We recently sat down with Reckon’s general manager of marketing, Brad Stevens, to chat about creating a marketing plan, core considerations, the hierarchy of marketing activity and what small businesses should be thinking about.

1) Hey Brad, what kind of background did you come from and what instilled such a passion for marketing?

My career in the world of marketing really started in university where I completed a business degree with a major in marketing.

I actually began my studies by embarking on a degree in engineering, however it felt a bit too dry for me and I became quickly aware that my passion for advertising and consumer behaviour was a far more rewarding path.

I started out as a marketing graduate at Optus and went on to hold a number of marketing roles in telco and other tech companies. After ten years of almost exclusive B2C (business to consumer) marketing I pivoted across to the world of B2B (business to business) marketing.

I found that B2B marketing was less promotional and more strategic in its approach. It also involved longer sales cycles and larger deal sizes, which really appealed to me. I’ve been at it now for the last decade.

2) With a varied career behind you, what would you say is the primary purpose of a marketing plan?

The purpose of a marketing plan at the end of the day is to support the goals of the company or business.

Marketing’s function is essentially to grow the business.

This could be through new customer acquisition. It could be customer retention or even your branding growth and recognition.

There’s lots of different facets as to how marketing supports a business but ultimately you should be measured on supporting sales and being considered by the consumer for the brand category you’re in among your competitors.

Your marketing plan will be a way to structure these goals in a meaningful way that’s measurable and deliverable.

3) Should your marketing plan be built for the year ahead or for longer or shorter term?

Usually in a business, you’ll have the sales team working with short term sales goals, which are usually twelve-month plans. Your marketing plans should match this cadence to support those more immediate sales goals. This can mean promotional activity and content creation for example.

But then you’ll also have your longer-term goals of course. You may have product goals, long term brand development, or you might plan out your platforms and marketing tools. These could be plotted a few years down the track.

So, you’re going to have to split these up into projects that cater for each need. To support sales, you’ll have shorter term acquisitional, advertising, or promotional plans. However, this needs to be balanced against longer term plans for brand building or developing  marketing channels like your website and advertising.

Focusing on long term initiatives such as these will set up for future growth

4) What are the core deliverables or elements that a marketing plan should touch on?

So, I’d probably start by thinking less about the execution of the plan and more about the opportunity. So, what are the goals of the business, how do my offerings compete in the market, who’s my audience and how do I cut through?

Understanding that, you can think about the execution of a plan.

If you’re new to business, you’ll need to include elements that help you grow, but if you’re established the plan may be more about retention. This plays an important part in what kind of marketing you do, whether it’s brand building, acquisition, customer marketing and so.

Then you need to look at what elements in the plan you want to activate. Is it building a website, is it using digital marketing to gain leads through Google AdWords, is it developing content, or using remarketing to target existing clients? If you service a local area, you may also need to leverage word of mouth and community marketing.

5) In terms of setting goals, what advice do you have for a beginner creating a marketing plan?

When setting goals, keep it tight and make sure it’s measurable. Don’t set too many at once. You must be realistic in what you can do yourself. However, as a good rule, most goals need to deliver revenue or some form of growth, so that’s where you should start.

Revenue and cash flow are vital to small businesses, so be mindful that your marketing goals should be centred around delivering that first and foremost.

6) How do you weave flexibility into a marketing plan?

The best laid plans can always be derailed by circumstances beyond your control, so allowing for flexibility is certainly key.

I think certain activities can be really flexible. For example, if you have an ongoing Facebook campaign and things change, you can always pause it and come back to it when time and resources allow.

Maybe you were refining or redesigning your website, that too is a project that can be paused and then reactivated. So don’t ever feel like you can’t press stop when required. Sometimes you can completely reinvent what you were doing if it wasn’t working or delivering results.

There are, however, some situations you need to plan for carefully in advance. For example, when advertising or using an agency for contracted work, you may not be able to just abandon it or put it on hold without penalty. For these projects, you want to have some buffers in terms of time on hand and cash reserves.

7) Any tips on the stages of marketing, and dividing responsibility if you have a team?

If you’re in a position to have a few employees, you can start, as we do at Reckon, with a sales funnel and match your marketing activity and roles based on that.

Even if it’s just yourself doing all the marketing, this funnel can be highly useful to identify the stages of marketing you should be covering.

You start with building awareness, this is your branding layer. What do you want people to think about your brand and how do you effectly reach them to deliver this message?

Then you’ve got your engagement layer, which is creating content and activating your channels like social media and your blog

Then there’s your acquisition layer, which is where you try and convert them to obtain a lead, make a sales or try your product. Paid media activities, like Google Adwords can be a very efficient channel to target potential buyers that have purchase intent.

The final stage is loyalty, when you manage someone who’s bought from you to become a long-term customer. It’s important to continually engage and communicate with your customers, which could be via the occasional newsletter with promotions to encourage repeat purchase.

So as a small business owner without a big team, I’d suggest you simply look to that funnel progression from, branding, engagement, acquisition, to loyalty. This covers all touchpoints with the customer.

Think about the functional activities that this funnel includes and make sure you create a balanced approach. Don’t get too carried away with one area like acquisition for example, as retention is often overlooked and can account for huge slices of recurring revenue. And the golden rule is that it’s far less costly to retain a customer then to acquire a new one.

8) Have you seen the ways marketing has modernised over the years? Any areas businesses should be concentrating on more, or less?

Look, it’s clear now that digital or online marketing is the way forward. Digitisation has also created a certain accessibility to marketing that used to only be available to larger organisations.

What we see now are marketing apps, tools, and platforms that can be cheaply and easily adopted by even the smallest business. They require less knowledge, less money, and less time to use.

This has led to a democratisation of marketing that allows small businesses to do a lot of marketing themselves. The barrier to entry is not there anymore, which is excellent news for microbusinesses with an interest to do their own marketing and a focus on growth.

Brad Stevens, GM of marketing