Building a Marketing Plan — 10 Key Components
Without a marketing plan, your company’s marketing can get pretty sloppy. You might pursue channels that aren’t helping you, keep up campaigns that aren’t relevant any more, or waste your budget on projects that aren’t helping you anymore.
That’s why you need a plan. A marketing plan keeps you on a consistent course, helps you keep track of your goals, and lets you plan the budgets you’ll need for your projects and hiring. Every marketing plan will be different, depending on your industry and your individual company’s goals, but we’ve put together ten key points you can focus on.
1. Set Up Timing
Timing your marketing strategy is a difficult balance. If you plan too short-term, you’ll spend all your time planning and you won’t actually get to see how your marketing efforts turn out. Some strategies, especially inbound marketing strategies, take a while to get up and running. And if you plan too long-term, you won’t be flexible enough to adjust when things aren’t working.
You’ll find lots of articles online that tell you to make an annual marketing plan, but a year is just too damn long to wait. We think the perfect marketing cadence is a quarter with your vision set on the year. Three months is long enough to get your campaigns rolling and get some useful data from them, but not so long that you get stuck in an idea that’s not working. Gather data on a monthly basis, then adjust every quarter.
2. Make a Timeline
If you’re going to set out a quarterly marketing strategy, you can’t just sketch out a loose framework of what you want to do for the next three months. You need specific deadlines that lead naturally into each other.
How long will it take you to set out your strategy? How long will it take to execute and publish those concepts once you’ve planned them? Don’t forget to add in time for your clients — they’ll need to approve your strategy, read over your blog posts and social calendars, and approve photos, and all those things can take time.
3. Start With the Big Rocks
Big rocks are your organizational-level goals — not the day-to-day or week-to-week things you want to check orr your to-do list, but your company’s goals in the long-term. Your strategy, approach, and smaller goals will all stem from having a good grasp on what your most important big rocks are.
Your exact goals are going to vary depending on what you do, but some examples might be increasing market share, increasing profits, increasing customer retention, lowering costs in a certain area, opening new branches, launching new product lines, and so on. The smaller goals, campaigns, and specific deliverables will all be inspired by your big goals.
4. Lay Out Your KPIs
Once you have your goals, you’ll need a way to measure them. That’s where your KPIs (key performance indicators) come in. Based on your goals, what does success look like? What specific numbers can you use to measure it? And how are you going to gather the data to generate those numbers?
If your goal is to increase customer retention, measuring it is pretty easy. Your CRM should be able to track how many customers have stayed on board since this time last year.
If you’re trying to launch a new product, defining success might be a little harder. Are you shooting for sales numbers? Profit margin? Or are you just trying to increase awareness by having people sign up for a free trial? The KPI that you use to measure your progress can make a big difference in how your campaigns are judged, so give it some thought.
5. Bring In the SWOT Team
You can’t figure out if you’re moving forward unless you have something to base it on, so we recommend doing a full SWOT analysis — especially for new clients. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and it’s a great way to take stock of where you stand.
- Strengths: What are you best at? Which of your past campaigns have performed the best? Where does your product stand out from the competition? What specific tools or resources do you have to help you meet your goals?
- Weaknesses: What improvements could you make? Where are you faltering? Are there areas where you’re wasting time or resources? Could a new software tool or additional personnel help you?
- Opportunities: where aren’t you? Are there topics that no one is talking about? Are there stories no one is sharing? Are there new trends you can take advantage of?
- Threats: Are there market conditions that might threaten your industry as a whole? Are there new competitors that are starting to encroach on market share? What is your competition doing better than you?
Run this analysis over the entire previous year, but also break it down by quarter and by month to see smaller trends. You might notice that email marketing was rocking for the first quarter, but then you made a change and it flattened out, so it won’t show up on your year-over-year numbers.
6. Consider Your Customers
Take a deep look at your customers. Who are they? What do they want? What are they buying, and what are they ignoring? Are they paying by the month or by the year? Your customer base is constantly evolving, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it.
Your buyer persona is one of the most important aspects of your marketing plan — the person you’re selling to will inform every aspect of how you sell to them. But buyer personas change.
First, you might realize that your market isn’t who you thought. Maybe you make software for web developers, but the devs aren’t the ones making purchasing decisions, so you have to direct your marketing toward the people writing the checks.
Second, your market changes over time. When you first get started, you might be a small company that caters to other startups. As your product improves and gets a deeper feature set, you’ll start to sell to bigger companies.
Finally, you might simply realize that your customers aren’t what you expected. If your analysis of your customers points to something unexpected, change your buyer persona to fit it.
7. Check On Your Competitors
Check on how you stacked up against your competition in the last year. What were their best products, and what were yours? What are they doing that you’re not? You’ll also want to take a look at where they’re going.
Obviously, you can’t always get detailed information on your competition, but any intelligence you can gather will help. Your competition are going to interfere with your ability to meet all your goals, and you need to know how.
8. Stay on the Cutting Edge
It’s not just your marketing, your product, and your competition that change. Marketing changes, too. 15 years ago, no one knew how important social media would be to the world of marketing today. Ten years ago, inbound marketing was new and mostly untested.
So what’s next? Will microinfluencers change the face of social media marketing? Will AI chatbots alter the way you delight your customers? Or will it be something completely unforeseen? Take the time to read trade publications, blogs, and other marketing news. If there’s a new trend in marketing, you need to know about it.
9. Scheme With Sales
We’ve talked before about how important it is for sales and marketing to align. Both departments are working toward the same goal — bringing in leads and turning them into customers. So it makes sense to work together.
What are the sales team’s goals? How are they approaching their leads? What does a good sales-qualified lead look like to them? How can the marketing team make the sales team’s job easier? The smoother the transition from prospect to lead to customer, the better — and you’ll need both sales and marketing to make that happen.
10. Focus on the Flywheel
The sales funnel has been around for decades — you’ve probably planned out a few funnel-shaped diagrams yourself. But we’re changing the funnel to a brand-new paradigm: the marketing flywheel.
You can read more about the sales flywheel here, but the basic concept is one of momentum. The old funnel idea basically ignored the customer once the sale was made, but that’s not how the world works anymore. Keeping customers happy is paramount, because happy customers become repeat customers and drive new customers.
Since existing customers feed directly into new ones, your marketing needs to be focused on maintaining that pipeline. You’ll need to tailor marketing to each stage of the customer journey to keep the flywheel spinning.
The most important thing to remember is that no plan is perfect. No matter how much effort you put into your plan, it’ll have to adapt and change along the way as you respond to changing market conditions, budgets, and a million other factors. You won’t be using the same plan a month from now as you are today.
But the act of making a plan is indispensable. The process of going through all your assets, resources, and goals will make your company stronger and more flexible, so you’ll be ready for whatever comes next.