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How to write a marketing plan

Effective marketing is the key to growing your business - customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know about you. A good marketing plan will help you target the people who are most likely to buy from you, and get the best return on your marketing spend. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating one.

Your marketing plan is a key component of your overall business plan. A smart marketing plan will help you reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time, using the right channel.

Create your marketing plan in six steps

To write your marketing plan, you need to consider six key questions about your product or service and how it’s positioned in the market. You’ll need to think about:

  1. Objectives and resources. What do you want your marketing plan to achieve, how does it support your business goals, and how much time, effort and money can you afford to invest in marketing?
  2. Your target market. Who are they and what do you know about them?
  3. Your competitors. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Your competitive advantage. What makes you stand out from the competition?
  5. Your marketing channels. What’s the best way (or ways) to reach your target market?
  6. Your action plan - what needs to happen, how much is it going to cost, who is going to do it and when?

Step1: Your objectives

Before you even start to think about putting adverts in the paper, or investing in Google AdWords, you need to define what it is that you want your marketing plan to achieve - drive more sales, increased sales of your product or service, build your brand etc.

Your marketing plan must align with your business goals, which should be documented in your business plan. For example, if your goal is to increase your customer base by 10% within the next 12 months, your marketing plan will be focused on finding and acquiring new customers. Alternatively if it is about establishing a new brand, it may be around achieving x% advertising awareness within 6 months.

Remember, your objectives must be SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

When considering what you want to achieve, you’ll also need to balance that against how much you can realistically invest in marketing – both in terms of money and also time and effort by you and/or your staff in setting up and managing your marketing initiatives. Focus on those areas that will deliver the best bang for the resources you have available.

Step 2: Understanding your target market

You can waste a lot of time, money and effort marketing to people who aren’t likely to consider you or buy from you. That’s why it’s useful to create profiles of your ideal customers, to help you focus your marketing efforts.

If they are personal consumers, start with basic demographic information such as gender, age, occupation, income, family status, where they live to help you understand who they are. Then build a psychographic profile – for example their interests, spending habits and values – to help you understand what’s important to them and what would make them buy your product or service.

If they’re business customers, describe what industry they’re in and where they are. What is their turnover and market share? How many staff do they have? How long have they been in business? What is their mission statement, purpose and values?

Researching your target market

There are lots of places you can go to find information about your target market.

  • Statistics New Zealand’s Data for business service has free tools to help you investigate your industry and find out more about your target markets such as:
    • Market Mapper, where you locate your market by age, sex, income, household, or family type, and zoom in on your target market regions, areas, and suburbs.
    • Compare your industry, where you can get stats on small businesses by industry and region, and compare numbers of new businesses, worker turnover, survival rates, and average earnings for staff.
  • Trade or industry organisations, chambers of commerce, and city or regional councils.
  • Approach potential customers directly - from simply approaching people you know who may be in your target market, to engaging a market research company to run focus groups with people on your behalf.

Check out our article on the importance of market research for more tips on researching your target market.

Step 3: Understanding your competitors

Keeping an eye on your competition is crucial in business. You need to know how you compare in the market - and where you can compete and win.

Research your competitors to find out their target market, their market share, how they communicate and promote their products and services, their pricing (and any discount strategies), and their strengths and weaknesses.

There are many easy ways to find out about your competitors, including:

  • Publically available information like their website, their Facebook page, online reviews, and their advertising and other marketing material
  • Making an enquiry or buying something from them - a good way to experience the kind of service they offer
  • Statistic New Zealand's Business Performance Benchmarker tool, which allows you to compare your business against similar businesses in terms of financial performance and other benchmarks.

Step 4: Understanding your competitive advantage

Why should a customer buy from you instead of a competitor? If you don’t know, chances are your customers won’t either.

Now that you’ve researched your competitors, what can you do differently or better than them? What do you offer that your competitors don’t? It could be a range of things including value for money, service, products (e.g. a unique or exclusive product or a larger range), quality, location etc.

Test your competitive advantage with your customers. Ask what made them come to you rather than your competitors – their perception of your business might be different from yours. Once you have clearly defined your competitive advantage(s), they should form the cornerstone of your marketing plan. They are the ‘proof points’ that will persuade customers to buy from you, and not your competitors.

A word of caution: if you’re competing solely on price, think long and hard because it’s often a difficult strategy – there may often be someone willing to offer a cheaper price than you. In fact, you might be surprised to find many customers are less concerned about price than value for money – which is quite a different thing.

Step 5: Choosing your marketing tactics and channels

Tactics

How will you persuade your target market to buy – and keep buying – from you? A useful way to think about this is the ‘7 P’s’ model:

  • Product – do you have the right product for your target market? What can you do to make your product more attractive for customers (e.g. features, packaging, product name, branding)
  • Price – does the price reflect the perceived value of your product? What would happen if you increased or decreased the price (e.g. to profitability or market share)?
  • Place – how do customers access/purchase your product? Are you in the right place or places? Are there other distribution options you should explore?
  • Promotion – how, when and where will you promote your product to your target customers? 
  • People – do you have the right people in your business? Are they passionate about your product or service (if so they are more likely to convey that passion to your customers). Are there any skills gaps you need to fill through training or recruitment?
  • Process – do your customers get a consistent, high-quality experience when they deal with you? If not, where are the trouble areas and how can you fix them?
  • Physical evidence – how will you reassure your customers? This could include a consistent brand, a well-designed, well-functioning website, well-appointed premises, etc.

Channels

How will you reach your target market with your marketing messages? For example, if your customers are teenage girls who are heavy social media users, you may decide to place ads on the social channels they use most. If your customers listen to the radio during the day, using radio to reach this audience between 9am and 4pm could be a smart move.

For those businesses with budgets that don’t quite extend to TV campaigns and substantial sponsorships, below are some options to consider:

  • Digital marketing, such as paid and organic search, online display, social media marketing and video content 
  • Direct marketing, such as targeted direct mail, eDMs and SMS and telemarketing (if you’re using direct marketing, you need to make sure you comply with New Zealand privacy and anti-spam legislation. You can find more information on the implications of the Privacy Act for businesses on the Privacy Commissioner’s website, and on anti-spam legislation at the Department of Internal Affairs website)
  • Print advertising in targeted newspapers or magazines
  • Radio advertising such as adverts, sponsorships or even talk-back on the channels your audience listens to the most
  • Targeted out of home (OOH) such as billboards, bus shelters or in-mall displays. Many have digital options in place of print/static placements
  • Events, trade shows, networking and public relations.

Often businesses use a mix of these channels. Different channels are better suited to different objectives than others – for example radio may be better at brand building and awareness, whereas targeted digital and eDMs may be better at driving conversion. So choose your channels to suit your objectives.

Remember, the most important factor is what will work best for your target market, your objectives and your budget.

Don’t forget about your existing customers!

A lot of marketing is focused on winning new customers. But retaining your existing customers and selling more to them can be a more cost-effective way to grow your sales, so consider this aspect in your marketing plan as well. 

For example, if you don’t have one already, create a customer database  so you can reach your existing customers easily with new offers or just to keep them in touch – and keep you at the top of their mind. Once again, make sure you always comply with New Zealand privacy and anti-spam legislation.

Step 6: Develop your action plan & budget

The key to turning your tactics into real business results is having a detailed action plan. Whether it’s on an Excel spreadsheet or a piece of paper, your action plan should include:

  • What needs to happen to implement your tactics
  • When it needs to happen
  • Who is responsible for each initiative (while you may choose to use external resources such as advertising agencies, copywriters or market research companies  to deliver various initiatives, as with any other outsourcing arrangement it’s important to retain overall control of your marketing to ensure it supports your business objectives).
  • How much it is going to cost 
  • What your measure of success is

Schedule regular progress reviews to ensure your plan is on track and take action when needed.

Step 7: Measurement and review

Marketing is an investment, so just like any other investment you need to know if it is delivering results - and make changes if it isn’t. Put systems in place to measure the effectiveness of your marketing activity and make sure these loop back up to, and support the objectives you set in step 1.

For example:

  • make a special offer through one source only (such as a Facebook or newspaper ad) – any uplift from your usual sales are most likely to be attributed to the advertising source
  • use different urls, phone numbers and/or email addresses for different sources, so you can measure the enquiries and sales generated by different marketing sources
  • use analytical tools such as Google Analytics to measure how people are finding and using your website
  • or simply, ask customers how they heard about you.

Measure results and continuously amend your marketing tactics to optimise results. The metrics you use will depend on your objectives and the channels you utilise – examples include click through rate, cost per acquisition, number of engagements, open rates, consideration, awareness, net promoter score, reach, frequency, unique visitors, enquiries, sales volumes and value, and return on investment. What went well? What didn’t go as well as hoped? And most importantly, what can we do to improve our results?

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This material is provided as a complimentary service of ANZ Bank New Zealand Limited ("bank"). It is prepared based on information and sources the bank believes to be reliable. It is subject to change and is not a substitute for commercial judgement or professional advice, which should be sought prior to acting in reliance on it. To the extent permitted by law the bank disclaims liability or responsibility to any person for any direct or indirect loss or damage that may result from any act or omission by any person in relation to the material.

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