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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

10-Minute Marketing Plan

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

A NEIGHBORING RETAILER WAS GUSHING ABOUT HIS RECENT MARKETING EFFORT which was successful beyond his dreams.  He was elated.  Couldn’t stop talking about it.  I congratulated him and asked what he was planning for his next marketing effort.  The blank stare I received made it obvious was he not planning ahead.  This had been a one-shot effort.  Effective marketing in the long run consists of a series of activities – some minor, some major – all planned in advance to fit into an overall marketing plan..

Operating a retail store without a marketing plan is like driving to Toronto without a road map.  You don’t absolutely need a map or a plan.  You will eventually get to your destination without one.  But the journey will be smoother, faster and more enjoyable with fewer hiccups along the way if you have your map.

Your marketing plan doesn’t need to be a fancy bound document with lots of charts, graphs and pages of financial info.  That is fancy textbook stuff.  What I’m talking about a simple plan that is closer to the back-of-the-envelope variety.  I call it a 10-Minute Marketing Plan.

There are only a few essential rules.  (1) It must be written down.  (2) It is not cast in concrete forever.  It is your plan, you can (and should) change it when new or better ideas arise.  (3) The greatest plan, if it’s filed in a locked drawer and never looked at, is useless.  You have to use and review it on a regular basis.

Creating your 10-minute marketing plan is easy.  Divide a standard sheet of paper into four vertical columns of equal width.  Label the top of the left-hand column as “Category”.  And enter a label at the top of other columns representing the next three months, say, “January”,” February”, “March”.  Then, in the first column you enter a category of marketing activity.  I usually start with a category called “Holidays and Events”.  Next, in the corresponding monthly columns, I write in the significant holidays and events that will occur during that month.  Under the January column, for example, I might enter New Years Day, After-Holiday Sale, Winter Carnival, etc.  Then I enter significant days for February and March.

When you’ve filled in all three months you have a quick visual record of events around which you might plan some marketing and promotion. So now you return to the first column and enter new category, such as “Products to Promote” each month.  Then move to the monthly columns and enter product(s) to promote that month that might be associated with that month’s Holidays and Event.  The Winter Carnival in January may make you think about promoting heated birdbaths.  Or a Feeder Trade-in Sale to start the New Year.  In February, Valentine’s Day might suggest chocolate squirrel candies.  Of course you can enter more than one product in a month.  The start of spring in March may be ideal to start promoting nesting boxes, and a good time to sell kites.

Back to the first column to enter another new category – maybe, “front window display”.  We all have a front window but, unless we deliberately plan, the display may not get changed as often as it should.  Thinking about the holidays and events, coupled with products you plan to promote, helps you think creatively about a window display that ties in and reinforces the other categories in your plan.  In January a winter snow scene with heated baths and thermometers might be perfect in the window.
Eventually the first column will contain a variety of marketing categories, and the monthly columns will contain possible activities to support each category.   Listing the categories is the most important element.  There is no limit to the number.  Here is a list of possible categories:

•    Items to Feature in Newsletter
•    Focus for print advertisements
•    Items to put on Sale
•    Impulse items for point of sale area
•    Items to feature on primary display table
•    Seasonal products to order
•    Field Trips
•    Contests for customers

The complete process goes very quickly, and when it’s done you have a quick snap-shot view of your marketing activities for the next three months.  You can easily see what you should be working on to make these ideas become reality.  Obviously, you don’t have to limit your plan to only the next three months.  You can easily extend it to six months or a full year. 

The two most important elements of this plan are (1) you took the time to think and plan the next few months and (2) it isn’t a plan until you put it into action.  Without action all your thinking and planning is meaningless.  I suggest you mark a date in your calendar, say the 25th of each month.  On that day, take out your plan and look at what you need to be doing for the upcoming month.  Then add a new column for the fourth month so you are always planning at least three months in advance.

A classic marketing adage says success is easy:  First plan your work.  Then work your plan.