity for growth, so that you are crystal clear on where best to apply your marketing dollars. With the marketing audit, pull analytics available from your website, email campaigns, and social media efforts from the prior year.
The research, if properly executed, will inevitably bring to light the most efficient plan to grow your organization in 2015. Reach out to a marketing or research partner to ensure objectivity in your assessment and so that you are ready to hit the ground running in 2015.
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