To have a successful business, you need a well-thought-out marketing plan to promote your products or services. Although making a few social media posts or blasting a few promotional emails may seem simple enough, disjointed marketing efforts not only confuse your target audience, but can ultimately harm your business.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a strategic road map for how you communicate (online and offline) with your target audience to successfully promote your products or services. Depending on your goal, marketing plans can be extremely basic or highly detailed.
According to Molly Maple Bryant, vice president of marketing at Vibrent Health, a marketing plan is not simply a list of things you want to accomplish. Instead, it should list the outcomes you seek — measurable and contextual, like the pipeline you’re developing, or leads you’re generating — and it should explain the high-level strategies you will use to achieve those outcomes. Developing strategies can be complicated, but they make a major difference in keeping you on track and avoiding diversions, also called scope creep.
“Once you have an agreed-upon plan, you are able to compare any incoming requests against your strategies to determine ‘Yes, this adheres to my strategy so we can add it,’ or ‘No, this sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t adhere to our agreed-upon strategy, so we won’t adjust resources,’” Bryant told us.
Download a copy of our free marketing plan template.
Types of marketing plans
There are several different types of marketing plans you can use based on certain strategies that make sense for your organization. Your business will likely need a combination of the following marketing plans to create an effective, comprehensive marketing strategy:
- Advertising plan
- Branding plan
- Content marketing plan
- Customer acquisition plan
- Direct marketing plan
- Email marketing plan
- Public relation plan
- Print marketing plan
- Reputation management plan
- Retention plan
- Search engine optimization plan
- Social media marketing plan
Depending on your product positioning, niche marketing plans like influencer marketing or video marketing can be incredibly effective.
Why is it important to have a marketing plan for your business?
A marketing plan is a crucial resource for any small business because it helps you identify the market needs your product or service meets, how your product is different from competitors, and who your product or service is for. Marketing plans also serve as a road map for your sales strategy, branding direction and building your overall business. This is important for successfully conveying your brand messaging to your target audience.
Another significant benefit of a marketing plan for your company is that rather than simply guessing metrics, it forces you to sit down and do the math about your business goals and how to realistically fulfill them. When you look at your growth outcomes, you can delve further to determine what it will take to get to those numbers.
Bryant offered the following example: “Need $100,000 in revenue? How many sales is that? If 10, what’s your close rate? Let’s say 10 percent from lead to closed deal. Now you have a metric to start with — to get to 10 sales, we need 100 leads. Where will they come from, and what strategies will you use? The plan helps you put it all on paper so you can map out resources and tactics later with a lot of preparation and realism,” said Bryant.
When analyzing outcomes and resources, you can save time and avoid scope creep by focusing only on strategies that are relevant to your marketing plan. A marketing plan helps you think realistically about your strategies, gets your stakeholders on the same page, and holds your marketing team accountable for their decisions.
“When everyone’s tasks and goals are laid out for the stakeholders and company partners to see, it is much easier for the entire team to feel at ease about reaching sales goals and allowing the marketing team the space and freedom needed to execute work without constant supervision,” said Cassady Dill, digital marketing consultant and owner of Ethos Agency.
Additionally, Dill said a marketing plan should be easily understood by your entire team, executives and outside departments. Your plan should also serve as an easy guide for future marketing managers and team members to understand and implement.
What are the key elements of an effective business marketing plan?
A marketing plan should be customized to fit your business; however, Dill said, all marketing plans contain five essential functions:
- Your business goals
- Key metrics (how you quantify and measure success)
- Strategies (an overview of implementation and how that will achieve goals)
- A plan (the details of execution and the human resources, departments and software that will be involved)
- Reporting (what reports of progress will include and/or look like)
We broke down those five functions into 10 actionable categories to help you create a marketing plan that is unique and effective for your business.
1. Executive summary
The executive summary is a great place to give the reader of your plan an overview of your business’s mission or goals, as well as the marketing strategy you’re looking to employ. An executive summary is often written after you’ve completed the rest of the marketing plan, to ensure it covers all the important elements of your plan. If the executive summary is the only part of your marketing plan that someone reads (which is highly possible), you want to be sure they understand the most crucial details.
2. Mission statement
The mission statement, not to be confused with a vision statement, is a statement that encompasses your company’s values and how they relate to your overall goals as an organization. Here are some good questions to get you thinking:
- What does your company do today?
- What’s important to your company?
- What would your company like to do in the future?
- What is your brand identity?
- What’s your culture like?
- How does your company benefit customers, employees and stakeholders?
3. Target markets
Identifying your target market is one of the most important parts of your marketing plan. Without a defined target audience, your marketing expenses will be wasted. Think of it like this: Some people need your service or product but don’t know it exists yet. Who are those people?
Here are some other questions to help you brainstorm your target market:
- What is the demographic of your customers (gender, age, income, education, etc.)?
- What are their needs and interests?
- What’s their psychographic profile (attitudes, philosophies, values, lifestyle, etc.)?
- How do they behave?
- What are some existing products they use?
4. Products and services
In this section, don’t just list what your product or service is. Think critically about what you have to offer your customers and what that value proposition means to them.
- What do you make or provide for customers?
- What are your customers’ needs?
- How does your product or service fulfill customers’ needs?
- What value do you add to your customers’ lives?
- What type of product or service are you offering?
5. Distribution channels
At this point in your report, you should transition your thinking into actual marketing theory and practices. Distribution channels are the avenues you’ll use to reach a prospective customer or business. Think of all current and potential sales channels on which your specific target audience is active. One distribution channel that works great for one organization may be useless to another. For example, one company may host their website for free on a site like HubSpot and solely rely on that as their sales channel, while another company may have a whole team of people using Pinterest to drive sales. [Learn how CRM systems can help track your marketing leads based on various distribution channels.]
Examples of sales channels include the following:
- Mobile text message marketing
- Social media
- Print (newspapers, magazines, brochures, catalogs, direct mail)
- Broadcast (TV, radio)
- Press releases
- Trade shows, product demonstrations, event marketing
6. Competitive profile
One of the major aspects of your marketing plan is developing your unique selling proposition (USP). A USP is a feature or stance that separates your product or service from competitors. Finding your USP is all about differentiation and distinguishing your company as a sole proprietor of one type of good or service. Conduct a competitive analysis to identify your competitive profile and how you stack up against the competition. It is important to remain unbiased when conducting this analysis.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- What’s your USP?
- Who are your competitors? What do they offer?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your competition?
- What needs of the market (or customer) are not being served? What can you do to meet those needs?
If you are creating your USP for the first time, here are seven surefire strategies to help you stand out from the competition.
7. A pricing strategy
Consider pricing when drafting your marketing plan. Developing the right pricing strategy helps you better market your product. Think about your current and projected finances when developing a long-term marketing strategy that is realistic and beneficial for your business. Here are some key questions to ask yourself about your pricing:
- What are reasonable margins to make a profit and cover production costs?
- Is there a market for products or services at your projected price point?
- Are you willing to sacrifice profit margins in return for a greater market share?
- What are your marketing and distribution costs?
Consider your objectives when developing a marketing plan. This aspect of your plan should involve specific goals related to market penetration and revenue targets. Be sure to keep your marketing objectives on-brand with your business. Here are some things to consider:
- Sales quotas
- Number of new customers gained
- Customer retention percentages
- Revenue targets
- Market penetration
- Brand awareness
- Website traffic
9. Action plans
With all of the above items outlined, determine what steps need to be taken to enact your marketing plan. This includes determining the proper steps, setting goals, breaking down responsibilities, and establishing an overall timeline.
It’s also important to brainstorm potential roadblocks your business could face and some solutions to overcome them. Your research is useless if you don’t have an actionable plan that can be realistically implemented to carry out your ideas.
10. Financial projections
This last step allows you to establish a realistic marketing budget and better understand your marketing plan from a cost perspective. In addition to setting a budget, consider the overall return on investment as well. Here are some other financial projections to consider:
- Cost of implementation
- Cost to produce product or service
- Existing and projected cash flow
- Projected sales
- Desired profit margin on projected sales
What is a template for creating a successful marketing plan?
The internet is full of useful tools, including paid and free marketing plan templates, to help you build a successful marketing plan.
Whether you are looking for a free template generator to build a new marketing plan or a benchmarking tool to evaluate your current strategies, several great resources are available. Keep in mind that the best marketing plan for your business will be a customized one.
“Ultimately, you should design a marketing plan that best serves the needs of your team as you see fit,” said Dill. “Don’t force yourself into a plan that doesn’t fit your team. Use templates to shorten the workload time, but then adjust it for a more custom plan.”
Here are some tools and templates to get you started:
- Free marketing plan template: business.com has developed a free template that is fully customizable based on the needs of your business. Each section provides in-depth explanations, examples and resources to help you create an impressive marketing plan.
- Smart Insights: In addition to offering marketing plan templates, some companies, like Smart Insights, offer marketing benchmarking templates to help you evaluate your strategy performance. These are accessible with a free Smart Insights membership.
- GERU: Similarly, GERU offers a funnel-planning, profit-prediction and simulation tool to help you assess mock business ideas and simulations. This can help you identify weak points in your marketing strategy that need improvement. Although GERU requires users to sign up for a paid account, you can access a free trial to test it out.
What mistakes should you avoid when creating your marketing plan?
When creating an effective marketing plan, you need to avoid falling for common missteps and mistakes. For starters, failing to identify any of the 10 actionable categories above is an obvious mistake.
Here are some other key mistakes to avoid:
- Setting unrealistic budgets: Underestimating the costs of marketing activities or setting an unrealistic budget can limit your ability to execute your plan effectively. Marketing can be expensive, so it’s important to fully understand the estimated cost and budget before building a marketing strategy that you can’t afford.
- Focusing on quantity over quality: “More” doesn’t always mean “better” if you are posting on irrelevant marketing channels or your efforts are bringing in unqualified leads. Prioritizing the quantity of marketing activities over their quality can lead to superficial engagement and a lack of meaningful results.
- Not testing campaigns: Launching large campaigns without testing can lead to wasted resources if the messaging or tactics don’t resonate as expected. Test out your new campaigns to ensure they achieve your intended goal.
- Ignoring customer feedback: You may be tempted to ignore negative feedback, but disregarding customer comments and failing to address their concerns can lead to negative perceptions of your brand. Instead, use customer feedback to your advantage to improve your product and marketing efforts.
- Overpromising and underdelivering: Setting unrealistic expectations in your marketing messages that your products or services can’t fulfill can damage your brand’s reputation.
- Ignoring seasonality and trends: Failing to account for seasonal trends and market changes can result in missed opportunities for timely marketing efforts.
- Not reviewing and updating your plan: A rigid marketing plan that doesn’t allow for adjustments in response to market feedback and changing conditions can hinder your success. A marketing plan should be a living document that is regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the market and your business’s goals.
Avoiding these mistakes and missteps can help you create a more effective and successful marketing plan that drives results for your business.
How can you take action with your new marketing plan?
Before you dive into marketing plan templates, it’s important to understand how to think about a marketing plan.
A good marketing plan targets who your buyers are, establishes the service or product you are offering, and determines your unique selling proposition. From here, you will tackle the marketing planning process and develop the best way to get your product in front of buyers who want your product or service.
Dill created a simple four-step process for how small businesses can take action with creating a marketing plan.
- The first step is to hold a marketing meeting with all the marketing team and executives or stakeholders. This gives them time to offer questions, concerns and criticisms you haven’t thought of so you can go back to the board room and revise your strategy or plan.
- Next, add a timeline to all your tasks and assign team members and all the help you’ll need to execute that plan.
- Once your plan is in action, hold weekly check-ins in person or by email to keep everyone on track.
- Share a weekly progress report with all parties involved and execs to ensure you are moving in the right direction.
In addition to drafting your own plan, you can work with a digital marketing agency or use internet marketing and pay-per-click management services to leverage your online presence.
Once you’ve established a general road map, update it annually. Developing an evolving marketing plan sets your business up for continued success because it allows you to prepare for the unexpected and establish a connection between your brand and your audience.
Matt D’Angelo contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.