In the business world, what does the marketing process look like?

There are many "how-to" books for small business that help identify and guide the development of a marketing plan. Regardless of the source, there are often common elements to the planning process. Listed below is an example of a market planning process designed for the business sector *.


Marketing Plan

External Contingencies

Often in a plan there is a component that looks outward to the larger business environment. Sometimes these are called "environmental scans". In the model listed above they are called "external contingencies" and are aspects such as the competition, legal and political climate, demographics, technology, culture, physical environment and the economy. These are major influences on the business and they are also, generally speaking, out of the business's control. Never-the-less, they need to be acknowledged and watched because they can often seriously impact how a business functions and ultimately a marketing plan.

One way to get an up-to-date perspective on these external aspects can be a SWOT analysis that identifies the businesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in each of the areas listed.

Defined list of external contingencies

Internal Contingencies

The second major aspect that can be found in most marketing plans is an inward look at the business. In the example shared, this is called " internal contingencies" and include the business's vision, mission, objectives and goals, strategy and culture. In contrast, these are aspects that the business does have much more control over. Again, internally a SWOT can be done to hone in on the direction of the business, in relation to the ever-changing business environment.

After these external and internal appraisals are made, it is important that they are integrated into the overall plan and not forgotten. In the model this is listed as a "fit" with the proposed marketing plan. In reality, there is a constant flow of information between both of these aspects and the plan so that changes in the plan can be made as shifts and changes, both external and internal, happen over time.

Defined list of internal contingencies


Now to the actual planning process.

  1. The first step in the actual plan, the center panel of the model, is to understand the consumer needs. This is where the market research targets a variety of questions such as ’¦. What do the consumers want and need, who is out there in the market providing it, how has this want and need evolved over time?
  2. The second step, market selection decisions, focuses on identifying what the market segments or components are, what are the best matches between the business (or product/service) and this market segment. And then finally the process encourages the business to craft a position statement, conceptualizing why this product or service is tailored to the identified market segment. The positioning statement is also about how this business meets and exceeds the competition in the marketplace for this product or service.
  3. The third and final component of the plan is the marketing mix decisions. This is where the basic four Ps of marketing are located: products (what does the business have or need to develop to meet consumer wants and needs); pricing (the ability to develop a competitive price which covers the cost + a profit margin); promotion (using a variety of promotional tactics to get the attention of the consumer and ultimately to develop brand loyalty) and place (using the most effective distribution channels to meet customer needs and wants).

Once the plan is developed, then action steps are created so that the plan can be implemented. As a final effort, there is also the need for oversight and control. Did the plan do what it was intended to do? What needs to be modified? What needs to remain?

So if this is the business marketing process, what would a community marketing process look like, using these same fundamental principles?

A proposed model is listed in the next tabs. It mirrors the business process model in many ways but it also frames and incorporates some aspects unique to community development.

* Dr. Patricia Kennedy, University of Nebraska Professor of Marketing, provided this example of a marketing process model which she has used in her undergraduate classes. The original source of the model is unknown.


Marketing Plan ProcessWhat we can't do a lot about’¦


The look outward and inward are very similar and in reality, they should be. Just like in the business world, there are external aspects that a community can do very little about- they need to be recognized and incorporated into the plan. However, one difference between the business plan and a community plan is the way one can look at these external factors. Granted there are aspects of these that can have potentially negative impacts. But there also may be ways to look at these conditions in another manner - by thinking about them in terms of what community assets are there to mitigate impacts or to even leverage to the community's benefit.

What we can do something about’¦

A closer look at the internal aspects show many similarities with the business model but there are also a few differences. A community generally does have control over their community vision, mission, objectives and marketing goals, strategies, actions, culture, infrastructure and visual first impression.

If you compare the two models you will have noticed that there are several aspects that differ from a traditional business marketing plan. The addition of "actions, culture that welcomes, community infrastructure, and visual first impression" tailors this plan to the community setting.

So let's take a look at these additions more closely. The word "actions" is listed there as a reminder that there are many entities in a community setting and they all contribute to the look and feel of community life. Organizations, events, and activities all set the tone for how the community is perceived and ultimately viewed by new as well as established residents.

Community culture may seem like something so big that it is impossible to modify but in reality there are small things that can be done, especially if the community is interested in being more new resident friendly. For instance, just a community discussion on ways to develop or strengthen actions that convey a "welcoming" tone within the community culture would be one technique to start the process. A result from this kind of conversation could be the development of a newcomer's picnic in August as a way to introduce new residents to key community members and groups before school starts. Or perhaps it is the development of an electronic newsletter or blog that helps new residents become better connected with community events and activities.

Another unique community aspect that is within a community's control is infrastructure and the visual first impression. Past priorities and actions can set the stage for an inviting community with plenty of curb appeal. For instance, are the streets in good repair? Do the schools appear to be well maintained and up-to-date? Is there a mix of old and new homes within the community? What does the business district look like? It becomes much easier to market a community that looks inviting vs. one that does not. Just as in the look outward, looking at overall community assets here is a technique that can leverage and/or mitigate issues that may seem overwhelming.

Community Marketing Plan Process

marketing process

Up until now we have been setting the stage for the development of a marketing plan. The next step, shown in the center panel, is actually the nuts and bolts of the market planning process.


  • First, the community needs to do some research to find out who is coming to their community now and what brought them here. In addition, it is also helpful to find out from the business community what types of skill and expertise are needed, both in the short-term and long-term. There are informal and formal techniques for finding answers to these questions. Two common research methods are focus groups and online or mail surveys.

Potential markets

  • Once you have these answers, then the next step is to identify potential markets. That can be done by looking at that research data and asking two questions: what groups seem to match up to our community characteristics and what are our competitive advantages based on your assets? This may sound complicated but the research will give you a lot of clues. Here is one example: Let's say that your community seems to be attracting young families (parents age 30 to 40) who have relatives in the general area. They seem to be drawn to the good school system and appreciate the short commute to a regional trade center. Another group that seems to be moving in are young retirees. They may or may not have had a prior experience with the community or region before. They seem to be drawn to the area because it is relatively close to several significant recreational opportunities. They also seem to appreciate the regional hospital nearby and the new local clinic. These are two very different groups. However, the more you know about both of these groups and what is pulling them to your area, the easier it will be to communicate these features or benefits of community life to them.

Develop the message

  • The third step in this process is to put the pieces of the puzzle together - the community develops the marketing message and identifies ways to reach the intended audiences. Again the community will go back to the research and ask themselves, "What are benefits/perceived value of the community to the targeted groups?" If the community has already gone through a branding process, these aspects should mesh well with the brand. If the community has not developed a brand or identity that can used in logos and slogans, this might be the perfect time to create one. By looking at several target groups at the same time it is possible to find the common element or elements that cut across several groups that really identifies the community.
  • The message often lends itself to a slogan so that it can be used in a variety of ways. Examples of community slogans with a strong marketing message can be easily found on the Internet. "Big City Opportunities with Small Town Values" and "Building the Best Hometown in America" are just two examples. The message is usually broad enough to allow for more details to really highlight unique aspects of the community but at the same time it still has an emotional hook that makes you want to find out more.

Reach the target audience

  • The final step of the plan is to identify how you are going to reach these target audiences. Today one common way people are finding out about communities is through community web sites and other Internet based venues. Past research in Nebraska (Cantrell,, 2008?) tells us that potential new residents, regardless of their age or income, use the web as a tool to search out new residential locations. They often use the community web site as a quick filtering tool - if the website looks good and it has the information they want and need, they will spend more time checking out the site and in reality, the community. The reverse also holds true - if the site looks old and outdated and the information they are wanting is not there or is difficult to find, people are quick to move on to the next site and community.
  • Another advantage to the using the community web site as a major recruitment tool is that it is available 24/7/365 to those casually surfing the web as well as those who need a quick link to encourage a family member or good friend to take a look. That kind of personal referral can be an important factor to people who are relocating. Making it easy for this to happen just makes good sense.
  • Remember web sites are just one e-tool’¦ Facebook, Twitter, the list seems almost endless in how potential new residents can connect with a community.
  • In addition to e-tools, there are a whole host of traditional marketing tactics to reach targeted groups that use print, audio, and/or video resources. Unlike the Internet, that are typically available to everyone, when you use traditional marketing methods, you often need to select a method that truly reaches the audience. For instance, if you want to reach early retirees, pick a magazine that has a high readership for this group if you plan to do paid advertisements. Or better still, perhaps you have a talented volunteer that could write a flattering article about the region or community for that magazine. Radio and television advertisements can also be tailored to programming slots and times of day to reach specific groups.
  • When you start to put together a plan of how to reach the target audiences, it is often about how to put together the right mix of methods, both Internet based as well as traditional, to get the "biggest bang for the marketing buck". This is where marketing creativity can really leverage a modest budget allocation.

Implementation and evaluation


Once the plan is complete the final step is to translate it into action and evaluate the results. Seldom do things go as planned so tracking what actually happened is important.

In the execution of the plan there is usually a listing of what is going to happen, who is going to do it, and by when. Accountability will be needed so one or more people should expect to monitor the actions to make sure all parts of the plan are being implemented and if changes are needed that they do not negatively impact another part of the plan.

Evaluating the effort may seem like a monumental task but it does not have to be. It can be as simple as coming up with a group of things that one would "expect to see, like to see and love to see" from the effort. The list could look at:

  1. Changes in the number of hits on the community web page
  2. Changes in location of those hits (showing who is looking at the web page)
  3. Differences in the ease or difficulty of employee recruitment in general or in specific career paths
  4. Changes in the number of available housing units
  5. Changes in pre-school, elementary or high school enrollment over time.

Some of the measures may take on a short-term perspective and others may be long-term. Each community will develop a unique set of measures to determine their marketing success.

A good plan could be worth very little if it is not implemented successfully. And the prefect execution of a plan could result in nothing if the plan was not designed well. Fortunately, the evaluation of the project will give insights into what worked and what did not so the project can be fine-tuned for use in the future.