When developing or updating a marketing plan, knowing where to start is often a challenge. To better develop effective marketing strategies, begin by gathering information about both your business and the larger business environment (competition, trends, statistics, etc.).
Internally, the amount of information you gather about your own business will depend on your company size. Information can include business strategies and plans; company marketing plans; pricing; and income statements. Employee knowledge is also a valuable resource. As you gather information, if you at first turn to internal sources then expand your understanding through external resources you will do fine.
External information about the business environment often takes the form of existing research, articles, competitive information, and industry news. While these are often available in both print and digital formats, the focus here is finding information online.
Gathering Information Online – Getting Started
The numerous news sources and billion or so Web pages available on the Internet make finding information much easier than in pre-Internet days. Before the Internet, gathering information meant trips to the library, purchasing expensive publications and reports, and commissioning your own primary research. Now, it is a matter of knowing where to search.
You can start searching the Internet by looking in each of the general areas below. Organize useful material as you find it. Purchase, bookmark, or file each resource so you can draw upon it during marketing plan development.
These external resources, together with your internal company information, will be your initial knowledge base as you develop your Marketing Plan. As you progress along the planning process and the specific information you need become clearer, these initial resources are likely to be jumping-off points for gathering more specific information.
There are a number of sources of information that you can use for your business plan, such as:
- Annual Reports and other SEC Filings. These documents are required by publicly held U.S. companies and often include statistics and other industry information.
- Books. Books can often provide detailed insight and analysis you cannot find elsewhere.
- The Government. At last count 100 U.S. Federal agencies had statistical programs, many with data available on the Web. You can find the complete list at http://www.fedstats.gov/agencies/index.html .
- Message Boards and Newsgroups. You can pick up on trends, hot topics in the industry, and competitor information by following discussions.
- News Articles. These often give clues to the business environment and can lead you to additional information sources.
- Newsletters. By reading and subscribing to competitor and industry newsletters you can get insight into current promotional tactics and other activities.
- Research Sites. Archives, press releases, newsletters, and executive summaries on these sites can provide relevant research findings and statistics.
- Search Engines and Directories. Search by keyword or drill down into directory sub-categories to find information.
- Subject Sites. There are some general sites – www.suite101.com, www.about.com, and www.business.com to name three – with numerous topic-specific pages. Check for pages relating to your industry or product.
- Trade Associations and Publications. You will often find industry information, statistics, and membership lists online.
- White Papers and other Company Publications. Companies will sometimes publish free white papers that summarize the industry trends or other information.
Recommended Books on How to Create a Marketing Plan:
- Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth
- Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them
- The Marketing Plan Handbook, 3rd Edition
- The Successful Marketing Plan: How to Create Dynamic, Results Oriented Marketing, 4th Edition
- The Marketing Plan: How to Prepare and Implement It
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