Jake Xu of Bath-based creative agency Ready explains the benefits of planning your approach to marketing
"We formed Xcetra Media in 2007. In less than three years, we grew from a two-man band with a couple of clients to an experienced design and brand communications agency.
"Now rebranded as Ready, we have more than 30 national and international clients, including Universal Studios, Soap & Glory, Fish4, UKTV and five of UK's biggest magazine publishing houses - Immediate Media (formerly BBC Magazines), EMAP, Future, IPC Media and Bauer.
"We specialise in graphic design, brand development, email communications, web design, customer publishing and design for print.
"Marketing plans are a great way for a business to ensure it makes well-informed decisions throughout its growth. They help organisations understand where they are before deciding where they want to be, and how they can achieve that. Ideas expressed by everyone in the business can be structured to create a coherent, detailed plan of action.
"If you treat producing a marketing plan or business plan as a mere box to be ticked, you're missing an opportunity. Before you start work on your marketing plan, you need to truly understand why you're doing it and how it can benefit you.
"When we set up the company, we already had tons of work lined up. We didn't have time to write a business plan; we kind of thought we knew what we were doing and where we wanted to go. We've always been self-funded, so we didn't need to borrow money or attract investment.
"As the business grew, we realised that without a business plan, we weren't properly focused and ultimately we weren't in control of our destiny. After we'd put enough time and effort into producing our business plan, we had a much better understanding of our business and our market. And because the information was based on actual events and experience, the plan was more reliable.
Reaching our target market
"After helping many clients to achieve their marketing objectives, ironically, we realised we'd been neglecting our own. We weren't shouting about our own achievements - including several notable contract wins. We decided to devise our own detailed marketing strategy, set out in phases, with clear objectives and estimated budgets.
"We began by looking at what we did, and - perhaps more importantly - what we did better than our competitors. We also carried out a full SWOT analysis, which meant looking at our strengths and weakness, to see what our opportunities and threats were.
"We spent a lot of time establishing a much clearer idea of our target market, too, which enabled us to think of how best to reach potential customers with our key messages.
"Once we had fortified our own brand identity, we created a communications strategy, which covered media usage, creative approach and message strategy.
"We set objectives that were ambitious, yet realistic and achievable. Having vague aims doesn't help - they must be specific and measurable, otherwise how can you know if your methods are successful?
"We measure our objectives by using quantitative data, for example, monthly sales figures, as well as qualitative information such as client feedback.
"There's no point in having a marketing plan if you're not going to use it. We've tried to fully integrate ours into our everyday activity. That doesn't mean we consult our marketing plan every day; but before any major decisions are made, we most definitely would consult our marketing and business plans.
"This ensures our actions are consistent and in tune with our overall marketing and business development strategy. If you deviate, then you risk going off in the wrong direction.
"You've got to update your marketing plan if it's going to remain effective. If there are important changes within your business or market, you should revisit your plan to see what effect this could have. It also gives you the chance to reconsider your objectives and strategy, which you might need to change."
Jake's three key lessons
- "Make sure your marketing plan is tailored to your business and its landscape."
- "Keep it specific. Don't waste time with broad assumptions and statements. Your plan mustn't be vague; it must address each area of your business precisely."
- "Integrate your plan. Keep it front of mind when any major business decision needs to be made - even if it doesn't appear to be explicitly related to marketing."