How to create a marketing plan

The success (or failure) of your marketing efforts comes down to having a plan.

How to create a marketing plan

We have all felt overwhelmed at work. Maybe it was when you were starting a new job or getting up to speed on a big project your boss asked you to lead. No matter the circumstance, that overwhelmed feeling can usually be resolved by creating a plan — knowing how and when you will accomplish your tasks.

Plans are especially powerful tools for teams with tight deadlines. And that is why they are essential for marketing teams — because they are always working toward a launch. Marketing programs and campaigns are often timed to coincide with other key company activities and to drive the business. Creating meaningful growth is an enormous responsibility, which is why you need a plan for how you will make it happen.

Yet so many marketing teams are still working without a strategic plan. I know this because I spoke to many marketing managers as our team at Aha! prepared to launch our new marketing planning software. From those conversations, I can tell you that many folks are stuck in react mode — battling requests rather than thinking through why they are doing all that work in the first place. Maybe you can relate.

The answer to that running-without-thinking mentality is to create a strategic marketing plan. It will align your team around actual business goals and keep everyone accountable to a schedule. Working through the plan will also help the team understand how activities are prioritized — clarifying exactly what tasks need to be done next (and which ones can wait for later).

So, how do you build a plan that can have this kind of impact? Here are six steps for creating a strategic marketing plan:

1. Begin with goals.

The first step is understanding high-level marketing and business goals. These should serve as the foundation of your plan. You can then group work based on the goal it supports. This will help the team see the strategy behind every one of your activities — which will prevent teammates’ getting bogged down in tasks that will not make an impact. Goals will also help you understand if the programs and campaigns you launch are on track.

2. Make a timeline.

Marketing plans are useless without dates. So include key dates for major programs and campaigns. You can break out by phases of work or deliverables. Depending on the team structure and the complexity of your work, you may want to break your timeline down by days, weeks, fiscal quarters, or half years.

3. Define activities.

Within each of your programs and campaigns, you need to define the activities — all the work that will go into making those programs and campaigns happen. Activities are highly dependent on what kind of product or service you are marketing and may include things like blog posts, digital advertisements, or email newsletters.

4. Identify your channels.

Where are you engaging with customers and reaching out to prospective ones? You should identify these channels in your marketing plan. Your channels might include a variety of platforms, such as social media, advertising networks, and affiliates. Detailing these will help you see where the team is focusing its attention.

5. Set a budget.

It can be difficult to keep track of the budgets for your programs and campaigns. Rather than paging through dozens of spreadsheets, make budgets part of your marketing plan. As work progresses, you will be able to track actual results against projections. This way, you can measure return on investment and make informed decisions.

6. Identify dependencies.

The best marketing plans are holistic. Yours should include input from marketing teammates as well as cross-functional colleagues from product, sales, and engineering. The ability to visualize how all the activities fit together — and how delays in any of them impact future work — unites everyone under a master timeline.

Of course, every plan should be flexible. Even the best plans will need to be adapted depending on the performance of your programs and campaigns. No matter how you adjust your plan, the important thing is that you have a strong one in place.

What else should be in a marketing plan?

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Dylan Buckley is a freelance writer based in California and the current CCO/CMO of Furzly. He specializes in developing content for the cryptocurrency, mental health and business industries.

A marketing plan helps companies identify their ideal customer base and determine which marketing techniques are most effective in cultivating greater awareness and interest in a product, service or the business itself. Using a number of metrics and existing marketing data, companies define the channels and methods they plan to incorporate in order to appeal to their target audience. Learning how to create a marketing plan is essential to becoming an effective sales or marketing professional. In this article, we discuss how to prepare for and write an effective marketing plan that attracts customers and improves brand loyalty.

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a roadmap that outlines and defines a company’s marketing goals, strategies and implementation process. A successful marketing plan helps companies conceptualize marketing strategies using available data and marketing research beforehand in order to streamline the implementation process and produce the best possible outcome.

In summary, a marketing plan serves to outline a company’s objectives, strategies and results.

Marketing plan preparation

It’s important to take the time you need to dispatch your organization’s marketing campaigns. Companies that experience the most success with their marketing plans put careful thought, research and consideration into the final document. In order to create a strong marketing plan, follow these preparation steps:

1. Know your competition

Competitor research helps companies better understand how their competitors are currently achieving success in the market, where their vulnerabilities lie and how they can successfully compete with existing products and services. Competitor research is also necessary to avoid creating a product or service that’s too similar to an existing one or overpricing products and services.

Conducting competitor research may begin with activities like:

Reading competitor newsletters and promotional emails to learn how they leverage trends or address market demands

Following competitors on social networks to understand how they engage with customers and cultivate brand loyalty

Examining competitor website content to determine what topics they cover and their own SEO strategy

2. Run a SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis helps companies decide how to maximize opportunities and minimize threats by understanding the strengths and weaknesses within the organization. It can also aid in developing goals and objectives that complement the company’s mission. A SWOT analysis evaluates a company’s:

3. Develop buyer personas

A buyer persona details the specific qualities and traits of the customer most interested in buying a company’s product or service. This qualitative data seeks to explain why they would purchase a product or use a service offered by the company by creating a comprehensive bio of said market segmentation. Creating buyer personas allows the company to narrow its focus to target people who buy from the business so they don’t use resources marketing to a broader audience.

Buyer personas seek to answer the following questions:

Who may purchase or currently purchases products or services from the company?

What are the buyer’s needs, and how does the company satisfy them?

Where and how do they shop?

What is their demographic, including factors like age and location?

What social media platforms do they use on a regular basis, and which marketing channels can be leveraged to attract their attention?

4. Set budget parameters

Businesses need to understand how to allocate funds for particular strategies. This allows them to get the best return on investment (ROI). Budgets set the boundaries for how much marketers spend on a plan, which ultimately determines which marketing channels they implement in a strategy.

5. Establish KPIs and goals

Key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals serve to ensure that marketing campaigns are meeting the company’s expectations. KPIs also give organizations the data they need to make necessary changes after a campaign has launched. Establishing both of these early on is crucial to launching successful marketing campaigns that help companies reach their desired goals.

6. Create an outline

Though marketing plans vary from organization to organization, the basic outline offers more insight into how to conceptualize a marketing plan. Some of the elements a marketing plan outline should include are as follows:

Strengths and weaknesses

Buying cycle patterns

Unique selling proposition (USP)

How to write a marketing plan

With a better understanding of the prerequisite research required to draft a marketing plan, it’s time to use this planning and research to draft a comprehensive marketing plan. You can follow these steps to draft an effective marketing plan for your organization:

1. Identify the company’s mission

Before anything else, it’s important to identify your mission statement. The company’s mission is the foundation upon which all branding and marketing take place. This mission statement and the values of the company are what ultimately impact internal processes, consumer perception and the course of the company as it scales and develops.

2. Address the competition

Product development is preceded by an in-depth understanding of what needs a product or service fills within a given market. Beyond this, marketing plans should seek to address the competition and how the company distinguishes itself from existing brands to fill a specific need in the industry. You can generally find two categories of competition:

Direct competition: These are businesses that offer the same products or services as the company in question. For instance, if a small business owner planned to open a yoga studio a few miles away from an existing yoga studio, this would be direct competition.

Indirect competition: These competitors are similar in form and function but are different enough that they are not directly related to the company. For example, a yoga studio that opens near a large gym that offers one or two yoga classes is an example of an indirect competitor.

3. Determine strengths and weaknesses

Using a SWOT analysis can help companies understand where they have an advantage and which areas they need to focus on in order to improve their marketing strategy and their company as a whole. Aim to address these points and more in each section for a more comprehensive SWOT analysis.

Firms that are successful in marketing invariably start with a marketing plan. Large companies have plans with hundreds of pages; small companies can get by with a half-dozen sheets. Put your marketing plan in a three-ring binder. Refer to it at least quarterly, but better yet monthly. Leave a tab for putting in monthly reports on sales/manufacturing; this will allow you to track performance as you follow the plan.

The plan should cover one year. For small companies, this is often the best way to think about marketing. Things change, people leave, markets evolve, customers come and go. Later on we suggest creating a section of your plan that addresses the medium-term future–two to four years down the road. But the bulk of your plan should focus on the coming year.

You should allow yourself a couple of months to write the plan, even if it’s only a few pages long. Developing the plan is the “heavy lifting” of marketing. While executing the plan has its challenges, deciding what to do and how to do it is marketing’s greatest challenge. Most marketing plans kick off with the first of the year or with the opening of your fiscal year if it’s different.

Who should see your plan? All the players in the company. Firms typically keep their marketing plans very, very private for one of two very different reasons: Either they’re too skimpy and management would be embarrassed to have them see the light of day, or they’re solid and packed with information . . . which would make them extremely valuable to the competition.

You can’t do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what your size, get feedback from all parts of your company: finance, manufacturing, personnel, supply and so on–in addition to marketing itself. This is especially important because it will take all aspects of your company to make your marketing plan work. Your key people can provide realistic input on what’s achievable and how your goals can be reached, and they can share any insights they have on any potential, as-yet-unrealized marketing opportunities, adding another dimension to your plan. If you’re essentially a one-person management operation, you’ll have to wear all your hats at one time–but at least the meetings will be short!

What’s the relationship between your marketing plan and your business plan or vision statement? Your business plan spells out what your business is about–what you do and don’t do, and what your ultimate goals are. It encompasses more than marketing; it can include discussions of locations, staffing, financing, strategic alliances and so on. It includes “the vision thing,” the resounding words that spell out the glorious purpose of your company in stirring language. Your business plan is the U.S. Constitution of your business: If you want to do something that’s outside the business plan, you need to either change your mind or change the plan. Your company’s business plan provides the environment in which your marketing plan must flourish. The two documents must be consistent.

The Benefits of a Marketing Plan

A marketing plan, on the other hand, is plump with meaning. It provides you with several major benefits. Let’s review them.

  • Rallying point: Your marketing plan gives your troops something to rally behind. You want them to feel confident that the captain of the vessel has the charts in order, knows how to run the ship, and has a port of destination in mind. Companies often undervalue the impact of a “marketing plan” on their own people, who want to feel part of a team engaged in an exciting and complicated joint endeavor. If you want your employees to feel committed to your company, it’s important to share with them your vision of where the company is headed in the years to come. People don’t always understand financial projections, but they can get excited about a well-written and well-thought-out marketing plan. You should consider releasing your marketing plan–perhaps in an abridged version–companywide. Do it with some fanfare and generate some excitement for the adventures to come. Your workers will appreciate being involved.
  • Chart to success: We all know that plans are imperfect things. How can you possibly know what’s going to happen 12 months or five years from now? Isn’t putting together a marketing plan an exercise in futility . . . a waste of time better spent meeting with customers or fine-tuning production? Yes, possibly but only in the narrowest sense. If you don’t plan, you’re doomed, and an inaccurate plan is far better than no plan at all. To stay with our sea captain analogy, it’s better to be 5 or even 10 degrees off your destination port than to have no destination in mind at all. The point of sailing, after all, is to get somewhere, and without a marketing plan, you’ll wander the seas aimlessly, sometimes finding dry land but more often than not floundering in a vast ocean. Sea captains without a chart are rarely remembered for discovering anything but the ocean floor.
  • Company operational instructions: Your child’s first bike and your new VCR came with a set of instructions, and your company is far more complicated to put together and run than either of them. Your marketing plan is a step-by-step guide for your company’s success. It’s more important than a vision statement. To put together a genuine marketing plan, you have to assess your company from top to bottom and make sure all the pieces are working together in the best way. What do you want to do with this enterprise you call the company in the coming year? Consider it a to-do list on a grand scale. It assigns specific tasks for the year.
  • Captured thinking: You don’t allow your financial people to keep their numbers in their heads. Financial reports are the lifeblood of the numbers side of any business, no matter what size. It should be no different with marketing. Your written document lays out your game plan. If people leave, if new people arrive, if memories falter, if events bring pressure to alter the givens, the information in the written marketing plan stays intact to remind you of what you’d agreed on.
  • Top-level reflection: In the daily hurly-burly of competitive business, it’s hard to turn your attention to the big picture, especially those parts that aren’t directly related to the daily operations. You need to take time periodically to really think about your business–whether it’s providing you and your employees with what you want, whether there aren’t some innovative wrinkles you can add, whether you’re getting all you can out of your products, your sales staff and your markets. Writing your marketing plan is the best time to do this high-level thinking. Some companies send their top marketing people away to a retreat. Others go to the home of a principal. Some do marketing plan development at a local motel, away from phones and fax machines, so they can devote themselves solely to thinking hard and drawing the most accurate sketches they can of the immediate future of the business.

Ideally, after writing marketing plans for a few years, you can sit back and review a series of them, year after year, and check the progress of your company. Of course, sometimes this is hard to make time for (there is that annoying real world to deal with), but it can provide an unparalleled objective view of what you’ve been doing with your business life over a number of years.

Source: The Small Business Encyclopedia and Knock-Out Marketing.

Continue on to the next section of our Marketing Plan Plan How-To >> Researching Your Market

Creating a Marketing Plan is Key to Increasing Sales

How to create a marketing plan

How to create a marketing plan

Creating a marketing plan is all about letting people know about the product or service you offer, and persuading them to buy or use it. And for effective marketing you have to let people know about your product or service repeatedly in a coordinated way.

To do this, you’re going to have to come up with a marketing strategy as well as create a marketing plan.

Marketing Strategy Versus Marketing Plan

The marketing strategy is shaped by your overall business goals. It includes a definition of your business, a description of your products or services, a profile of your target users or clients, and defines your company’s role in relationship to the competition. The marketing strategy is essentially a document that you use to judge the appropriateness and effectiveness of your specific marketing plans.

To put it another way, your marketing strategy is a summary of your company’s products and position in relation to the competition; your sales and marketing plans are the specific actions you’re going to undertake to achieve the goals of your marketing strategy.

The marketing plan, then, can be thought of as the practical application of your marketing strategy. If you look at my article, Writing The Marketing Plan, you’ll see that the marketing plan includes details about your business’ unique selling proposition, pricing strategy, the sales and distribution plan and your plans for advertising and promotions.

So in effect, you can’t have a marketing plan without a marketing strategy. The marketing strategy provides the goals for your marketing plans. It tells you where you want to go from here. The marketing plan is the specific road map that’s going to get you there.

Creating a Marketing Plan

If you were going to drive from Vancouver to Halifax, would you really just glance at a globe and then head out? Expecting to implement a marketing strategy without creating a marketing plan is just like this analogy. The more detailed information that’s been collected beforehand, and the more planning that’s been done ahead of time, the faster and more pleasant the trip – and the more effective your marketing plan will be.

Follow these steps:

1) The first step is to create specific marketing objectives and write them down. What do you want your promotion efforts to do for you?

If you’re selling herbs, for instance, perhaps you want to increase your monthly sales by 25 percent. If you’re a realtor, a good marketing objective might be to get 10 new listings each month. My own marketing objective is to gain a new client each month. Whatever marketing objective you set, be sure it’s realistic; you need to be able to achieve the marketing objective if it’s going to motivate you or serve as a good benchmark to evaluate your success.

2) Now the hard part. Under each marketing objective, write as many specific things as you can that you are going to do to achieve the objective. If I want to increase my monthly sales by 25 percent, one thing I might do is place some ads. But when I’m working on my marketing objective list, I need to take the time to think it through so I’ll be able to follow through effectively.

Just “placing some ads” isn’t specific enough to serve as a marketing objective. I have to consider what type of ads and where I might place them to increase my monthly sales. For instance, I might write, “place an ad describing specials in the local newspaper” as a marketing objective, or “put ad on local TV station”.

Then I have specific actions to follow that will help me achieve my marketing objective rather than just a vague idea. If you’re having trouble with coming up with these specific activities, or seeing how each marketing objective fits in with your marketing plan, reading The Advertising and Promotion Plan will help you fit all the pieces together.

3) Go over the list of specific activities you’ve brainstormed and check them against your marketing plan. Choose the ones that fit best with your marketing objectives and do the best job of targeting your potential clients or customers.

4) Then, using your calendar, decide which promotional activities you’re going to do when. You can break your marketing plan down by month or by quarter, but be sure you include not only a description of the activity or event, but also a reference to which marketing objective the promotion activity or event is related to, and a cost estimate.

Regularly Update Your Plan

Once you create a marketing plan, remember that it needs to be an organic, living document, not something you put into a nice folder and file somewhere and never look at again. Take fifteen minutes every day to review your goals and specific activities; what did you do that particular day to help you achieve the marketing objectives you’ve set?

What do you need to do tomorrow? Too often we make plans or list objectives and then get so enmeshed in all the things we have to do to run our businesses that we shunt them aside. Taking fifteen minutes a day to review your marketing objectives, marketing plan, and marketing activities goes a long way towards helping you stay focused and on track and market your products or services effectively.

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Marketing is an essential part of a successful business, and it requires careful planning and strategy creation. A marketing action plan is one you can create to help your business execute marketing strategies. If you work in marketing, creating a marketing action plan can help you keep campaigns on track and monitor your progress. In this article, we explain what one is, its elements, how to create a marketing action plan and tips for making an effective one.

What is an action plan in marketing?

A marketing action plan is what businesses use to develop and execute marketing strategies. The purpose of creating a marketing action plan is to put your goals, strategies and other plans in writing and can help your business stay on track and measure progress as it executes marketing campaigns.

What are the elements of a marketing action plan?

Every marketing action plan is different, but there are a few standard elements worth including, such as:

Key performance indicators: One essential component of a marketing action plan is key performance indicators (KPIs), which are metrics that you can use to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing campaign and action plan.

Campaign timeframe: A campaign timeframe includes a major deadline as well as deadlines for key tasks throughout the duration of the project.

Product: You may be creating a marketing plan with the goal of increasing brand awareness, but if you’re marketing a specific product, it’s important to write the product down in your marketing action plan.

Company mission statement: You can also consider including your company’s mission statement to help keep your marketing action plan in alignment with your mission.

Marketing budget: Your marketing budget can be a huge factor in what types of marketing campaigns you can execute, so it’s crucial to include this information in your marketing action plan.

How to write a marketing action plan

Here are steps to write a marketing action plan for your company:

1. Write your goals

The first step to creating a marketing action plan is to define your goals. Think about the key goal that you want to accomplish through your marketing action plan. You can use the SMART method to write goals that are:

Writing your marketing goals in the SMART format can make it easier for your team members to understand them and stay on track toward accomplishing them. Be sure to write marketing goals that align with your business’s overall goals.

2. Determine your key performance indicators

Another important step is to determine your key performance indicators. You can choose the specific marketing outcomes you want to measure to help you gauge how well your marketing action plan is working.

3. Identify your target market

It’s also important to identify your target market. Your target market can inform your marketing strategy. Once you identify your target market, you can create a persona to represent your target customer. Be sure to identify key information like demographics, needs and goals.

4. Develop your strategy

Once you know your goals, KPIs and target market, you can start developing your marketing strategy. You can write a comprehensive marketing strategy by including each element of the marketing mix:

Product: Describe your product, including how it’s different from your competitors and what problem it solves for your customers.

Place: Note where buyers can find and access your product and information related to it.

Price: List the price of your product and how it compares to competitors. You can also note any discounts you could offer to your target customers.

Promotion: Describe your marketing message and how you plan to convey it to your audience.

5. Pinpoint your competitors

Identify your competitors and list them in your marketing action plan. In your competitor analysis, be sure to include the strengths, weaknesses and other important features of your competitors. It’s important to include competitor information in your marketing action plan to help you compare your business to your competitors and determine how you can persuade customers to choose you over your competitors.

6. Assign roles and responsibilities

Once you have an idea of your marketing strategy, you can break it down into tasks and assign them to specific people. You can also include who to contact for key components of the strategy and the people filling key roles. Assigning roles and responsibilities is important so that everyone on the marketing team knows what they should be working on and who to contact.

Tips for an effective marketing action plan

Here are some tips you can use to help you develop an effective marketing action plan:

Monitor progress

One important tip for making your marketing action plan effective is to monitor your progress. Using your KPIs to measure progress can help you determine how to improve your marketing action plan to ensure that it’s effective.

Pay attention to multiple channels

Another tip for an effective marketing action plan is to pay attention to multiple channels as you develop your strategy. Creating a multi-channel marketing strategy can allow you to reach customers across many channels. Be sure to cater your multi-channel strategy to your target market.

Test your marketing components

You can also test the different components of your marketing action plan to determine which ones are the most effective for your campaign. Test the elements of your strategy one at a time to see how they influence the effectiveness of your campaign. This can help you fine-tune your strategy to increase your campaign’s success.