Three questions every marketing plan must answer

Marketing plans can be complex. Like, really, really complex. Depending on the number of products or services you’re selling, the size of your market, the strength of your competitors, and the amount of time and money you have to spend, a detailed plan could single-handedly destroy an entire forest.

It can also provide you with a lot of insights to base your strategy on.

Luckily, we can simplify the entire process by asking just three questions. You can build the answers out as much as you want, but make sure you have answered all three to have the essence of your plan and a quick reference anytime you’re evaluating a marketing opportunity on the fly.

Where are you now?

It’s important for any plan to acknowledge what is currently happening in your business. Are your sales just starting out? Growing? Stagnant? Declining? Why do you think that’s happening?

If you offer multiple products or services, you might want to note what ones are your top sellers.

What is your biggest challenge right now? What’s happening in your industry that you’re aware of? Are there any opportunities you see, or is there a threat looming?

You should also make a note of who your current customers and competitors are, and any noteworthy trends that are affecting them.

Where do you want to be?

It’s hard to build an effective plan without a goal. If its SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), all the better.

You can base your goal around what you want to see change in your business. This might be more sales, more customers, or getting customers to spend more per transaction. You might be moving into a new market (either a new audience or a new product/service) or you might be focused on growing your online community through social media or email lists.

Not only can your goals be about moving toward something, they can also be about moving away from something. Looking at your biggest challenge, what is your resolution to that problem?

How do you plan to get there?

You have a point A and a point B. Now you need to find a way to connect them. What steps do you need to take? What has to happen before the changes occur?

How will you get in front of your audience, and what will you say to get them to make up their mind? What marketing channels do you own (website, storefront, signage, social media), and which ones will you need to pay for or earn (advertisements, events, media coverage)?


As I said, you could spend a lot of time getting into the details. A well thought out marketing plan that takes into account your limited resources and abilities is important to saving time and money, plus seeing real results when marketing your business. Even so, you should be able to share the core concepts of your plan with your team or outsourced help in about 30 seconds using the questions outlined above.

At its core, every marketing plan should boil down to the three essential questions: Where are you now, where are you going, and how do you plan to get there?

What’s your secret sauce?

It can be SO TOUGH to identify what makes your business different from your competitors. Coming up with a unique value proposition (UVP) can be challenging because it’s scary to draw the line in the sand and say “this is what we do different”. After all, doing something different MIGHT turn off some potential clients.

Not doing anything ‘different’ is worse.

When you try to compete against market leaders (read: the people or businesses everyone thinks of first) but have nothing to distinguish yourself from them, you end up making yourself ‘different’ in less desirable ways. You compete by offering lower prices or by offering more and more low-quality add-on services. Neither of these options are sustainable for the long-term success of your business. If you’ve thought about either of these – and we all have at least fleetingly at some point – you need a secret weapon to combat the ‘people aren’t buying’ and ‘I’m not good enough’ blues. You need a UVP.

Now, coming up with the almighty unique value prop’ might sound tedious, or difficult, or confusing. It’s REALLY not all that bad because it’s all about figuring out what makes you a special snowflake.

Your unique value proposition (UVP) is your ‘secret sauce’. 

If you own a burger chain and are competing against the other burger chains in the area, there needs to be a reason why *some* people choose you over the other guys. You’re going to need to know what makes the other guy special, too. McDonald’s has an actual ‘special sauce’. Burger King flame broils their patties. A&W uses hormone-free meat. Harvey’s tops your burger in front of you.

You could open multiple locations – more than anyone else – and make accessibility your game. You might offer more topping choices than anyone else, or use local organic produce for your toppings. Perhaps it’s gluten-free buns. Maybe it’s not the burger, but the fact that you offer two side dishes to make that fast-food burger feel more like a real meal (side note: I’ve been saying someone needs to do this for years).

The most important thing to consider when defining your secret sauce is to make it authentic to who you are, how you want to run your business, and why you do the things you do. You need to be able to stand behind it and proclaim to the world why your way works better – at least for the people you want to work with.

Some questions that will help you figure out your secret sauce:


Take a few minutes to think about why you are running your specific business. The reason ISN’T because you want to make money because you could do that in a lot of different, and possibly easier, ways. So what made you choose this? What is it that drew you to what you do? Was there an opportunity you spotted that needed to be filled? Was there a problem you thought you could solve? If you are running a business that is in the same field you studied in college, what drew you to that field in the first place?


What are you passionate about, both in and out of work? Do you make a point to support small businesses when you shop? Do you volunteer for a community group? Are you a health fanatic? Are your kiddos your life? Are you a party animal? If you had to cut everything but one service from your business, what would it be? What is one thing that you would happily do over and over and over again?


Who are your competitors and what makes them different from each other? Are they a national company or a small local business? Do they work with a lot of clients or just a few? Do they have a process that you can identify? Do they sell packages or use hourly rates? What is considered normal in your industry, and how can/do you do it differently?


What about your previous experiences make you uniquely qualified to do what you do? This doesn’t have to be a master’s degree or equivalent. Maybe you volunteered a lot when you were younger, and so you are well suited to working with charities. You might be great at handling emergency situations with calm focus. You might be great with people, listening and helping them to solve their problems. Or you could be a long-term planner, able to execute the long game to meet giant goals. Is there something that you do that your clients get excited about or thank you for?

Are you getting a little bit clearer about what makes you so incredibly special?

Your marketing strategy needs to start at the top and has to be a part of how you do business every day. Your corporate story is the what, who, where, when, why and how – but if you do everything the same as the other guy, it’s not going to be all that exciting of a story. We cling to ‘industry standards’ when we are feeling insecure or under-confident in what we do. I’m giving you the permission to dream about what your business might be like if you didn’t have to copy everyone else. What do you want to do? Who are the dream clients you want to do it for? Finding your ‘secret sauce’ will help you to set the foundation for the rest of your marketing efforts.

Next, you’ll need to figure out if people really need or want your sauce-omeness. Defining your unique value proposition (ie. secret sauce) and your target market (ie. dream clients) are two sides of the same coin and need to work in tandem, so don’t go telling the world what makes you different until you’ve read my next blog post.