When creating a marketing plan, the very first thing that should be done is to write a situation analysis. It’s easy for business owners to gloss over this step because they are so deeply involved in their business it doesn’t occur to them that there is anything to learn by writing it down. The fact is, however, this step is often the most important element of your marketing plan because it allows you to reveal and prioritize solutions to specific challenges.
Here is a starting point of 20 questions you should be answering. Some of these may seem simple and obvious. But, seeing the answers written down in context with other information provides clarity that can reveal relationships you haven’t noticed before. Likewise, as simple as these look, you’ll be surprised at how difficult it is to answer some of them.
- How long have you been in business?
- What does your annual sales curve look like and how has it been trending over the past three or four years?
- How many competitors do you have? (list them)
- How big is your business compared to theirs?
- What are their hours? What are yours?
- How do your competitors attempt to differentiate themselves? What is their primary image? (quality, price, exclusive lines, service, etc.)
- Are they fulfilling their claims?
- What unique benefit do you provide that competitors don’t?
- Where is your business located in relationship to customers and competitors?
- What does the customer landscape look like? (growing, diminishing, why?)
- Describe your best customer.
- What does the broad cross-section of your customers look like? (demographic, psychographic, social, income, geographic)
- Are there enough customers to go around?
- What have you been doing to market yourself?
- How has it been working? (quantify as much as possible)
- What are your competitors doing to market themselves?
- How much are your competitors spending on advertising annually?
- How are they presenting their strengths?
- Does your business have a weakness or bad public perception in any area that must be overcome? (ie: poor quality or service from previous owner, old facility, etc.)
- How has your industry changed over the past few years, and how is it expected to change in the future?
All of the 20 questions listed above may not apply to your particular business. But, for those that do, be sure to explore the answers thoroughly. Some of the questions may at first sound simple, but when you really get into it, can be quite complex. The more detailed and honest you are in defining exactly where you stand in terms of competition, market size, industry trends, past marketing results, and anything else you can learn, the better equipped you will be to determine your strategy.