Marketing might seem like something a business can sort out intuitively. You are selling products or services or both, so it is only a matter of purchasing ads and creating a few social media profiles, right? Not so.
Unguided marketing efforts can easily become complicated, expensive, inconsistent, and inefficient. Or worse, marketing for your business could be nonexistent. A marketing plan charts a course for successful exposure and customer engagement.
It not only creates a clear roadmap for your organization to follow but also defines your goals, strategies, and methods of tracking your progress. If you create a template and follow it to form a marketing plan, you will be in total control of how marketing contributes to your business's overall growth and success.
This article will walk you through the basics of a marketing plan, steps to create one, and elements to include when outlining and filling in your marketing plan template.
What Is a Marketing Plan?
A marketing plan is a document that lays out an overall marketing strategy, which allows you to structure your efforts effectively and comprehensively. It should be for a specific period, and it will describe your current situation while identifying your plans for the future. A good plan will include goals, strategies, analytical information, actionable steps, budgeting, and projections.
What Is a Marketing Plan Format?
"Marketing plan format" refers to the organization of your marketing plant. There are endless possible iterations, as the needs and preferences of different entities will vary greatly. That said, several core segments are common to most plans. Research for this article involved compiling multiple authoritative sources that explain how to structure a marketing plan document. You will find the essential sections from all of them included here.
Why Do You Need a Marketing Plan?
Businesses benefit from marketing plans for the same reasons they benefit from any planning whatsoever. Ventures that plan where they want to go, when they will get there, and how they will follow through are far more likely to succeed than those that do not. If your ideas about what you want to achieve are nebulous, and you have no time frame, no strategy, no idea what you can afford, and no way to know if you are making progress, that progress will most likely not materialize.
Similarly, a poorly-defined marketing plan will not be much help either. To be effective, you need one that is specific and thorough. Yet, it should also be concise, clear, and easy to understand and follow. Adhering to plans like that will save you money and wasted effort over time.
How Do You Create a Marketing Plan?
Before outlining your marketing plan, you should complete some prep work beforehand. You will want to identify pertinent information to include and underpin your document. Additionally, this is the time to perform situational analyses that will help you know where you stand and what circumstances face your company. Finally, you will design your overall market strategy and decide your budget.
Using a marketing plan template can help you to outline what needs to be done and make sure you delegate work appropriately to team members.
State Your Goals
A popular acronym to follow when defining goals is SMART. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound. Many businesses consider forming goals like this best practice when writing a marketing plan.
For example, "increasing brand awareness" is not a fully-formed goal in this context. A better one might be to increase the number of followers on a specific social media platform by 10% in the next quarter. The latter goal adheres more to the SMART guidelines and is thus representative of how you should define your aims in your marketing plant.
Conduct Situational Analysis
Before writing a marketing plan, you need to understand your circumstances and describe them. You can start by jotting down some basics like:
- What products or services are you selling?
- What makes you stand out from your competitors? (What is your unique selling position or USP?)
- What are your current marketing objectives? How well have you achieved them so far and why?
- What are the most pressing challenges your organization is currently facing?
Then, it is helpful to complete some more specific analyses in depth. SWOT analysis, competitive analysis, and customer analysis may all provide critical insight, which will help your marketing plan take shape.
SWOT is another acronym you will want to remember; it stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. To conduct a SWOT analysis is to identify and list items in each category for your business. If you already know the answer to each element of SWOT, write up this analysis first. On the other hand, if you are unsure whether you have the total picture yet, you can write most of it after all remaining sections are complete. Your research and strategizing may eventually make it easier to explain your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Competitive analysis or competitor analysis is significant for your research. The actions of your company and your marketing team are not the only things that buyers will be taking into account when making purchasing decisions. Thus, you cannot simply ignore what your competitors are doing and what their strategies may be.
To analyze your competitors, research what they do well and where they may be falling short. That may give you some inspiration concerning any needs that still exist in your market that you could fill. Look at your competition's pricing, any offers or deals they provide, what their market share is, what their positioning is, and any other information you and your team deem relevant.
If your company has not already conducted a basic market research study, you will want to do so to enable useful customer analysis. Customer analysis can be broken down into at least two main ideas or steps: detailing what your target market is and constructing buyer personas.
Target Market: First, overarchingly, name the type of market you are aiming for with your product or service. Are you trying to sell to other businesses or industries? Or, are you targeting consumers directly? If it is the former, list all the relevant entities.
Make sure you are detailed and thorough in this section. Properly targeting the right market is essential to running any successful marketing campaign. Here are some questions you should answer to flesh out all you need to know about your target market:
- Which companies/ industries/ kinds of people are in your target market?
- How can you best reach them?
- Why would they want to buy your product/service?
- Why would they refuse your product or service?
- What are their current needs?
Buyer Personas: Also called target customers or target audience, buyer personas are profiles you create that represent your ideal customers. To make a buyer persona, mock up a description of these customers, their motivations, and demographic information about them. Points you may include in your buyer personas are:
- Name and photo: You want a buyer persona to be as realistic as possible. Invent a name for them and find a photo (a stock photo, for example) to accompany their profile.
- Background and demographic information: This point includes everything that makes them who they are as an individual. Define information like age, gender, profession, income level, education level, family status, and geographic location.
- Values, goals, and challenges: What is important to your customer? What do they want to achieve, and what is standing in their way?
- Buying decisions and buying cycle: What does your buyer persona buy and why? When do they buy it?
- Solution: How will your product or service help customers surmount their challenges?
Develop a Strategy
Now that you know your goals and your situation, you should start sketching out some tactics you want to use that will form the bones of your overall strategy. Like your goals, these actions should be specific and possibly time-bound. For example, you may want to post on Instagram a set number of times per week or reply to an exact number of comments per post. Think about how every tactic will help you make identifiable progress.
Set a Budget
Once you are aware of the strategies that appeal to you, you must then consider the restraints of your budget. Maybe you have a lot of great ideas, but what additional hiring or spending needs to happen to actuate them? It may be helpful to write cost estimates next to each desired tactic that you list, so you can easily spot what you can currently afford and which actions are most investment-worthy.
Outline of a Marketing Plan/ Marketing Plan Template
The following are several core sections that you may use to build a template for a marketing plan. Once you have considered and written succinctly yet substantially for each, you will have your first solid draft.
The executive summary should be at the head of any marketing plan. It is a brief section that will summarize the document overall. You should list its components and describe the most impactful takeaways, so that it serves to quickly give any reader a firm grasp of the big picture and layout.
Featuring an executive summary is a convenient and helpful way to share your marketing plan with advisors, executives, and other business associates who may not have time to read all of it. Furthermore, your team can use it as a reference point to keep everyone on the same page. You do not need to summarize every part of your plan here (it needs to stay concise), but it should contain the information most vital for meeting goals.
Background/ Business Summary
This section provides all the pertinent factual and conceptual data about your business. You might want to describe your company's history, including previous marketing campaigns, along with which ones were successes or failures and why. The background section (or business summary) is also where you can recap all the market research you completed previously, such as your SWOT, competitor, and customer analysis. You will not want to make any one segment pages and pages long, so if you refer to outside reports or documents, merely link to them after small summaries. If your company has a clear vision or mission statement, you can write that into this section as well.
Goals/ Business Initiatives
Go back to the goals that you determined earlier and outline them here. Goals and business initiatives are closely related concepts. Thus, you may title this section as either. Be sure to only focus on initiatives specific to marketing, however. Broader company initiatives would be more appropriate in a business plan.
Try to keep the number of goals small. Two or three can be sufficient. Listing too many or getting too in the weeds here will overwhelm your plan and make it confusing, hard to follow, and hard to measure progress. Goals should challenge your organization but ultimately be realistic and achievable.
Marketing Strategy/ Strategies
Generally, your marketing strategy will explain your approach to the market. Refer back to the tactics you envisioned earlier. Work on the ones you think will best suit your business in this section of the marketing plan. In reality, your marketing strategy can be a compilation of several component strategies. Here are several you should consider incorporating:
- Online Marketing Strategy
- Referral Strategy
- Transaction Price Increase Strategy
- Conversion Strategy
- Pricing Strategy
A distribution plan outlines the logistics of how you will deliver your products or services to your buyers. Will customers only buy and receive products directly off your website (as with software downloads)? Or, will you be selling physical items like clothing through brick-and-mortar shops? If you have a preferred distribution channel, consider:
- Why are you choosing it over others?
- What are the costs associated with the distribution process?
- How does it affect how quickly the product or service is delivered?
The final budget mapped out in your marketing plant will take into account all the information you have detailed so far. Determining a budget can be one of the more intimidating tasks in this process, but there are different ways you can approach it. For example, you could base everything on the previous year's costs, revenues, and budget. It is okay to start from scratch, too. Write down all the specific, time-constrained actions you have decided on, assign financial values to them, and describe how they fit into the total budget plan. Just be sure not to omit any relevant expenditures like distribution and promotional costs.
Projections are never 100% accurate, but they are still a fundamental part of your plan that ties everything together. Not only are you including projected costs determined in your budget, but you will also predict future revenues and profits resulting from your marketing activities. Here is where you conceptualize how all your marketing efforts will ultimately bear fruit and when. Once again, be precise. Make projections for individual plans of action, delineating expected results in terms of measurable changes in sales, profits, or customer actions.
How Do You Write a Simple Marketing Plan
If you are new to a marketing plan or very busy (as many business execs can be), you might find it challenging to create a thorough marketing plan right away. Maybe that will take shape more gradually, but in the meantime, you would like to come up with something quick (possibly one-page long) to get you started. Or, you might find an abbreviated version advantageous even when you have a fully expanded plan. Either way, to write up a simple marketing blueprint, briefly summarize each of the following sections with only the most critical information highlighted:
- Business Summary
- Business Initiatives
- Target Market
- Marketing Channels
Creating a fully formed marketing plan might take some work, but it pays off enormously. Instead of taking shots in the dark, you can move consciously and confidently towards goals that will spur your team's and organization's growth. You will have a roadmap to follow that will allow you to discern when things are not going to plan. That way, you can make precision adjustments, course correct, and continuously learn what you need to get results, so you can maximize success far into the future.