Most people plan their vacations, especially the travel portion of the trip. No matter your destination, a train, plane, or automobile is often a pivotal part of the trip. If I decide to go from Atlanta, Georgia to San Diego, California, I could just hop in the car and just head West considering it a new adventure. Another option is that I get on the computer and use trip-planning software that tells me the routes to take, provides me with maps, and even tells me mileage and estimated costs. It can still be a great adventure, but I won’t be lost, confused, and frustrated trying to get to my destination. Additionally, I will be mentally and financially prepared for the journey ahead of me.
One of the most perplexing aspects of this industry is how poorly people plan and execute a marketing strategy. Without a plan or effective execution of that plan, you are not setting out on an adventure; you are risking the success of your business. The time to plan for next year is now, not in January. Waiting for the holidays and the New Year will mean that you will be getting a late start that could put you at a real disadvantage.
When I’m planning a trip, I make a checklist to make sure I have all my bases covered. Here is a travel oriented checklist to get you started in your marketing plan:
**1. Estimated Time of Departure**
This is where we start. When we know we have to be on the plane at 8 a.m. we do everything in our power to make sure we don’t miss our flight. The same should apply for marketing. One of the key elements is knowing when you need to get started and staying firmly committed to that date. Often business owners place a very ambiguous starting time to their marketing, ‘we’ll work on that next month’, or, ‘we’re thinking about doing this next spring’. All too often that indefinite or vague point of commencement means that the initiative never gets launched.
**2. Estimated Time of Arrival**
Now that you know when you are going to get started, you can start setting realistic expectations for your goals. Each endeavor needs to be well planned to be well executed. For example, if you are planning a DIY homeowners event in February, you should have all your marketing plans outlined with due dates three months prior. This allows time for creating communications, printing and development, and delivery. Do not scramble to get your event together the week it is planned for, because that is exactly how it will look to the participants. Furthermore, it also allows you to create a process for your events, which will make planning future programs, projects, and endeavors much easier.
**3. What is the Purpose of your Trip**
Everyone has a purpose to their travel. If it is unplanned and spontaneous, the purpose is still to have an adventure. In marketing, everything you do and plan should have a clearly defined goal, which has been written out and has measurable standards. Once you establish what your goal is for each initiative, you should make sure that each element of the plan clearly achieves that purpose.
**4. Have Your Documents Ready**
Imagine planning your big vacation to the mountains. Not just any mountains, but you are taking a journey across Canada. The problem is that when you go to cross the border, you haven’t packed your passport. It will not matter if you have a driver’s license, voter’s registration, or 20 grocery store ‘value’ cards; you don’t have that one important piece that will get you where you want to be. When you are holding an event or participating in a trade show, you also need to be able to distribute the right information that will represent your company in a way that reflects your professionalism and instills confidence in the audience you are trying to reach. Photocopies and generic industry information will not help you build your company’s image and brand.
**5. Do you have the Essentials?**
Whether it is a 3oz. carry-on or a full bottle packed and ready to be checked, every traveler has at least one item that they cannot live without. The essentials of a marketing plan in our industry should include some basics:
a. A professionally designed **LOGO** that reflects the work of the business you have created. Using clip art or taking pictures from the Internet and modifying them is not an acceptable form of logo creation and could land you in legal hot water.
b. A professionally designed **Web site** that allows you to update the content and be easily found in Internet searches. This is the one piece of marketing that is accessible 24/7.
c. Handing over a **Business Card** that is on quality paper with quality print & design makes a statement that you are a serious quality business.
d. Having a professional look for yourself and employees that include **Shirts/Uniforms** is another way to send a positive message about the type of business you are. Remember, it is also important to keep these items looking clean and fresh/new.
**6. One Star to Five Stars**
Who doesn’t love the idea of staying in a five star hotel with all the luxury? We love to go online, find the deal on our favorite travel site, and experience a high quality stay at a great value and price. At the same time, getting a one-star hotel at five-star pricing is not desirable. Now, what does your marketing say about you? If you look at your Branding Initiatives, what level of quality does it reflect and does it represent you well? Does your marketing say that you are a ‘one star’ company or does it scream ‘five star’? There is nothing wrong with asking people to rate your communications. By doing so, you can find out what people really think of your company based on what they see and hear. If you do not invest wisely in your marketing (cheap), the image of your company will be just that, cheap.
**7. Are you ‘On Schedule,’ ‘Delayed,’ or ‘Cancelled’?**
It is important to constantly monitor your marketing and constantly determine where you are and where you need to be. Things may be going as planned and you may be seeing the return you expected, but that is highly unlikely. The truth is, just like traveling, sometimes we need to modify our itinerary in order for things to go more smoothly or achieve our destination. Occasionally that may mean we have to put off an initiative until it is time where it makes more sense to execute it. At other times, we may discover that an initiative is not appropriate given certain factors. It is vital to keep track of what is working and going as planned, what needs to be done at a later date and then scheduled appropriately, and why something needed to be cancelled so that the idea may be revisited at another time with a different approach, if at all.
**8. Meet New People, Go New Places**
A great aspect of travel is a new experience and new people or cultures to experience. It can also be a focus of your marketing. When a plan is well executed and effective, it should bring new people and experiences your way. Some of them may not be pleasant or all that you expected, but for the most part the people and projects that come your way will be worth the planning, hard work, time, and patience. Marketing is not just about print ads or tv spots, it’s networking face to face and building relationships.
**9. Please turn off all Transmitting Electronics**
These are words that make me cringe every time I hear them uttered by a flight attendant. Are they crazy? I NEED to be connected. By the way, so do you! There are some fundamentals that you must have to be effective as a business in this day and age.
a. **Website** –A good one. I mean it. It is worth the investment.
b. **eNewsletters and email blasts** – Effective and inexpensive when done right.
c. **Upgraded phone for email and Internet** – Get with the times and/or learn how to use that new Blackberry or iPhone. It is NOT just a toy or fun gadget. It can be one of the best business tools you own.
d. **GPS** – I also call mine ‘The Oracle’. It not only tells me where I’m going but also what time I will be there. Good information for you and those who are expecting you.
**10. Rate your Experience**
I actually use that part of travel sites that ask me how my stay was or how my flight went. Why not? If I had a dirty room or a bad flight attendant, maybe they will make sure my next experience is better. If they are smart, at the very least, they will look at it as constructive criticism. Best case scenario, they will institute change and offer me an opportunity to have a better experience. One that allows me to then brag to my friends about the customer service. On the other hand, if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, etc… you know that I am always posting links to ‘my favorites’. Places and professionals that I want my friends to experience. If you are not providing a way for your customers to give you feedback and refer others to you, then you are missing the boat, plane, and train altogether.
***When you are ready to get started on your marketing road map, I mean plan, here are a few suggestions***
**1. Begin with a defining purpose statement for your company that is no longer than 12 words.**
If you can clearly define who you are and what you do, it will be easier to pass that information on to the market you want to reach. It should be your foundation for everything you do.
**2. Establish a realistic budget.**
A realistic plan needs a realistic budget. Do not shop on price alone. Five hundred business cards for $9.99 are very unlikely to have the same quality as ones that cost more to print on higher quality paper and printing processes. At the same time, do not think that just because you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on one marketing piece that you are done for the year. Plan across the board for expenses that will add to, not diminish, your branding and marketing initiatives.
**3. Prepare an Outline.**
I love when I print out directions and there are turn by turn instructions. An outline can help you keep information organized and clearly define each phase of an initiative.
**4. Publish a marketing calendar.**
Have a calendar on your desk, on your computer desktop, or in your phone to remind you of dates when elements of your marketing plan need to be completed.
**5. Meet with your staff and have a basis for communications.**
Your marketing will be more effective if it is clearly communicated to your employees, or team. When they understand your goals and what needs to be done to accomplish them, it also makes them more accountable. I use Basecamp (http://basecamphq.com/) to keep my business on the same page as well as my clients. It is a great tool for keeping your business as a whole organized, especially for marketing initiatives. I find that the more accountable you make yourself and your staff, the more likely you are to execute a marketing plan effectively.
Travel can be a pleasure or a nightmare. So can marketing. The more pre-pared you are, the more likely it is that you will have a smooth trip full of great experiences and arrive at your final destination having enjoyed the journey.
Make your marketing plan a successful adventure that lands you in 2011 exactly where you want to be.