August 8-10, 2023 | Wisconsin Center | Milwaukee, WI

Lost in the Weeds? Make a Plan

Retailers spend more time and money marketing than ever before. One way to make sure those marketing dollars perform to their full potential is to do the work of creating a marketing plan. This article talks you through the process in clear, simple detail.
Lost in the weeds is fun . . . unless you have some place to go!
A marketing plan can set your path and help you stay on it.

Retailers spend more time marketing than ever before. Since the 1970s, the average number of daily ads consumers are exposed to exploded from 500 to 4,000. Now, you must work much harder to get your customers’ attention. How much harder? If you go by the numbers, roughly twice as hard. Before 2005, it was recommended that a retailer spend 6% - 8% of revenue on advertising. Today, the benchmark has soared to a high of 12%.

Successful marketing strategies all share one common denominator: A plan. You might think you have a plan if you have a marketing budget, but a budget simply tells you how much. A marketing plan provides a set of instructions that articulate what your messages and campaigns will be, where and when you’ll run them, how much money and time you’ll devote to each, and the results you anticipate for your effort. Your marketing plan should include three distinct steps:

1: Topline Budget. The total amount budgeted for marketing and advertising this year.

2: Big Themes. A broad plan to achieve your sales goals.

3: Detailed Plan. A precise set of directions to follow throughout the year.

Once you set your budget (typically set as a percentage of projected revenue), it’s time to establish your Big Themes. This includes the promotions you plan to run during the year, the problems you want to solve for customers, and the messages and emotions you wish to convey. The most effective way to develop this section is to start with your sales plan.

  • A spreadsheet with planned monthly sales across the top works well.
  • Below that, indicate the natural promotions that happen each month, like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, graduation season and holidays.
  • In the next row, list your unique promotions, like trunk shows, appreciation events and sales.

You will see that some months have more activity than others. The purpose of marketing is to support sales, so let’s brainstorm events and campaigns to bolster sales in the lighter months.

You might think it’s time to start detailing the plan, but stay at this high level a bit longer. Are there any messages or themes you can stretch across two or three months? Problems you want to solve? Emotions you wish to evoke? Add these ideas below the associated months or quarters. Global messages and themes improve marketing flow and consistency. Most small businesses approach marketing as a hundred or a thousand disconnected social media posts, blog posts and ads. But the key to effective marketing is retention — mind share — and to achieve retention, your customers must perceive continuity and consistency in your marketing elements.

Now it’s time to create the detailed plan.

  • List every channel you plan to use this year: Print, digital ads, TV, radio, billboards, email, social media platforms, point-of-purchase materials.
  • Decide how often you will use each channel, and the associated costs.
  • Make sure your global messages, campaigns, and themes cut across all channels, so your customers experience a consistent message from you, online and offline.
  • Budget for improvements, like website updates, new graphic design elements, and new marketing tools.

Planning like this is hard work, but the work pays for itself in better marketing, budgeting and time-management. Get your 2021 plan up-to-speed now, you’ll reap the benefits the rest of the year.

This article was contributed by GCS 2022 speaker Andrea Hill

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