A Quick Plan Check

Whether you’re starting up a new business, launching a new product, or simply making adjustments to what you’ve been doing all along, a little planning can go a long way.

Now, I’m a marketing strategist. I believe a marketing plan should start at the beginning — with your audiences — and do a thorough job of integrating the needs of your customers (and potential customers) with your own goals, resources and realities to detail what you need to do, why you need to do it, when it needs to happen, what it will cost and how you will measure its effectiveness.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to look at things a little differently. Sometimes you just need a quick check on a new initiative to make sure you’re covering all your bases. That’s when I whip out this little exercise, a simple checklist of key stages a prospect will go through in becoming a customer and, eventually, an advocate of your business to others. I wish I could come up with a catchy name for it, but I can’t, so we’ll just call it ATALA.

A = Awareness

Potential customers can’t evaluate you if they don’t know you exist. How are you getting in front of the people who are likely to find you the perfect solution to their needs? Do you even know what those needs are? Where do you need to be for them to see you? Sometimes this is easy — I sell audience research to digital agencies, so I love opportunities to speak to groups of agencies. Sometimes, it isn’t — I also need to reach out to small businesses looking for marketing strategy, and they can be harder to find since they’re not all attending big national conferences. Think about where your prospects are, and how best you can make your presence known there. Speaking opportunities, volunteering at or sponsoring events, keyword search, PPC advertising and traditional advertising are all possibilities.

T = Trust

This is a biggie. Whether someone is buying an ice cream cone or an enterprise network system from you, they have to trust that you can deliver. How are you working to generate that trust? There are all sorts of options here, from testimonials on your website to certification and licensing by appropriate agencies, to case studies or a blog in which you show your expertise. Even the photos of your team can exude professionalism or make you look like amateurs. What evidence do you provide to prospects to show them you can be trusted?

A = Adoption

Once they trust you, are you making it easy for prospects to come onboard? What kinds of barriers are you putting up that could discourage people from giving you a shot? Requiring answers to a long list of detailed questions on your “Contact Us” form is a barrier. So is asking customers to enter their credit card information, even if you’re not going to charge them until their free trial period is over. Allowing customers to apply the cost of their initial purchase to an upgrade (like a season pass) is a win.

L = Loyalty

What are you doing to ensure that customers keep using your product or service, or keep coming back for more? Benefits for repeat customers — from FourSquare mayor benefits, to frequency programs (ThinkGeek’s Geek Points is a favorite of mine), to a birthday club are all good ways to keep customers buying. Opportunities to engage with your company, like social media or blog commentary, are a great way to build loyalty. Even a customer insight panel participating in surveys and providing feedback on your products or services can cultivate loyal fans.

A = Advocacy

Word of mouth is one of the most valuable marketing tactics out there. How are you going to make it easy for your customers to pass along the good word? Are you actively promoting your Yelp reviews? Do you include “share with a friend” promotional opportunities in your emails? Are there referral benefits for bringing you a new customer? Social media plays a part here as well — are you actively monitoring and responding to comments about your brand? And remember our first step, Awareness? How can you ensure that the advocacy of your brand champions are reaching the ears (or eyes) of the audiences you most want to reach?

Every marketing decision you make — new product introductions, pricing, distribution, etc. — is going to affect at least one of these areas. While this exercise can’t replace the benefit of a well-researched, exhaustive marketing plan, if you do a quick run-through of this list before you make your move, you’ll go a long way in ensuring that you don’t accidentally miss a key component in turning prospects into brand advocates.


  1. Susan,

    Great blog post – especially for us newcomers into the game!
    I see that I have some work to do!


    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Nikki! And don’t feel bad — you can be a very experienced marketing and still benefit from a different perspective on your plans now and then. Good luck!

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