Failing to plan is planning to fail. Well, at least that’s what Benjamin Franklin thought. But frankly (appreciate the pun here), I don’t disagree with him.
I’m sure you’ve learned this the hard way at some point in your life. You’ve failed miserably at something due to your lack of planning. The upside? We usually take away a valuable lesson from failure.
But let’s face it, no one likes to fail. So, when we can avoid it, we do at all costs.
Take, for example, marketing. Sometimes you only get one chance to get it right. This isn’t always the case, but for good measure, detailed planning becomes very important. And that’s where your marketing plan comes in.
If you’re here, I’m sure you know what marketing is. To most, it seems simple, but marketing isn’t all promoting and selling. It’s strategic; you need a plan. And in order to make that plan, you’ll not only need to understand your business, but also the customers you serve.
Marketing plan definition
A marketing plan is a document that gives guidelines for an organization’s marketing programs and allocations. In this plan the organization lays out its marketing strategy giving a detailed description of what their marketing efforts are and how they’ll carry them out.
In this article, I’ll cover the details behind an effective marketing plan and share tips for how to start building yours.
How to write a marketing plan
Marketing plans are always prepared for a specific time frame; this is typically for a year’s length. But understand that these documents can change along the course of the year. Marketing plans are living guides that should both develop and shift as the business grows and changes.
Considering the bulk of your marketing plan is your marketing strategy, let’s cover why you need a strategy behind your marketing plan in the first place.
And, be sure to download your free marketing plan template at the end of this article.
In my mind, marketing plans are essential. Why? Because without them, you’re basically winging it. And if you think about it, not many lucrative, notable businesses are just “winging” their marketing efforts to get where they are. They have a strategy behind their success, and that strategy is reflected in their marketing plan.
While there are countless benefits to building out a marketing plan, I want to touch on some of the most important reasons your organization should add this to your marketing program and the benefits you will reap if it is done correctly.
Find weak points in your sales funnel
A major part of your marketing plan is the ability to better understand your customer’s journey through your sales funnel. Breaking down your customer’s journey allows you can find the weak points in each stage of your sales funnel. Identify spots where a customer may fall off. Consider sending an email or set up an SMS marketing campaign around this spot.
Once you’ve identified the areas that need improvement, you’ll have a better understanding of where you should focus your marketing efforts, where to implement changes, and what tactics to use.
Identify past failures and new opportunities
Unlike some business documents, marketing plans are useful from year to year. Instead of shoving the document in a folder never to be seen again, save marketing plans to see what worked in the past and what didn’t. If you can tweak past failures and identify new opportunities, you’ll be able to more aptly avoid mistakes you’ve made in the past.
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Better end results
Marketing plans ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page when it comes to acknowledging goals, milestones and benchmarks. When you plan out the year and put that plan on paper, both old and new employees will be able to see the overall picture. This yields simpler, more cohesive processes and better results in the long run.
Marketing plans also help the organization to understand the budget and resources they need to achieve the goals that are in the plan, which is an important piece of executing the plan and achieving the desired end results.
Finally, marketing plans can help bridge the gap between marketers in an organization and other vendors they may be managing who need to be brought into the process as well, such as designers, public relations teams and freelancers. A solid marketing plan can improve communication across the board.
Creating a marketing plan
It’s time to get your plan on paper. When it comes to developing a marketing plan for your business, you’ll need to first, conduct market research (either formal or informal) and second, build your marketing strategy. In order to do that, there are some essential steps you need to take to start putting your plan together.
Your marketing plan will be broken into two major sections: your current business situation and your marketing strategy moving forward. Below you’ll find an outline to help you start writing your marketing plan. Although marketing plans will vary depending on your organization and its goals, your marketing plan should hit these main points.
Marketing plan outline
II. Company overview
A. Company description and mission
III. Situation analysis
A. Industry analysis
B. Competitive analysis
C. Customer pains and opportunities
D. SWOT analysis
IV. Marketing strategy
A. Segmentation and target market
B. Objectives and goals
C. Brand positioning
D. Marketing mix (4Ps)
E. Budget and financial projections
F. Implementation and evaluation
Let’s elaborate on some of the more complex components of your marketing plan. Below are the key steps you’ll need to take to start writing your marketing plan.
Understand your business and industry
The first step in your marketing research: being an expert on your business and your industry. You’re writing a marketing plan for your business, so it’s no surprise that you have to know your business and how it fits into the market. But this part shouldn’t be too hard, because let’s be honest, no one knows your business like you do.
I like to call this part a situation analysis; a deep look at your current situation both as a business, but also the current state of the industry you’re in.
Here are a few things you should take look at:
In your business analysis
- Mission statement – What is your business about? What drives your top performers? What are your core values?
- A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis – Take a look at your company’s strengths and weaknesses as an organization, as well as opportunities for growth and any threats your company could potentially experience
In your industry analysis
- Industry growth – What does the annual growth of the industry look like? Is it expected to continue to grow? If so, at what rate?
- External drivers – Have factors are contributing to the state of the industry now? What factors could contribute in the future?
- Barriers to entry – What are the barriers to entry like? Are they high? Low? What is the market concentration like?
During this step, you’ll be gathering and classifying data about the market. You want to examine the market dynamics, patterns, and sales volume for the industry as a whole so you have a clear understanding of where you’re positioned within the industry.
Identify and analyze market competitors
Chances are you’re not the only company offering a service or product similar to yours. With that being said, it’s important to establish an edge over your competitors in order to be continue to sell and grow.
How do you do this? By knowing who your customers are and what they’re doing, so you can do it better. Understanding this starts with an analysis of your competition. Researching your competitors is an essential step in understanding what you’re up against.Here’s how to start your competitive analysis:
Identify top competitors
In order to analyze your competitors, you’ll have to know who they are. Whether you’re in a niche market or competing against hundreds of other companies, it’s important to identify who you’re up against. If you don’t know who your top competitors are, start by researching the type of service or product you are offering as if you’re the consumer, and you’ll find most of your top competitors right there.
Compare competitor content
Once you’ve identified your competitors, check out their content. You’ll not only want to analyze their content strategy, but also the quality of their content and how frequently they’re distributing it. But don’t only analyze it; recognize how it compares to yours.
Start by looking at different types of content that your competitors are distributing, see what they’re doing that works, and identify opportunities where you can outperform them.
Some types of content to analyze include:
- Newsletter examples
- Press release
- Case study examples
- Buyer guides
- Website content
If you can analyze this content and understand what your competitors are doing better than you, you can pinpoint the areas that your team should focus on to ensure you’re keeping up with, or better yet, outperforming, your competitors.
Look at competitors' SEO structure
So you’ve taken a look at their content strategy, quality, and frequency, but frankly, it doesn’t appear to be much different than yours. But there might still something they could be mastering that you’re not: search engine optimization (SEO) structure.
If you have any sort of website or blog, you know how important your SEO structure is to your website business success. So be sure to look at how your competitors are using keywords in:
- Page titles
- Header 1 (H1) tags
- Internal links
- Image alt text
- meta descriptions
Many companies will attempt to outrank their competitors in keywords with high search volumes. While this might be an achievable goal, you should also focus on targeting additional keywords that you can try to rank for that your competitors might not be.
Analyze the competition's social media marketing strategy
Social media marketing is becoming increasingly important in maintaining a competitive edge. Companies are using social media to both share their content and interact with users. An essential step of your competitive analysis is to determine how your competitors are using social media to market themselves.
What type of information are they posting? How are they engaging with their users? What do their social media profiles look like? These are all questions to consider when looking at competitors’ social media. If you can identify what’s working and not working for them, you can adjust your own social media strategy to fit the needs of your consumers.
Rare is the case where companies don’t have a social media profile these days. But just because they have a profile, doesn’t mean they’re using it right. So, make sure you’re taking full advantage of social media, its marketing benefits, and its reach of a wider audience.
Define your target market
Next, you’ll want to take a look at your ideal customers - your target market. Because let’s face it, you can’t build a marketing strategy if you don’t know who you’re marketing to.
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To define your target market, you’ll want to not only look at demographic information such as age, gender, etc., but you’ll want to take a deeper look at how your ideal customers behave and make decisions.
A great way to do this? Market segmentation. Market segmentation is the first step in determining who your marketing efforts should target because it creates subsets of a market based on characteristics like:
Once you’ve segmented these groups, you can determine who you want to target and how you can reach them best.
After you’ve defined your target group, you should create a customer profile. By creating these buyer personas, you’re creating a representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data of your current customers. The more you can learn about your target market, the easier it’ll be to reach them. Consider these elements when creating your customer profiles:
- Location – Where do they live? Where do they not live?
- Age – What is the age range?
- Gender – What is their gender?
- Interests – What are their interests?
- Education Level – What is their education level?
- Job Title – What field of work do your customers work in? What types of job titles do they have?
- Income Level – What is their income range?
- Relationship Status – What is their relationship status?
- Language – What languages do people in this persona speak?
- Favorite Websites – Why type of websites do they visit frequently?
- Buying Motivation – What are their reasons for buying your product?
- Buying Concerns – What are their concerns when buying your product?
Below is an example of a buyer persona profile, answering many of the questions above, to create a representation of a target customer.
Don’t skimp on mastering your buyer personas. If you don’t take the time to clearly define who you’re looking to target, you could miss getting your message across to those who you need to hear it most.
Set SMART goals
When you’re setting goals for your business, you need to be smart about them. No, really, they need to be SMART. As in, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. But let’s talk a little bit about what they are and how you can write your own.
You want your goals to be clear and specific. Begin with answering the what, why, who, where, and which:
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Why is this goal important?
- Who needs to be involved?
- Where is it located?
- Which resources or limits are involved?
The only way to know if you have met, and are meeting, your goals is to make them measurable. What metrics are you going to use to determine if you meet the goal? Defining these makes the goal tangible by giving you a way to measure your progress along the way. These should also align with the implementation and evaluation plans in the end.
Your goals also need to be realistic and achievable. To make sure that they are, consider what makes these goals attainable. Understand what skills and resources you’ll need to accomplish the goal. If you don’t have the skills and resources you need, is it realistic that you can attain them? Your goals should challenge you, but they need to remain possible.
The goals you’re setting should relate to your broader business goals. So, this is to ensure your goal not only matters to you, but also aligns with other relevant goals.
Every goal needs a time frame. This is where you’re answering the “when” of the goal. This gives you a deadline and helps you remain focused on the long-term goal. Set yourself a realistic target date, and understand what you need to accomplish before this date.
Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers. It’s not a promotional tactic, but rather the core of your brand’s competitive strategy. Brand marketing is an important element of your marketing plan because you have to determine how to differentiate your brand in the eyes of your target customers.
Why are you unique? What makes you better than your competitors? What do you offer that your competitors do not?
When positioning your brand, be sure you have both a positioning statement and a value proposition.
Although commonly used interchangeably, they are different.
Your value proposition should represent the “big picture.” It reflects what your brand is promising to deliver, as well as reflects the range of benefits your company has to offer. It’s arguably the most important element of your marketing messaging.
Your positioning statement, on the other hand, is a subset of your value proposition. Unlike your value proposition, it focuses more on the specifics of your competitive differentiation.
By having both, you are you positioning yourself for long-term success.
Develop your marketing strategy
Now that you’ve defined your target customers, analyzed your competitors, and started to set goals, it’s time to create a marketing strategy that sets you up to reach those customers and those goals. This is your marketing mix.
What’s a marketing mix, you ask? It’s the foundation model of marketing. Often called the 4P’s of marketing, your marketing mix is the right combination of product (or service), price, place, and promotion.
Let’s take a quick look at these four elements:
Product (or service)
You need to make sure that you have the right product for your target market. If the product isn’t in demand, marketing it will be nearly impossible. As a marketer, your job is to figure out how you can offer a better product than your competitors.
Price is not only what your customers are seeing, and paying, for your product, but it’s directly related to your organization’s profits. There’s a fine line between a price that’s “just right” and “too much,” and it’s up to you to find that sweet spot.
Remember, pricing can play a part in shaping the perception of your product in consumers’ eyes. Pricing too low might make your product look inferior to competitors, but pricing too high might mean the cost outweighs the benefits for some consumers.
You’ll need to position and distribute your product in a place that’s convenient and accessible to your target market. This means you’ll need to understand your target market inside and out to determine the best placement and distribution strategy to reach them.
Your promotion strategy will vary depending on your product and budget. But realistically, this “P” gives you the most leeway. It all comes down to where and when you can get your marketing message to reach your target market. For example, you may consider various tactics such as:
- Public relations
- Direct mail promotions
- Social media
Marketing plan budget
Budgeting can be difficult, but it’s not something you want to overlook. Some companies are given an annual marketing budget, but if you’re not, plan to at least give an estimate based on previous years’ spend.
While an estimate is better than nothing, the more details you have when creating your marketing plan budget, the better. Once you’ve planned your marketing strategy and have an idea of the campaigns and tactics you’ll be executing throughout the year, you can develop a more specific budget.
A great way to set your marketing budget is to consider your return on investment (ROI) goal. If you have an ROI goal, you can use an ROI formula to calculate the amount of money you should be spending on your marketing efforts.
Marketing plan implementation and evaluation
The fun part: actually putting your plan into action. When it comes to implementing your marketing plan, you’ll want to recall your SMART goals. Each part of the marketing mix will most likely have separate implementation dates (depending on your timeline) and might require different amounts of attention and/or efforts.
You should have clearly planned who is in charge of what and when they are responsible for that portion of the plan. So, when actually implementing the plan, stick to this, and adjust accordingly if need be.
Post-implementation, you’ll need to measure the success of your marketing plan. Here you should be looking at the “measurable” details of your SMART goals. Recall the metrics you’re using to measure your efforts and use them to determine if your plan is actually succeeding or not.
You should also plan to measure progress along the way, not just at the end of the year. Depending on the specifics of your marketing plan, assess your progress quarterly, or even monthly.
Free marketing plan template
So, I’ve walked you through the steps of creating a marketing plan, now it's time to create your own! Download the free marketing plan template and get started on your strategy. (Or revamp what you already have in place!)
Your free template includes a marketing plan in PDF format for printing, or a Google doc you can edit and customize for your business.