How To: Create a good marketing plan

Working with clients over the years has made me appreciate marketing as a key to success. The ability to create a great product isn’t going to assure success. There are many great products and services that fail. You can’t take the “build it and they will come” approach. With a well thought out marketing plan, a good product can exceed the sales of an equal or even better product.

Part of any successful business is identifying their target market and developing plans on how they can reach the customers and demonstrate value. Have you ever tried to identify your customers?

Can you describe:

  • Where they live
  • Their age range and demographics
  • Their income level
  • Their interests and hobbies
  • Where they get their news and what they read
  • What else they are apt to buy
  • How you can reach them.

The last one is the most important one on the list. As an amateur photographer, I realize that the key to both photography and marketing is focus. Too often we take pictures without taking time to be sure that the focus is what we want. Yes, you can use the auto-focus on many cameras but does not ensure the focus is where you want it to be.

The same is true in marketing for entrepreneurs and small businesses. It’s all about focus. The key to effective marketing is identifying who you want as customers and focusing in on them. Like photography, you can just do the “auto” setting, but it won’t give you the results you want.

Too often, potential entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t have a clear idea who their customers are. They make the mistake of thinking that everyone is a potential customer.

What does everyone need? Yes, we all need food, water and air. But food can run from table scraps to caviar — and no one does both. Water can be unsanitary and free, or bottled water from Fiji.

Whether you are in business, or thinking about a business, taking the time to understand who your customers are, or will be, is a critical part of success.

How can you possibly do effective marketing without understanding who you are trying to reach?

There are always exceptions. There may be that 60-year-old who shows up in your shop when your typical customer is in his or her twenties. You should be marketing to the customers in their twenties if those are the customers who will buy from you. Would you use the same resources to market to both ages? Of course not. You could spend money to advertise to the folks in their 60s through the local newspaper and not see much return on the investment. Or you could use social media and other tools to reach out to the customers in their twenties and get a lot more for your money.

Several years ago, in the Harvard Business Review, I came across an article by Susan Bishop, “The power of saying no.” The author talked about how her business had grown and yet wasn’t as profitable as it could be. It didn’t have any real focus.

Bishop went on to talk about how she redefined her business and stopped taking just any work that came through the door. It meant some dramatic changes, but she started refusing work that wasn’t her target market. She focused in on a well-defined segment and succeeded in growing her business, her profitability and her market focus.

To be effective you have to identify your potential customer base. And then focus.

Steve Lovejoy is director of the Maine Small Business Development Center at the University of Southern Maine. He can be reached at

From MaineBiz published November 14, 2016