Renowned management consultant and educator Peter Drucker once said that businesses exist to create customers, which means a business enterprise has two, and only two, core functions: innovation and marketing.
Drucker also adds: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
These quotes make for great soundbites, but the data also confirms just how important marketing is to the success of a business.
The Wall Street Journal, citing research from Deloitte’s CMO Survey, notes that marketing is responsible for driving revenue growth among 38.4 percent of companies. These companies also spend more money on marketing (roughly 14.5 percent of their overall budgets) than businesses that don’t see marketing as a primary driver of revenue.
At its most basic, marketing is how you get people to learn about your business so they can pay for your products and services. Without marketing, your customers wouldn’t know your business exists. Without customers, your business has no purpose. So clearly, marketing is good, right?
Yes, but there’s a catch: marketing can create business, but only if it’s done right.
What often happens is that your average small business will try a few marketing tactics and ‘wing it,’ only to see minor to moderate success. Others might be lucky enough to score big, but eventually, find themselves unable to scale their marketing strategies as the enterprise grows and product demand increases.
To prevent this from happening, businesses need a roadmap—a blueprint that guides their marketing efforts so they are focused on clear goals, objectives, and tactics.
That’s where a marketing plan comes in. But first, let’s define what a marketing plan is.
What is a marketing plan?
According to marketing professors and authors Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller, a marketing plan documents how a business’s strategic objectives can be achieved through specific marketing activities, with the customer being the focal point.
It’s essentially a document that outlines your organization’s marketing strategy and tactics, ideally throughout a specific time frame—usually by month, quarter, or year.
Creating a marketing plan seems intimidating, but it’s usually nothing more than a straightforward Word document that the business owner can use as a marketing playbook.
For example, let’s say you’re considering investing in radio advertising. Does a sizable portion of your target audience even listen to the radio? If yes, is the cost of radio advertising worth the increase in revenue—in other words, is it cost-effective?
Your marketing plan, and the research that goes into creating it, will help you answer these questions.
Every marketer knows that there’s no shortage of fantastic ideas and things to try out when it comes to marketing. A marketing plan helps you to prioritize ideas and activities that are relevant to your goals, allowing you to be effective and efficient with your work.
Marketing plan vs. marketing strategy
You’ll often hear the terms ‘marketing plan’ and ‘marketing strategy’ used interchangeably, but they mean two different things.
- Marketing strategy: A marketing strategy explains the goals and objectives behind your marketing efforts, Your strategy and business goals go hand-in-hand, a relationship that explains the “What” and “Why” of your marketing activities.
- Marketing plan: A marketing plan explains how your marketing activities will be used to achieve your business goals. It documents the application of your strategy and how certain marketing tactics can bring you from Point A to Point B.
Here’s a practical example of a marketing plan and marketing strategy:
- Business goal: To grow sales by 20 percent year-over-year
- Marketing strategy: Break into the previously untapped 18 to 25 market segment.
- Marketing plan: Create a marketing campaign that focuses on reaching out to young customers on their preferred social media platforms.
While the difference between a marketing plan and marketing strategy can seem arbitrary, failing to understand the two concepts is where many business owners and marketers make mistakes.
The issue is that people proceed to the “how” of marketing without first understanding the “what” and “why,” which often leads to a disjointed marketing effort that wastes both time and money.
Components of a Marketing Plan
While different marketers will have their own take on how to write a marketing plan, most of them will agree that a basic marketing plan checklist should include the following elements:
- An overview of your company’s business goals and marketing goals
- An overview of your marketing position in your niche/industry
- A timeline for executing your marketing activities
- Key performance indicators to measure your marketing efforts’ success
- An overview of your business’s target audience
- A description of your current marketing capabilities and infrastructure
Your marketing plan’s scope will ultimately depend on your specific business and marketing goals, as well as the nature of your organization.
How to Create a Crystal Clear Marketing Plan
Finally, it’s time to dive into creating a plan.
Whether you’re doing it for your business, for a client, or for an academic paper, learning how to create a marketing plan forces you to slow down and think strategically.
It helps you see great marketing as the product of a fine-tuned machine, one with specific parts working in conjunction with one another, which we’ll cover below.
You can jump straight to each section by clicking on the links.
1. Define your goals
The process of marketing an enterprise and its offerings begins by identifying why there’s a need to market them in the first place.
As mentioned earlier, any marketing goal you wish to achieve must be aligned with your overall business goals.
Perhaps the simplest way to go about setting marketing goals is to ask yourself questions such as:
- “How do we want our customers to feel about our brand?”
- “What do our buyers really want to know our product?”
- “How can marketing activities integrate with our business initiatives?”
- “Do we really understand what motivates our customers?”
- “Where does the business currently stand in the industry?”
Remember, any goal you choose for your marketing efforts must be realistic. You can use a framework like the SMART system to plan and achieve practical marketing goals.
Consider this example of a non-SMART goal:
- “I want to increase my company’s social media following.”
Sure, it’s a good goal, but it leaves many questions unanswered.
What kind of increase are we talking about? Which social media platforms will be involved? How long do we expect this effort to take place?
In contrast, the SMART version of this goal could look like this:
- I want to increase my Facebook followers by at least 1,000 users over the next three months. To do this, I am going to run a promotion on my Facebook page that incentivizes Likes
To break this goal down:
- It identifies a Specific end-result of increasing the number of Facebook followers
- The goal of 1,000 users means we can Measure this goal
- It identifies an Actionable tactic of running a promotion that incentivizes Likes
- We can assume it’s a Relevant goal if Facebook is an important marketing platform for the business (this depends on your situation)
- Its specific time frame of three months makes it Time-bound
Bottom line? Well-defined goals are crucial to guiding your marketing activities. If you are clear about the results you want to achieve, it will be easier to create a marketing plan that gets you there.
2. Choose your KPIs
Now that you have a good idea of what your marketing goals are, it’s time to define what key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll be using to measure the success of your marketing efforts.
Your core KPIs will help you understand the performance of your marketing activities, telling you whether things are going according to your marketing plan or going awry.
Another reason to set SMART goals is the ease of connecting measurable goals with relevant KPIs.
Going back to the goal of increasing your Facebook Likes, we can easily tack on Facebook Likes, Audience Growth, and Visits as relevant KPIs. Your SMART goal also sets an appropriate timeline for reaching your target KPI growth—in the earlier example, we want to generate 1,000 Likes in three months.
Just remember than when choosing KPIs for your marketing plan, focus on the metrics within your control.
KPIs like bounce rate, which Google refers to as the “percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server,” seem bad but aren’t necessarily so, if you think about it.
For example, a user can visit your site, find the information they’re looking for, and leave right after. There’s nothing wrong with that, which is why tracking your bounce rate can sometimes be an exercise in futility.
3. Create Buyer Personas
As Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller explained, any marketing plan must begin with the customer.
They receive your marketing messages, so it’s important that whatever information you communicate is actually relevant to them.
The issue here is that many business owners rely on guesswork when identifying their audience. Some marketers will make an educated guess based on interactions with existing customers, while others simply go by who they think their customers are.
Either way, no marketing plan outline should be based on conjecture, not when you can use research to create buyer personas.
According to Hubspot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
A persona provides marketers with a reference for who they are marketing to, ensuring that any message and activity is targeted towards a group of people who match your ideal customer profile. A buyer persona will provide information such as:
- Who your ideal customers are (demographics and location)
- What kind of challenges they face (work, education, industry)
- Where they like to hang out online (social media, websites perused)
- What their media consumption habits are (TV, radio, print, Internet browsing habits)
- What their unmet needs are
- How your business can solve their problems
The simplest way to get this information is to just talk to your customers, either in person, chat, or on the phone.
You can take things a notch higher by hosting focus group discussions or running audience surveys. You can also research other businesses in your industry to understand who their audience is.
Note that your target audience is not a monolith. If you have multiple product lines, for example, you may be looking at a particular market segment for each category. This means that you can and should create personas for different customers.
When complete, a buyer persona should look like this.
Read more about creating personas in our user persona research guide.
4. Research Your Competition
Too often marketers get caught up in their organization and see it as the center of the world. It’s important to detach yourself from the company every once in a while and visit your competitors to conduct competitive analysis.
According to Entrepreneur, competitor analysis helps you establish what makes your product and service unique, which, in turn, shows you which attributes you can market to attract your audience.
The idea isn’t to mimic what your competitors are doing, but rather to understand how rival businesses are marketing themselves. This will help you identify opportunities to market your own brand in new ways.
There are different ways to do this. McKinsey, for example, recommends using a competitor-insight loop to get into your competitors’ mindset.
Of course, any competitive analysis must begin with data gathering. While tools and platforms like SimilarWeb, BuzzSumo and Alexa can provide all kinds of information on your competitors for a relatively small fee, you can always take the hands-on (and free) approach to researching your competition.
Simply assume the role of a customer and check out what marketing activities businesses in the same niche are doing. You can do this by:
- Reading their latest blog entries
- Keeping tabs on them on social media
- Subscribe to their newsletter
- Adding a product to the cart on their site and monitor the follow-up emails you get
- You can even purchase a product to evaluate your customer experience
Whatever the case, be sure to document your findings, taking detailed notes on the tactics you see. What kind of engagement do they get on social media? What kind of content are they producing and which ones receive the highest engagement? What kind of promotions do they push through email? How do they respond to shopping cart abandonment?
Using these insights, you can then include a detailed overview of your competition in your marketing plan.
5. Nail Your Positioning
Product positioning is the process of determining how to communicate your products to your target audience based on customer needs, your market position, relevant communication channels, and targeted messages.
Strategic product positioning is crucial to any marketing plan because it can be the foundation of your overarching marketing strategy. By understanding who your audience is and what their needs are, you can align your product with these factors in new and creative ways.
In fact, the research you perform on your audience, combined with an understanding of your product’s benefits, can reveal new market segments that you may not have even considered relevant before.
This is a strategy that Old Spice used in their advertising campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” whose inaugural TV spot, starring Isaiah Mustafa, has now racked up over 56 million views on YouTube.
The campaign was the product of new product positioning, one that focused on women instead of men.
In an interview with the LA Times, James Moorhead, Old Spice’s former brand manager, said, “In recent memory, we haven’t targeted women directly. So our goal was to find a way to reach out to them. We wanted an ad that men and women would enjoy together.”
Old Spice’s targeting of women was in direct contrast with Unilever’s Axe brand, whose risqué ads told men that women would literally come running after them if they used their body spray.
Again, the key takeaway here is to understand your product, your current market position, and your customers’ needs. While larger companies have the budgets for extensive market research, small businesses can do their own research simply by talking to their customers and asking questions such as:
- What do you like about our product?
- Would you recommend our product to your family and friends? Which features would you highlight?
- What would you like to see in our product/product line in the near future?
This research can uncover a goldmine of insights to guide your future product positioning strategies. You may even discover new markets you can pivot to.
6. Key Baseline and Metrics
Maya Angelou once said that “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
It seems ridiculous to use a revered poet’s words for marketing, but it’s actually more relevant than you think. For starters, you can’t create a marketing plan that steers you towards specific results without first knowing where your brand currently stands.
It’s for this reason that every marketing plan must be based on a clearly defined baseline for you to measure the incremental value of your marketing activities against.
A baseline is simply the starting point of the value your current marketing activities are generating. When expressed in numerical form, this value is presented as a metric.
An example of an important marketing metric is customer engagement, which describes how your customers interact with your marketing messages. Customer engagement is a top metric because engaged people are more likely to pay for your offering.
By knowing your current engagement levels (perhaps on social media, for example), you can identify a baseline to accurately measure your progress and see what’s working (or what’s not).
For example, instead of just saying, “Our engagement rate on Facebook increased by 25 percent last quarter,” you can say, “Our Facebook engagement rate increased by 25 percent last quarter and 18 percent is attributable to our infographics posted during that period.”
7. Identify Clear Processes and Tactics
Now it’s time to get specific. It’s at this stage where many marketing teams have been known to drop the ball, creating well-thought-out strategies that never come to fruition because they don’t come with clear steps and processes to get the wheels turning.
One way to ensure your marketing plan includes a series of actionable steps and tactics is to use a framework that demands them. One such framework is the SOSTAC® Planning System, developed by PR Smith.
The SOSTAC system is especially effective because it not only details your marketing tactics, but also the actions behind these tactics, including:
- Responsibilities and structures
- Marketing processes and systems
- Internal resources
- Required skills
- External agencies/talent, if necessary
- Resource allocation
Paired with your SMART goals, the SOSTAC system should give you a clear roadmap of marketing activities driven by clear timelines and specific objectives.
8. Track Your Results
Finally, your marketing plan should also include a system for measuring your marketing plan’s success. This will help you understand your marketing activities’ effectiveness (or lack thereof) and determine the ROI of your marketing campaigns.
How you measure your marketing plan depends on your chosen KPIs and baseline metrics. At the very least, they should help you answer questions such as:
- What KPIs and metrics should I be tracking?
- What tools and platforms will I use to track results?
- How often will I measure my marketing activities?
Your answers to these questions can help you detect trends that may yield more value. For example, if you discover that video posts on Facebook generate more engagement, you’ll want to focus on creating more videos in your next marketing plan.
Marketing Plan Examples
1. FedEx marketing plan
This presentation offers a marketing plan as a response to threats determined during the researchers’ SWOT analysis of FedEx.
Visually, one of the strengths of this plan is its use of the FedEx logo as a backdrop for the presentation. The visual repetition enhances brand awareness.
2. Lush marketing plan
This one’s presented like a magazine, and analyzes cosmetics retailer Lush’s market. Apart from market segmentation and marketing mix, it discusses the packaging and the retail experience – two important drivers of Lush’s brand image.
It also offers a value matrix that maps out the brand’s mission, vision, and values against their appeal to a consumer’s mind, heart, and spirit.
3. Coca-Cola marketing plan
This marketing plan is a stellar example by one of the world’s most recognizable brands.
Released in 2011, the Coca-Cola Content 2020 Initiative video presented the company’s emerging content marketing strategy, along with how they planned to achieve their goals and evaluate their actions. The gist is to focus on storytelling and creating conversations about the brand.
Do watch the entire video – it’s worth your 18 minutes. Apart from learning about a major brand’s content marketing strategy, you’ll get a visual surprise at the end.
4. Uber marketing plan
This presentation dives into the 4 Ps of marketing – product, price, place (here called distribution), and promotion (specifically, marketing communications) – as they relate to Uber.
It also presents a monthly action plan, a budget, and controls. One example for controls is how to quickly respond to the failure of Uber kiosks, which the researchers propose to set up in high-traffic urban areas so that people without smartphones can still book a ride.
Notice how the presentation mimics the minimalist Uber branding aesthetics.
5. Naperville Park District strategic marketing plan
This is the most comprehensive marketing plan on the list, and spans four years. But as the organization notes in its conclusion, this plan is “a living document that will be updated as the District moves forward on implementing the goals as defined in the 5-year Strategic Plan.”
Their statement gives two important points about a marketing plan. One is that it can be adjusted as you implement and evaluate it. The other is that it should be based on a strategy that points towards a longer-term vision.
You can read the entire 79-page plan here.
6. Heavenly Pies marketing plan
In this hypothetical marketing plan for a pie business, the University of Tennessee cautions business owners against getting “so involved in details that they lose sight of their goals” when writing a marketing plan.
Their antidote? Keep paragraphs simple.
One way they achieve simplicity is by using bullet points and lists. You can see these in their introduction, analyses, and advertising plan.
They also present an easy-to-read budget on page six and a marketing plan checklist at the end.
7. Stericycle marketing plan
This plan comes from the Marketing-Based Management book by Roger Best. It’s split into three sections: the situation analysis, marketing strategy, and performance plan.
One of the strengths of this marketing plan is its extensive use of data as a foundation for its analyses and strategies. Data and processes are presented in diagrams so readers can digest them more easily.
Templates to Help you Along the Way
Marketing Strategy Template
This template presents your overarching strategy for driving customers down the acquisition funnel.
When you use this marketing strategy template, you begin with an overview of the funnel stages:
You then explain your strategy for acquiring customers in each step, from awareness all the way down to referral.
Customer acquisition funnel
This template is similar to the marketing strategy presentation above, except that it focuses on the channels you’ll use throughout the customer acquisition funnel.
It’s ideal to use this funnel template when explaining a digital marketing strategy and plan, as it emphasizes online channels and user experience.
Now you have the tools to make beautiful and effective marketing plan presentations. Try them out to create your own visually attractive marketing plans.
Bringing it all together
So, there you have it: eight basic components you will find in most marketing plans today. While it may seem that creating a marketing plan is the end-goal, it’s important to see it as a living document—one that should be revisited from time to time to assess its effectiveness and relevance to your current circumstances.
Like a business plan, marketing plans must evolve and scale alongside your organization, especially as you serve more customers, release more products, and change with the times. A plan that worked last year, or even last quarter, may no longer work today.