An effective marketing plan isn’t just another document to file away—it’s a powerful tool that can help you take your business to the next level. This resource can act as your guide for reaching the right customers and using specific strategies to keep them engaged. Plus, the process of creating the plan can help you uncover some opportunity areas, marketing strategies, and competitor insights you might not have considered yet.
How detailed your plan is will depend on your goals and preferences. No matter the number of pages, this guide should serve as a reference to you as you grow your business. More importantly, the process of creating the plan can help you discover your strengths and opportunity areas.
Not sure where to start? Use this checklist of key elements to stay on track:
A great first step before beginning work on your marketing plan is conducting thorough market research. Start by evaluating the market situation in your specific industry. Identifying competitors, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, can help you understand exactly what you bring to the table and how to use that to your advantage.
You’ll also need to understand your target market. Who is your ideal customer? What are their needs, expectations, and preferences? How does your product or service fit into their routines?
You might have done similar research for your business plan, but as your company evolves, so do your competitors and your target audience. Staying on top of trends in the market can help you prepare to come out on top. Not sure where to start? It’s always a good idea to gather feedback from your customer support and sales teams—through their everyday interactions with customers, they have unique insights into what your prospects are looking for.
The executive summary is usually the first item on your marketing plan, but that doesn’t mean you should write in that order. In just a few sentences, this component should give readers all the major points of the plan and your vision. This means you should have all the other elements of your plan in place before you set out to condense them all into a few words. Creating the summary is a great way to reflect on all your hard work on the bulk of the plan and choose the key concepts you think will have the strongest impact on your business as a whole.
If you’ve conducted market research, you’ll probably have plenty of material to add to the overview section. Here, you should present a snapshot of the market as it currently stands and set the framework for your plan. Provide as much detail as possible, including about your own business. For example, how are your products and services performing? Who are your competitors and how are they differentiating themselves in the market? How are your distribution networks and channels performing?
With your overview laid out, it’s time to analyze the trends you’ve demonstrated. What do they mean for your business? If you’ve identified any potential challenges, be specific in your plan of attack. Identified some new opportunities for growth? Outline how you can use them to your advantage and take your business to the next level.
In this section, providing a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT) analysis can help you provide an overview your business’s current state at a glance.
The four Ps of marketing
Using the four Ps of marketing can help you tie the key elements of your marketing plan into a complete picture.
- Product: What is your business selling?
- Place: How is your product being distributed?
- Price: What does your product or service cost your customers?
- Promotion: How is your product or service being publicized?
You can build your marketing plan around any combination of these components. Many small business owners focus on promotion, but even within that category are several strategies you can choose to implement. Will you run paid online advertisements through Google Ads, Facebook, and Linkedin, maintain PR efforts, reach out to customers with direct mail packages, host an event to grow your customer base, or take a different route else entirely?
Continue to narrow down the scope of your research by breaking down the overall trends, opportunity areas, and challenges into specific marketing objectives. As you think about your business in terms of its long-term growth, use these goals to help you carry out your plan and understand not only how, but why it’ll work.
Looking for examples of marketing objectives? Here are some common options:
- Reach a new customer base by expanding into more areas
- Leverage an upcoming product launch to reach more potential customers
- Expand marketing efforts in a specific channel to boost sales
Here’s where you can answer specifically how you’ll achieve your marketing goals. This section is all about defining your plan of action when it comes to execution.
You’ll also want to define and measure the success of your marketing efforts. Based on your research about your ideal customer, tailor your strategy so you can focus on being the most effective when it comes to reaching them. Then, make sure you have a way to judge whether your marketing campaigns are performing and an action plan for making adjustments based on those results.
Getting into the nitty gritty, the implementation section helps you define your strategies more narrowly and get a sense of exactly how you’ll carry them out. Here’s where you can break your plan down into actionable milestones and detail the steps it’ll take to get there. Think of this section as a roadmap—what can you tackle this month, this quarter, or this year? As you lay out the steps, consider how you’ll divide up the responsibility as well.
Even if your target campaigns seem far away, being as specific as possible can help you gauge how realistic they actually are.
This important section outlines both the expected costs and benefits of your marketing strategies. At this point, you’ll primarily be working with estimates and assumptions so do your research and consult with a trusted financial advisor, if possible, to help avoid surprises down the line. Don’t forget to add up all the possible costs, whether that be the required spend for a social media advertisement or a potential new hire to help distribute the workload.
Needs and requirements
What will you need to be most successful in carrying out your marketing plan? This is your opportunity to specify the resources you’ll need, as well as how you’ll find them and use them. For example, do you need some basic business marketing materials before you can get started? Can you take your productivity to the next level with an easy-to-use software solution? Do you need a stronger system in place for managing your small business finances and making more informed budgeting decisions? Can you look to hire help when it comes to implementing a specific strategy?
Use this section not only to list your needs, but to explain the reasoning behind your minimum requirements. It can help to divide the checklist into sections based on priority—for example, must haves now, must haves later, and nice to haves.
Evaluation and measurement
The final, and arguably most important, part of your marketing plan includes a detailed strategy for monitoring your progress. You should decide on the metrics you’ll use to measure success at the outset, because they’ll help you keep your finger on the pulse of your campaigns and make adjustments on the fly. Some baseline measures to include are Return on Investment (ROI) to understand whether you’re on track financially.
Keep in mind that this will probably take careful planning because some strategies don’t lead directly into sales. For example, your content marketing strategy might drive more potential customers to your website, but the substantial ROI comes when it’s paired with email or social media campaigns to keep those users coming back.
Revenue isn’t the only metric you should be using to gauge your strategies’ success. Other options might include brand awareness, engagement, customer loyalty, or perceived reputation, to name a few. Translating these abstract concepts into concrete data points can take some creativity, so take your time and make sure they’re useful. After all, intuition can only go so far. These numbers should help you ground your decisions in solid data.
Once you’ve decided on the measures you’ll use, configure reports you can check on daily and schedule time on your calendar regularly to go over results in more detail.
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