The phrase “marketing plan” can mean many things, from your social media/ad campaign schedule to your lead nurture pipeline to your overall strategic goals. Ideally, you’ll bring all these tactics together in a cohesive strategy. And this will become your capital-letter Marketing Plan!
This can be a daunting task, especially if you want to grow or scale up your (or your client’s) business. It’s always better to plan first, take action second! Especially if you want to optimize your budget, as you likely do.
With that said, let’s explore the core elements of a strong marketing plan — step by step.
What is a Marketing Plan, and What Does It Include?
No two marketing plans are alike. Depending on your industry, business model, and target audience, you’ll have your own mix of channels, goals, and brand alignment tactics. However, most marketing plans have 9 key sections that will guide your strategy.
Your Business’s Marketing Goals
What’s the point of planning if not to meet (and surpass!) your goals? The foundation of your marketing plan comprises your business’s main initiatives — at least with regard to marketing.
Determine what you’d like to achieve in terms of brand-building. Is it paid advertising, social media growth, website visitors? And so on. The SMART framework can help you structure these goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
For example, “Get more followers on our business’s Twitter page” is not a well-defined goal. The SMART version might read: “Get 1,000 more Twitter followers by the end of Q2 2022.” You would then measure your follower growth at regular intervals until that deadline.
Don’t forget to declare the benefits of achieving this goal. This is where “relevant” comes in. Is your Twitter goal going to help you drive more web traffic? Establish your brand authority? Context is everything!
There are many ways to describe your target audience. As marketing is ultimately about connecting with potential customers, this is the bread-and-butter of your marketing strategy. No matter your industry or business model, you absolutely must know your audience before you try to reach them.
Many companies create a buyer “persona.” This is a hypothetical construct that describes your ideal customer. If your target audience comprises several distinct segments, you can create a unique persona for each one. The persona may include any of the following, depending on your industry and offering:
- Geographic Location
- Favorite Hobbies and Social Activities
- Worldview/Religious, Philosophical, or Political Views
- Preferred Media, Social Channels, and Information Sources
- Core Desires/Pain Points/Aspirations
As we’ll discuss in a moment, it’s especially important to know the last two. There’s no benefit in marketing your acne cream to those who don’t have acne or setting up a Facebook page if most of your audience is on TikTok or Snapchat.
Another model is the Ideal Customer Avatar aka Ideal Client Avatar (ICA), which is often used by service-based businesses. As the name suggests, this model describes the ideal person you’d like to reach — someone who is especially likely to seek and book your services. The ICA is often more easily defined after you’ve been in business for a while. That way, you can profile your most frequent customers.
Either way, when describing your target audience, it’s important to align them with your business’s overall market position. You likely defined this in your overall business plan. If not, or if you need to create a marketing plan for a client, consider which needs or wants the business fulfills. Then, reverse-engineer those desires into your persona.
All personas/avatars should meet these two qualifications:
(A) their primary goals, desires, and pain points could be solved by your business’s offering
(B) their interests, location, age, economic status, and social behavior put them in a position where they can encounter your business
For example, you can target health-conscious Gen Z college students all you want, but they likely aren’t willing or able to buy your home gym equipment. It isn’t worth your while to figure out how to market to them.
On the flip side, be sure that you’re aligning your persona with your market position. You may think that middle-aged homeowners earning six figures are your ICA, but actually, your offering better suits millennial renters who need fitness equipment that doesn’t require modifying the house.
Marketing Plan Example: ICA and Persona Marketing Templates
Here’s a handy grid for mapping out your ideal client/customer avatar.
Hobbies and Interests:
Preferred Social Networks:
Where They Spend Time:
Trusted Sources of Information:
|Challenges and Pain Points:||
Fears and Frustrations:
And here’s a marketing plan template for your target persona:
|Wants and Needs to Meet||Values to Affirm||Desires to Fulfill|
|Challenges to Solve||Frustrations to Avoid||Objections to Overcome|
|Goals to Achieve||Benefits to Obtain||Key Decision Factors|
It’s not business without competition. There will always be other companies clamoring for the same target customers that you’re seeking. The good news is, there are several ways to make your brand distinctive — and they all start with understanding your competitors top-to-bottom.
You likely defined your competitors in your business plan, but they’re worth another look specifically for your marketing strategy. Someone who may seem like a hot competitor on paper may have a weak social media presence — which would allow you to gain dominance in that regard. By the same token, a company with lackluster products may still claim the lion’s share if they can beat you in advertising. (For example, many retailers face a constant battle with a certain river-themed eCommerce site.)
When evaluating your competitors, make note of their successes, drawbacks, and limitations. Look for gaps you can fill or audience segments/marketing channels where you can gain an advantage. Here are some questions to ask about each competitor:
- What’s their website/digital presence like, in terms of style, engagement, and activity level?
- How does their ideal audience differ from mine? (e.g., their ICA is a working mom, while your target audience includes all moms)
- Are they relying on outbound tactics (e.g., paid ads, cold messaging, PR) or inbound tactics (e.g., social videos, lead magnets, viral campaigns)?
- Who seems to be interacting with their social media, and how do those people compare to my ICA?
Take notes on any confusing or underdeveloped aspects of their brand presence, especially if those would be annoying to your shared ICA. By fulfilling your target audience’s needs, you can position yourself as a more compelling brand. For example, your competitor may also be targeting eco-minded beauty fans — but none of their makeup product pages list the ingredients. If you do so, you’ll immediately align your website with your ICA’s prevailing concerns about that.
Marketing Plan Example: Competitor Analysis
Here’s a handy table to evaluate your competitor’s advantages and drawbacks.
|Importance to Target Audience|
|What We Do That They Don’t|
|What We Do Better Than They Do|
|What We Do Equally Well|
|What They Do Better Than We Do|
|What They Do That We Don’t|
Your SWOT analysis is an honest look at your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Again, you likely did this in your business plan, but let’s revisit SWOT for marketing (or on behalf of your client).
Once you’ve analyzed your competitors (which are part of your threats), you should have a good idea of how your business’s strengths can put you at an advantage. Codify those strengths in terms of your marketing presence. Will you be able to produce high-value social content? Run affordable ads on low-competition keywords? Identifying these strengths will help you prioritize your marketing strategies.
Be honest about your weaknesses as well. Is your marketing budget too tight to invest in paid advertising? If so, consider how your strengths could help tweak your strategy (e.g., you have good customer data that you can use for retargeting campaigns). Is your brand identity a bit muddled? If so, how can you clarify your value and purpose to your audience?
Opportunities may include digital channels that you could dominate for your target audience and new technology that will make your campaigns more efficient. You should also consider whether certain channels or tactics are giving you a good ROI. If not, these could also be “threats” to your marketing success.
Marketing Plan Example: SWOT
Here’s a handy table to help identify your business’s or client’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
[your value proposition]
[your customer base]
[your brand misalignment]
[your ability to pivot or expand]
[your avenues for growth]
[your areas of inexperience]
[your restrictions on growth]
Once you’ve assessed your target audience, competitors, ideal channels, and positioning, it’s time to put it all together. The market strategy portion of your marketing plan guides your overall campaigns and tactics. It typically includes the “seven Ps of marketing,” which are:
Product: This is probably self-explanatory. Your “Product” is, of course, the core offering that you’re putting before your target audience. It should provide a solution to their most pressing desires and pain points.
Price: When setting your price point, consider how it aligns with your ICA’s preferences. Will they accept the cost for the value they receive? How do you present your offering’s value and price, and how does that compare to your competitors?
Place: When you created your personas, you should have identified where your ideal customers spend time, both physically and virtually. Which channels will help you get your product in front of them? Moreover, where are they most likely to buy? For example, your audience may be active on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they’re amenable to shopping there. That’s why it’s crucial to understand each persona’s buying journey — especially if you’re implementing an omnichannel marketing strategy.
Positioning: Product, Price, and Place all feed into your market position, i.e., the specific niche you serve and the gaps you fill. The Positioning part of your market strategy defines the nexus of your offering, appeal, and overall value. It is crucial for distinguishing yourself from your competitors.
Promotion: “Promotion” describes how you get your product in front of your target audience. Are you focused on “interruptive” advertising, such as paid ads and sponsored content? Do you use salespeople or influencers? Again, these decisions entirely depend on your ideal customers, where they spend time, and how they make purchasing decisions.
People: You’ve spent a lot of time studying your potential customers. Now, shift the focus to your team. Who will perform the tasks in your marketing strategy? What are their proficiencies? How can they best fulfill their role? Too many business owners forget about this, and before long, they find their campaigns struggling because they didn’t procure the right designers, copywriters, sales reps, etc.
Packaging/Physical Evidence: You can say all you want about your brand, but if your presentation doesn’t jibe with your target audience, you’ll struggle to reach them. As the saying goes, an image is worth a thousand words. Your overall visual branding (product packaging, digital aesthetic, store design, etc.) plays a huge role in your marketing’s success. It creates recognizability, which, in turn, breeds trust and loyalty among your customers.
Helping Your Clients Create A Marketing Plan For Bigger Growth
When a client books your agency to help with marketing, they usually haven’t gone through all the steps above. Often, they’ve focused on their go-to-market plan rather than their marketing plan! Guiding them through the process can help them clarify their goals and identify new opportunities.
That said, don’t expect them to know all the marketing lingo and techniques. Instead, gather details about their target audience, ideal customers or clients, competitors, and goals. Having a conversation can be more illuminating than giving them a chart to fill out.
To reveal their strengths and weaknesses, ask some strategic questions:
- Are there any sales tactics or marketing channels you feel aren’t delivering results?
- Where are you spending the most money, and what is your return from that?
- What questions and concerns do you hear most from your audience?
- What aspects of your business do you feel people don’t understand?
- Are there certain marketing or sales tasks that take up too much time?
Help your clients understand that the marketing plan is their roadmap to landing their best customers. Many business owners confuse marketing with development. While it supports their operations and sales, marketing is ultimately about building a strong brand — one that speaks to and attracts their ideal audience. A good marketing plan focuses on how to forge and sustain those connections.
Leverage the Power of Marketing Automation
Whether you’re developing a marketing plan for yourself or a client, you probably want to trim expenses as much as possible. Thanks to the rise of digital marketing, many effective tactics are much more affordable. However, marketing still requires a lot of time — and that can prevent your team from focusing on the strategy at hand!
Automation frees up your schedule and ensures accuracy. As a rule of thumb, if it doesn’t require a human touch, let the bots do it. New marketing automation tools can handle everything from email drip sequences to social posting. This saves many hours and reduces the likelihood of errors and lost leads.
Plus, marketing automation reduces your overall campaign spending, which boosts your ROI and allows you to scale up your efforts. If you have backburnered your digital marketing due to budget concerns, look into automation as a way to run sustainable campaigns.
This benefit is something you can pass on to your clients, if applicable. Not only can you handle a higher campaign load but also deliver better results for clients. Check out our client plan for marketing automation to start leveraging this technology for your agency.
A marketing plan may seem like a lot of work — and honestly, it can be. However, it’s well worth your efforts so you can clarify your business’s or client’s value and effectively present it to your ideal audience. Plus, it can help you identify opportunities to refine your niche, avoid wasteful tactics, and close market gaps … all of which empower you to boost profitability for yourself or your client.