5 Components of a Successful Marketing Plan

What makes a good marketing plan? Successful plans need focus, specifics and flexibility.
Founder and Chairman, Palo Alto Software, Inc.
March 16, 2012

What makes a good marketing plan? You can measure it 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.

The plan's value is in the success of the business.

Within this general framework, successful marketing plans have several key elements. I’ll use examples from the restaurant business because it's familiar to most people.

1. Market focus

“I don’t know the secret to success, but I do know that the secret to failure is trying to please everybody,” said Bill Cosby. Good marketing plans define target markets narrowly. A restaurant’s target market might be families, couples, 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 safe.

Sushi doesn’t sell on price. Drive-through windows don’t deliver fast food.

3. Concrete, measurable specifics

A good marketing plan is full of dates and details. Strategy probably drives a good plan, but tactics, programs and details make 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, members of the e-mail list, 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. Peer pressure is important: The people executing the plan have to be accountable for measurable results. Failure has to hurt, and achievement has to be rewarded.

An old joke: How do you see involvement vs. commitment in a bacon-and-egg breakfast? Answer: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. A good marketing plan needs commitment, not just involvement.

5. Reviews and revisions

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.

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.

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