We’ve all heard the popular quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” But does it hold true in marketing, a space that’s constantly evolving and requiring marketers to keep up with the changes?
The answer is absolutely. Think of your marketing plan as your roadmap to success for a given year or quarter. Without taking the time up-front to think about what your goals and priorities are, what resources you have to work with, and how those factors will contribute to your day-to-day decisions, you’re likely to spend the year in reactive mode rather than proactive mode.
When you do your marketing planning in advance, you’ll have a clear strategy to refer back to throughout the year. But how do you create a marketing plan in the first place? We’ll get to that in the steps below, but first, let’s take a closer look at what a marketing plan actually is and why it’s so important for your team.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is essentially a report that outlines your marketing strategy for a given period of time (usually a year).
Your marketing plan will consist of two main types of information. The first is big-picture information about how your business is currently doing and where you fit into your industry. Think of this as your “marketing audit” section. You’ll include an overview of your business and your goals, an assessment of how your marketing efforts have performed in the recent past, and where you might find opportunities to evolve or expand.
Then, you’ll shift to thinking about the second type of information, which is forward-thinking. Using the information you discovered in your audit, you’ll make a plan for the year ahead with channel-by-channel strategies, timelines, budgets, and KPIs. This section will give you a rough guideline for what the year will look like and where you should be focusing your attention, leaving the smaller details to evolve as the year unfolds.
Why is a marketing plan important?
Marketing can feel like a complex field, and there are countless opportunities for strategies to implement, campaigns to launch, channels and platforms to pursue, and tactics to execute. Unless you’re working with a massive team of professionals, the reality is that you probably can’t get to every single task that might move the needle for your organization. And that’s okay!
A marketing plan helps clarify the scope of the year ahead, providing just enough structure to give you a clear focus as the months unfold. It’s also crucial for developing an omnichannel presence, ensuring that what you do on one channel supports and aligns with what you’re doing on other channels. It’s common for marketers to think of each channel as its own silo, when in reality, it’s essential to consider the big picture and connect the dots for your audience.
Lastly, it gives you an idea of how your resources will be allocated throughout the year. Some organizations skip their annual marketing planning and dive into specific projects as they arise. Without a big-picture glimpse at the year, it’s easy to overestimate the time and resources you’ll have available to commit to all the projects you’d like to accomplish. Your marketing plan forces you to be realistic and to shift expectations accordingly.
How to create a marketing plan
Now that you understand the importance of a marketing plan, let’s take a look at how to actually create one for your team.
First, a caveat: everyone’s marketing plan is going to look a bit different. There’s no universal checklist for what you need to include, so feel free to scrap sections that don’t make sense for your organization and add in whatever would make the exercise more valuable for you and your team.
With that in mind, here are a few of the most common elements to include in your marketing plan. In most cases, it makes sense to start at the big-picture sections in the beginning and work your way down to the specifics, but do whatever feels best to you.
1. Business and marketing goals
Ideally, marketing efforts will always tie back to specific goals and initiatives for the business. The beginning of your marketing plan is the perfect place to outline those goals so you have a North Star for the rest of your planning. Whenever you’re not quite sure what to prioritize next or whether a specific tactic is worth the effort, refer back to these goals to check alignment.
2. Current marketing audit
Next, you’ll want to take a look at how your marketing strategy is doing right now. This is the time to ignore all hopeful, forward-looking ideas and instead audit your marketing efforts as they actually are. Try to assess which channels or efforts are producing the best results, which channels or efforts are producing the worst results. Make sure to also track down or calculate the most relevant marketing metrics as you go, like ROI, ROAS, CAC, and any other figures your business has deemed important.
3. Customer analysis
A key part of your marketing strategy is understanding your customer, so this is the section of your marketing plan where you’ll map out your audience and dig deep into their consumer behavior. If you’re not already using them, consider creating brand personas that reflect your highest potential customers. The better you get to know your customers, including how they spend time online (and offline), what problem your product or service is truly solving for them, and how you can better tailor your offering to them, the better your marketing strategy will be.
4. Competitor analysis
In addition to your customer analysis, it’s important to also take a closer look at your competitors. If others in your industry have a similar offering or target the same audience, take a look at what they’re doing and how their marketing efforts seem to be performing. How are they positioning themselves in the market? What are they doing differently than your brand? What opportunities have they taken advantage of that you might have missed? The answers to these questions all provide insight into how you might grow and expand your own marketing strategy.
5. Marketing SWOT analysis
Next, you may choose to conduct a marketing SWOT analysis for your brand. If you’ve never done a marketing SWOT analysis, it’s a great opportunity to dig deeper into your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as they relate to your marketing strategy. If you feel inspired, you can also conduct a SWOT analysis on your competitors to deepen the competitor research you did in the previous step.
6. Marketing strategy
Now that you have a clearer picture of your industry and where you currently stand, it’s time to outline your marketing strategy for the year ahead. In most cases, it makes sense to outline your approach on a channel-by-channel basis to understand how you’ll make use of different tactics. It may also be valuable to include a mind map in this section to illustrate how your various channels will overlap and fit together. In today’s omnichannel marketing environment, having a cohesive strategy across different channels and platforms is imperative.
Identifying KPIs is another crucial element of your strategy, so once you’ve outlined your channel-by-channel strategy for the year, make sure to identify the relevant KPIs, note their current benchmarks for future comparison, and come up with a plan to regularly check in on changes. You’ll also want to identify targets or goals for your KPIs to provide clarity into exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish over the year. (Not sure how to identify KPIs? Here are some examples for video marketing.)
Your budget will be one of the final sections of your marketing plan. Using all the information you’ve explored so far, map out your strategy as it relates to your marketing spend and budget categories. This is also your chance to make sure you haven’t overcommitted your resources for the year and to scale back if necessary. If you need additional support creating or allocating your budget for the year, check out this resource that explains just that.
Last but not least, creating a timeline is a helpful tool to understand when various campaigns and tactics will be launched throughout the year. Again, this is a helpful chance to take a look at how you’ve stacked your efforts month by month and to anticipate moments when you may be overcommitting. Unless your business or industry is largely seasonal, you should have a healthy balance of marketing initiatives throughout the year.
If you’ve been creating, executing, or leading a business marketing strategy without a plan, now is the time to get clear on exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish and how to make it happen. Whether you incorporate all nine sections above or not, setting aside time to plan for the future will keep you ahead of the game. Benjamin Franklin would be proud!