Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Marketing Plans Work


Just like in every other facet of life, you have to learn from your mistakes. The best lessons are learned the hard way. So with that in mind, how do you know which parts of your marketing plan are actually generating sales and making your company money?

This section of your plan should include plans and procedures for tracking each type of media you are using. And, as a subset of each of those procedures, you should identify specifically which vehicle within those media groups is being the most effective. This isn't easy for all mediums, but for some it's pretty manageable.

Here are some types of media along with ideas for tracking their effectiveness. The techniques will vary wildly depending on your product type and market.

  • Display advertising - With traditional consumer publications, tracking can be done through the use of different phone numbers, special offers (specific to that advertisement or publication), or reference to a specific department to call for information. When those calls come in, your call-center staff must be prepared to record the information so the results can be tallied for that publication. Many trade publications also include Reader Service Cards that allow the reader to circle a number that corresponds to your ad on a mail-in postcard in order to get more information about your product or service. While you may get a lot of junk requests (competitors, shoppers, or literature collectors), you also can get some good leads. Keep a record of these leads and follow-up on the final result.
  • Direct marketing - With postal mailings, tracking is relatively simple. Include on the mailing label a code (called a key code or a source code) that corresponds with the mailing list so you know which list is producing, and instruct your call-center staff to record the information by asking the customer for the code. You can also include customer numbers here and record repeat orders without the problem of re-entering their information into your customer database. For telemarketing campaigns, tracking is also relatively simple since a live person is communicating with the customer throughout the entire process, in most cases.
  • TV or radio ads - These require similar tracking methods as consumer publications. They can be tracked through the use of different phone numbers, special offers (specific to that advertisement) or reference to a specific department to call for information. Again, when those calls come in, your call-center staff must be prepared to record the information so the results can be tallied for that particular spot. Another less exact method, if you're marketing on a very large scale, is to track immediate sales along with the timing of the advertisement.
  • Internet marketing - Usually, this is easily tracked because it is based on click-throughs or page impressions. Your Web administrator should be able to provide reports that indicate the number of click-throughs that actually led to the purchase of your product. You may also experience call-in sales as a result of your Web site. Make sure your call center is aware and records the information accurately.
  • Promotions - Most closed promotions are basically "self-tracking" because they require the customer to do something, such as fill out an entry form (trackable), turn in a coupon, return a rebate slip (trackable), or log-on to a Web site to claim a prize (also trackable). Open promotions, such as sales, require a little more work to track, although they can be tracked in a general way by noting increased sales for that time period, store, region, or whatever the parameters of the sale.
  • Events - An event is also tricky to track. You know how many people attended, but do you know how many sales occurred as a result? You can issue coupons at the event that could be tracked, offer other special deals, or even allow attendees to join a special club. You have to be creative in order to track the true sales results of a big event. A trade show's effectiveness can be tracked by collecting the right information at the show and following up on it. These results must also be tallied and recorded.

The tabulated results and customer information is very valuable information. Make sure you routinely back up the system where this data is kept and keep copies in safe places. The customer data is extremely valuable to your future direct-marketing efforts, and must be keyed in correctly and accurately.

Before your marketing plan is kicked off, make sure you have the database structure in place to record this information. Use codes for every level of information so that you can sort by various specifications. This takes a lot of planning, as well as training for your staff. Setting up the records with drop-down boxes for selecting preset information such as product numbers, list codes, publication codes, or department codes, will make your records much more consistent and useable.

Checking out the effectiveness of your marketing campaign from a product sales standpoint is critical. Begin the review process early and repeat it often. You can tweak your plan along the way to eliminate or shift schedules if you find that some element of the mix is definitely not working. Don't wait until it's too late.

Review your quarterly performance goals. Check your market share. Look at your sales figures based on not only the origin of the sale, but the type of customers as well. In other words, is this an existing customer, a new customer, or a new customer with a totally different demographic profile? Are you retaining existing customers, or are most of your sales coming from new customers? What is your competition doing?

There are a number of marketing audits not covered in this article that you can and should perform on an annual basis. For more information on marketing and related topics, check out the links on the next page.