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A marketing plan is a blueprint for launching new products, understanding the intricacies of your market, growing your audience, and promoting your company to customers who want what you’re selling.
With a well-designed marketing plan, you can design more effective promotions and impactful campaigns, reach your customers with targeted advertising, and track your business success with analytics. Without one, you might as well throw your marketing budget down a well and hope for the best.
If you’ve been tasked with creating a marketing plan for your company, there are some basic elements to keep in mind. Though every marketing plan will reflect the specific business and industry it’s been created for, most share a few common features and can be boiled down to just one or two simple objectives. In this article, we’ll outline some of the basic elements of a marketing plan and how to write one.
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What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a document outlining a company’s future marketing efforts and goals. It can be as short as a single page or made up of many smaller campaign plans from different marketing teams.
However large and complex those plans are, the idea remains the same: A marketing plan is created to organize, execute, and eventually measure the success of a business’s marketing strategy.
Types of marketing plans
Marketing plans come in as many different shapes and sizes as there are different kinds of business, but they can be broadly placed into one (or more) of a few different categories. Here are some of the most common you’ll encounter.
- Annual marketing plans. These types of marketing plans arrange campaigns according to when they’re expected to launch, rather than the content of the campaigns themselves. It’s a useful way to get an overview of a marketing strategy for the upcoming year, and to measure success continuously as time passes.
- Content marketing plans. This is a more content-focused way of approaching a marketing strategy, and highlights the specific channels and audiences you want to reach. Content marketing plans can look very similar to annual marketing plans, but are less concerned with the “when” and more with the “what” and the “how.”
- Product launch plans. Launching a new product or service requires a specific kind of marketing plan. The main goal is to successfully introduce the new product to the market. But these plans also include the strategies, tactics, and content needed in the buildup to the launch itself.
- Social media marketing plans. Social media channels are such a vital part of a company’s marketing goals that it’s often wise to create a separate social media marketing plan dedicated to creating advertising and promotional content on these platforms.
What is the purpose of a marketing plan?
A marketing plan lays out your business strategy for acquiring new customers and selling more products and services. But it also serves as a way of analyzing exactly how successful your marketing efforts have been so far. Knowing this information helps steer ongoing campaigns in the right direction, aligns your marketing with your company’s values, and ensures that future campaigns are better targeted and more effective.
To understand why a marketing plan is important, just consider what would happen without one. Your advertising budget would be spent based entirely on guesswork about where your potential customers can be found and what they’re looking for. You’d have no idea which of your campaigns contributed to increased sales figures. And you’d have no baselines from which to build more effective campaigns in the future.
How to create a marketing plan
Elements of a marketing plan
The basic building blocks of any good marketing plan are focused on objectives, research, competitors, and content. These objectives should be clearly defined and easily measurable goals—ideally no more than two or three—and informed by as much consumer research as you can reasonably gather.
Whether your goal is increasing your Instagram followers, driving traffic to your site, or attracting more cheese fans to your cheese store, set a specific target by which to monitor the performance of any campaign. As you develop your marketing plan and learn what’s effective and what’s not, you can set more accurate targets and begin to hone in on the strategies that really work for your company.
A marketing plan should also describe your brand’s biggest competitors and the campaigns they’re running, as well as identify any openings in the market that would allow your company to grab market share. This is where SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis comes into its own, enabling a company to shape its marketing plan around its own strengths and weaknesses.
Lastly, a marketing plan should outline the content of each campaign. Will your pre-roll video content use animation or live actors? Can you offer discounts and voucher codes to new customers? Will you leverage your mailing list to notify existing customers of a new product launch?
Define a marketing plan strategy
If your marketing plan is a roadmap, then your marketing strategy is the road. The strategy describes which tools you’ll use to hit the targets laid out by the main marketing plan document, and how they’ll be applied.
Here’s where you get down to the fundamentals of selling. Depending on who you ask, there are as many as seven P’s of marketing, though most agree on four core elements: price, product, place, and promotion.
What are you selling? How much are you charging? Where will your customers see it? And how will you promote it to them? Marketing gurus will promise you that if you can answer all of these questions correctly, you’ll be guaranteed boundless success.
Of course, in the real world it’s not quite so straightforward. But the four main P’s are an ideal starting point for anyone creating a market plan from scratch.
How to measure the success of a marketing plan
An enormous amount of effort and investment is poured into monitoring the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, but at some level, consumer behavior becomes what’s known as a black box. You can measure what goes into it and what comes out the other end, but what happens inside the mind of a consumer can ultimately only be guessed at based on outcomes. Even the shoppers themselves can’t reliably report on why they choose certain products over others.
That’s why tracking a marketing plan’s performance alongside more specific KPIs (key performance indicators) is crucial. Advertising spend and sales figures aren’t linked in a simple or obvious way, so measuring success on a more granular level—such as increasing conversions or returning customers—helps create a much clearer picture of how well your marketing plan is doing.
Final thoughts on creating a marketing plan
Marketing plans need to be squarely outlined and adhered to, but they shouldn’t be set in stone. You need to be able to course-correct when something isn’t landing, or lean more into campaigns when they’re working well.
Quick aside: This is particularly true when it comes to the content of social media marketing plans, which are truly effective only when they’re timely and topical. Memes are a perfect example of this: How often have you seen a promoted tweet deploy some forgotten joke from months ago, presumably because it had been left in somebody’s annual marketing plan?
But while it’s useful to have a flexible approach, it’s important that your marketing plan is resilient and doesn’t flip-flop or bounce wildly between ideas. Move the goalposts too much and your plan will quickly fall apart, leaving your campaign in chaos. Allow your strategies some time to settle in, and even if you don’t reach success, you will gain invaluable performance data for future projects.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.
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