Your Ultimate Guide to Creating a Marketing Plan

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You’ve got big ideas in your marketing leadership position, but how are you going to achieve them? The Ascent digs into successfully articulating your marketing plan.

Marketing is everywhere in our digital age. You see it in marketing activities such as sponsored social posts and brand accounts, the constant trickle of promotional emails destined to remain unopened, and countless other forms.

But strategic marketing isn’t everywhere. It’s keen and efficient and finds itself exactly where it needs to be to entice you. That's where a marketing plan comes in.

Man drawing marketing plan on white board

Marketing planning provides and proves business value. Image source: Author

Great marketing is intentional in its objectives and outcomes. It takes tons of planning to deliver consistently compelling content across channels, but that’s what’s required today.

Continue reading to learn some key marketing tips as well as guidance for building a marketing plan.

Overview: What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is the roadmap your marketing team will execute to achieve strategic goals and generate value for the business. There are many types of marketing plans, with different skill sets, tactics, tools, and marketing funnels blended across each.

As you’ll see below, your strategic marketing plan consists of one or several marketing strategies. Marketing plans define required strategies to execute on to achieve the overarching business goals.

Vector image of digital marketing concept

Your marketing plan should encompass multiple disciplines. Image source: Author

Remember this: Your marketing plan is not written in stone. It needs to be an agile framework, which you can bend and twist with new tactics, channels, and content to achieve your goals.

Marketing plan vs. marketing strategy: What's the difference?

Your marketing plan and your marketing strategy are essential and distinct marketing components.

A marketing strategy is your plan of action. It’s the roadmap and implementation steps your marketing team must take to achieve the goals set out in your marketing plan. It includes individual marketing campaigns, tactics and tools, content creation, and other day-to-day initiatives.

A marketing plan explains performance-based marketing goals, how these goals support the overall business, and how your team will achieve them. Whereas the strategies that support your plan may come and go, marketing plans are often set for years at a time.

The plans dictate resources such as head counts, budgets, and integration with the business.

3 types of marketing plans

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan outline, especially for small business marketing plans. Many businesses employ multiple marketing plans, each with intermingled strategies and tactics, to achieve their overall goals.

1. Digital marketing

The internet age has designated digital marketing as the fundamental marketing plan. If it’s not happening on digital -- or at least being shared there -- then it’s not happening.

The goal of digital marketing is information building. It relies heavily on inbound marketing tactics that are designed to attract people to your website.

Once there, conversions such as email sign-ups and other actions are essential for personalizing future marketing, to maximize engagement, and drive toward a purchase.

Encapsulated within digital marketing are social media marketing plans, paid advertising strategies, email marketing plans, and more. And even traditional marketing channels such as print and event marketing all require digital campaigns for promotion and awareness.

2. Content marketing

Content marketing creates compelling blogs, reports, e-books, and other content. It’s the inverse of digital marketing in that it permeates all other channels, strategies, and plans, fueling them with critical assets.

Successful content marketing employs SEO best practices to rank highly and drive organic traffic to the site. It’s highly shareable and should generate social and email engagement. And it positions your company or individual executives as thought leaders in your industry.

A content marketing plan is not simply blogging. It requires strategy, great writing skills, knowledge of SEO and conversion best practices, and more.

3. Brand marketing

Brand marketing strategically positions your brand to consumers, investors, media, and elsewhere.

Brand marketing planning takes traditional public relations and moves it forward. It updates traditional PR with new marketing tactics and more precise objectives.

Companies can use brand marketing to introduce new consumers to their brand and to better position themselves for investor and media relations.

It uses specialized content that’s focused on industry and brand awareness and a corporate social account that’s designed to build relationships rather than highlight product offerings.

How to create an effective marketing plan for your small business

Follow these five steps to see success with your marketing plan. Research sample marketing plans for inspiration, and include some of the same creative zeal in your proposed marketing assets.

Step 1: Define your business goals

Creating an effective marketing plan starts with having an end in mind. Don’t just market mindlessly. Set goals, and be intentional in your tactics. This is critical as marketing teams continue increasing ownership of more and more responsibilities.

Your marketing goals need to be tied to business revenue. This ensures the longevity of your marketing plan and instills your marketing team as essential to the operation.

This also means your metrics must adequately track the impact of marketing efforts. You need to prove the effectiveness of your marketing plan from acquisition to sales and beyond.

Keep your leadership in mind as you’re setting your marketing goals. While the high-level focuses should all be understood, it’s the individual numbers you need to be hyper-aware of. Does leadership expect you to blow past your targeted goals, or should your goals be so large that getting to 75% is an annual victory? There are no wrong answers. You just need to understand the expectations.

One great way to manage this is by setting a primary goal as well as a stretch goal that’s 10% to 20% higher than the primary goal.

Step 2: Determine necessary resources

Once your goals are defined, you can determine what you’ll need to accomplish them. This is your chance to lay out your needs for:

  • Head count
  • Technology
  • Office space
  • Event budget
  • Marketing and advertising spend

It’s critical that you remember the growth stages as your marketing plan progresses. This can help you stagger your requested resources for greater efficiency. This is especially important for your head count and technology needs.

It’s up to you to plan and request resources as your team needs to grow and scale. If you’re submitting a yearly budget request in December, you have to project out and request resources for the skillsets and technologies you’ll need in June.

This is another time when it’s essential you understand how your leaders operate and what they expect to get what you need to succeed.

Step 3: Establish target persona(s)

The third step in your plan is to identify your target personas and audiences. This is where you actually begin laying the foundation for actual marketing.

Establishing your personas further ensures the intentionality of your marketing efforts. You must have a target in mind to shape the type of marketing, marketing channels, and more. Personas are the key to unlocking this precise targeting.

It can take many hours of research to generate personas. The complexity and scale of your personas depends on your product and sales process. You may not need as extensive personas for marketing shoes as you do for a marketing automation platform. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need personas at all.

Persona creation belongs to marketing, but there should be shared acceptance between sales, product, and leadership on the persona(s). It’s critical that marketers have detailed personas to refer to as beacons of truth. That “truth” will only come with cross-department leaders agreeing on the personas.

Step 4: Ideate marketing materials, content assets, and creative needs

Creating blogs, sales sheets, graphics, and other creative is too far into the weeds to be included in a marketing plan. But your plan needs to offer ideas on types, quantity, quality, and cadence of marketing assets.

This early articulation will show leadership the assets to come as well as provide new team members with a high-level roadmap for what they will create. This is a great opportunity to get sales and other leadership excited for the fruitful sales and branding materials that will come out of your marketing plan.

Be sure you have the corresponding technology and head count to create the creative materials you choose.

Step 5: Assign roles and responsibilities

Your final step in creating your marketing plan is assigning roles and responsibilities to your current and proposed team members.

This breakdown should paint the picture of any current team members, new additions, and growth additions down the road. This must include levels of seniority for team leaders.

Define shared responsibilities from the onset, such as a creative team that works across all individual marketers to supply materials for email, social, sales enablement, and more.

The roles breakdown will influence your hiring needs and should be detailed enough to serve as an enticing job description.

Manage expectations with a marketing plan

The importance of your marketing plan is in the details. Yes, you want to generate qualified leads for the sales team. Yes, you want to grow your followers across social media channels. And yes, your email list should double -- or even triple. But how are you going to get there?

Leadership and your future marketers will appreciate a detailed marketing plan that serves as a roadmap that can be referred to as a level-setter. It should paint the picture of what, when, where, who, and how your marketing will serve the business.

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