In today's increasingly complex and fragmented media universe, customers engage with marketing messages in far more places than ever before. This includes online display ads, search engines, postcards, newspapers, magazines, radio, mobile, social media and dozens more. And because of this complexity, having a plan is more important to avoid an ineffective scattershot approach.

Much like having a detailed business plan is crucial to launching and growing a business, preparing a marketing plan is critical to reaching customers and selling successfully.

But how can you create a marketing plan quickly and simply? First know that marketing is not a single action but a combination of steps your business takes to identify, attract and retain profitable customers.

Marketing is a foundational part of almost any business, so it's important to have a plan of attack. For example, can you clearly identify your mission and what sets you apart from competitors? It's tough to market without knowing this.

Marketing plans are flexible but generally include your goals, product or service descriptions, target markets, competitive analysis, pricing, distribution methods, media mix (print, digital, mobile, etc.) and action plan.

These 8 steps can help you prepare your plan:

1. Vision statement

Write a short paragraph that defines what compelling advantage or value you offer, including how it solves a problem and makes the customer's life easier. Be specific. Pinpoint the customer "pain" that your product or service will relieve. Before you can effectively market yourself you must decide what type of problem your business solves.

2. Market research

This is how you identify customer needs and wants. Build a detailed, trait-by-trait profile of your ideal prospects. Again, be as specific as possible. Later, when you create your actual marketing messages, aim those messages at these prospects. Research needn't be complex or costly. Online research, 1-on-1 interviews with customers, informal focus groups and email or web-based surveys are all inexpensive and relatively easy to do.

3. Define your studio specialty

Carefully identify every service you offer, individually. Some products or services can be broken into separate pieces, and priced separately. List as many benefits as possible that you can offer. You'll want to incorporate these in your marketing message.

4. Check the competition

Identify your key competitors - both direct and indirect - including their strengths and weaknesses, and how your business compares. Write down your analysis and make it part of your plan.

5. Build a budget and promotion mix

Don't think of marketing as a cost, but rather as your ace-in-the-hole. This is what gives you the edge when competitors slip in their own marketing efforts, and it keeps employees motivated when your name is always in the public eye.

6. Marketing metrics

Build testing and metrics into your plan: Marketing should not be risky or single-focus. One advantage of advertising online, for example, is the ability to track results effortlessly.

7. Prepare a marketing message that resonates

Craft a rally cry - a small, repeatable phrase that becomes the slogan for promoting your product, idea or business. Fine tune all messages. Coordinate key phrases with the same language in all your marketing materials. Here is ours "Fostering success in the arts, at school and in life!"

8. Include an action plan

Simplify everything; eliminate potential interruptions in the sales process and make decision-making as painless as possible for your customers. Make sure your own employees grasp your objectives and strategy and plan to market continuously. Your effort must be ongoing or people will quickly forget.