Every business needs a marketing plan. The most compelling reason is that a good marketing plan keeps you from wasting money and time. When you have a good plan, you can avoid scatter-shot activities that don't produce a return. A written plan acts as a road map from you, keeps you focused, and keeps you from forgetting to pursue effective marketing activities at the right time.
So what exactly is a good marketing plan?
Definitions vary from field to field, and writer to writer, but the one most applicable to equine business marketing is featured on wikipedia.org:
“A Marketing Plan is a written document that details the actions necessary to achieve a specified marketing objective. It can be for a product or service, a brand, or a product line. It can cover one year (referred to as an annual marketing plan), or cover up to 5 years.”
Wikipedia goes on to say:
“A marketing plan may be part of an overall business plan. Solid marketing strategy is the foundation of a well-written marketing plan. While a marketing plan contains a list of actions, a marketing plan without a sound strategic foundation is of little use.”
This is a great “quick and dirty” definition. This little nugget is so important it bears repeating: “Solid marketing strategy is the foundation of a well-written marketing plan.”
In it's simplest form, implementing a marketing plan is implementing the marketing strategy. So you can't have an effective plan without the strategy.
If you have a business plan for your equine operation (which you certainly should), it likely contains a section called “marketing” or “marketing plan.” These things are technically marketing plans, but in this context are generally not written with enough detail to be of much practical use in the marketing of your business. They are generally prepared considering long-range objectives, perhaps five years or more. And the reason they are not usually good marketing plans in practical application is that the marketing concepts have not been fully thought out and developed. While the business plan elements have been thoroughly worked through, the marketing section is rarely given enough attention to be a good marketing plan.
For example, a business plan marketing section might include a line such as “will use direct mail to reach potential customers.” A well-conceived and well-written marketing plan that is based on a solid strategy, would expand on this statement, and answer questions such as:
This is not to say that a business is limited to one plan. For the long-range, a business plan marketing section may be adequate. But in my experience, really useful marketing plans are written for the shorter term: one year, one quarter or industry season, even by the month or by the week. So certainly have a long-range plan, but develop short-range marketing plans as you go, as you implement previous plans and evaluate how well they work for your business.
Even if you start with the general terms for the long-range actions, for your effective short-range plan, you are going to have to do the analysis and formulate a specific action list if you want the plan to be useful. Or you can hire a consultant to do it for you. But it has to be done—there is just no shortcut around this step.
Every month, several people stumble across Equinnovation.com searching for “horse marketing plan template” (I know this from checking my web site statistics...). They don't find such a thing on the site. Because it is shortsighted to try to market your business using someone else's canned plan. And they won't find an EFFECTIVE horse marketing template for their business elsewhere, either. Each business is unique and to be truly effective, the marketing plan must reflect all of the business' characteristics and outside variables that affect that business.
That said, there are numerous canned outlines for marketing plans that show the basic sections a plan may contain. Some plans have more sections, and have more or less formality, depending on whether the plan is developed for in-house use or must be provided to financiers. Some are really far more complicated than they need to be to be useful tools in operating the business. Formal plans include other sections that are generally covered adequately in a good business plan. If you don't have a business plan, you need to consider that information as well.
But more important than the exact format, particularly when preparing a detailed plan for in-house use, is the thought beyond the writing. Each of the sections is more than a couple of paragraphs tossed under a heading. They reflect research, strategy, and thought specific to the particular business.
Here is a breakdown of the essential points to consider when formulating a good informal plan for in-house use:
Once you have done all of the thinking, and research into certain issues as needed, writing a plan you can use should be straightforward!
Copyright 2005. This article first appeared in The Equine Business Edge, Equinnovation's complimentary newsletter (click to subscribe).
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