What is a marketing plan? Do you know how to create a marketing plan? Good marketing fuels sales and growth, and good marketing takes strategy, planning and execution. So a marketing plan, and a good planning process to execute that plan, is vital for most businesses.
What Is a Marketing Plan?
Think of a marketing plan as navigation for marketing. The long-term goals are the destination. The strategy, tactics and marketing mix are the route. Details like major milestones, measurements of success, tasks, deadlines and budgets are the actual steering. And regular review and revisions are like GPS-driven navigation with real-time traffic and weather.
The elements of a marketing plan matter much more than the form or format of the marketing plan. It can be as formal as a marketing plan document with sections, or it can be simply a collection of components of a marketing plan including bullet-point lists, tables, charts, budgets and explanations.
What Makes a Good Marketing Plan?
The value of a marketing plan is in the execution. You can measure the worth of the marketing plan by the decisions that follow, the business it generates and how well it's implemented. A brilliant marketing plan that is not executed is worth much less than a mediocre marketing plan that's carried out.
However, in practical terms, that means a good marketing plan has a successful marketing strategy covering marketing mix, budgets, schedules and so forth. It's also extremely important that the people charged with executing the plan review results regularly, make revisions as results demand and keep it fresh.
A good marketing plan is one that tracks results. Tracking means objective numbers, like sales, but also includes leads, pitches, store traffic, responses, emails, likes, follows, subscriptions and presentations.
What Are the Elements of a Marketing Plan?
Marketing, in its essence, is getting people to know, like and trust your business. In more businesslike language, it's planning all that you do to attract and build relationships with present and future customers. It starts with strategy of target market and product-market fit. It includes tactics like pricing, distribution, advertising and promotion. And it lays out concrete specifics of dates, deadlines, milestones, responsibilities and budgets.
How to Create a Marketing Plan
Every good marketing plan is unique; it has to be tailored to each business. It reflects your goals and objectives and your strengths and weaknesses. It understands the industry you're in. It's sensitive to your resources, your niche. You don't find a marketing plan, you build your marketing plan. Here are some of the common steps.
Set metric-driven marketing goals.
A good marketing plan is a marketing plan you can track, so use objective measurable numbers to track your progress. Not just sales—include measurements like users, views, visits, inquiries, leads, posts, likes, follows, calls and so forth.
Set accurate key baselines and metrics.
You can't track progress without good numbers to show your starting points. One way to test the value of different measurements is whether you can accurately set their baselines.
Outline your user personas.
Your user personas are pictures and stories of your ideal customers. These are one or more imagined people who help you envision potential customers. You imagine their likes and dislikes. How do they find you? What problem does your business solve for them? How do you get the word to them? What do they watch?
Research all your competitors.
Know your competition and what they do to reach your target customers. Compare factors like price, distribution, features and benefits.
Create an actionable marketing strategy.
A good marketing plan is nine parts execution for every one part strategy. Make sure you can track progress via objective measurements. Avoid generalities like "be the best." Include who does what and when they do it. Make tasks and budgets clear.
Set tracking or reporting guidelines.
Have a regular review schedule you use to get your team together and study results. Make it one day a month, like the third Tuesday or second Thursday. Set standards for reporting the key numbers you need to track.
Write a simple summary.
You might consider leaving the summary until all the elements of a marketing plan are done. Do the marketing plan components first, then create a summary. The summary is usually a short document that describes the strategy, tactics and key details of execution and online management.
5 Components of a Successful Marketing Plan
I've explained the steps to creating a marketing plan. Now let's look at the attributes you want to make sure your plan has. Here, I'll use a restaurant as an example because it's familiar to most people, but you can apply these concepts to your business just as well.
1. Market Focus
The secret to failure is trying to please everybody. Good marketing plans define target markets narrowly. A restaurant’s target market might be families or couples, but not both. Or maybe it's baby boomers, teenagers, children, date nights, busy and rushed working people, or some combination.
You won’t find a restaurant that works for a baby boomer couple’s night out also working for families with small children. Choose. Divide and conquer.
2. Product Focus
Product focus matches market focus. If you want baby boomers’ date nights, then serve good food. If you want families with kids, then serve food quickly, make the menu items relatively cheap and, of course, the food has to be kid-friendly.
3. Concrete, Measurable Specifics
A good marketing plan is full of dates and details. Maybe strategy drives a good plan, but tactics, programs and details make all the difference. As much as possible, the plan has to tie results back to activities and come up with hard numbers to measure those results.
A restaurant cannot have vague goals like having the best-tasting food. It needs specifics that are related to marketing message, insertions, posts, tweets, dinners served, return visits, email sign-ups, reviews, stars and so forth.
The key is to take a plan and think ahead about how you’ll know whether it was implemented. Will you be able to tell?
4. Responsibility and Accountability
Groups and committees get little done. Assign every part of a marketing plan to a specific person. Measure the results of every task and be sure a person is responsible for it: The people executing the plan have to be accountable for measurable results. A good marketing plan needs commitment, not just involvement.
5. Reviews and Revisions
What is a marketing plan? Every successful marketing plan is actually a planning process, not just a plan. Things change too fast for static plans. A good marketing plan is part of a process that involves setting goals, measuring results and tracking performance. It entails regular review and revision. Knowing how to create a marketing plan does little good if you don't execute on it.
If the group running the marketing plan isn’t meeting once a month to compare the plan with actual results and make course corrections, there is no marketing plan.
Reminder: It's Not Just a Plan, It's a Process
You know how to create a marketing plan, the elements of a marketing plan and the components of a marketing plan. But please don't forget that what makes a good marketing plan is the execution. It's the decisions it causes. So develop the plan, build execution into it and then review regularly, revise as needed and execute.
A version of this article was originally published on March 16, 2012.
Photo: Getty Images