7 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

| By Maggie Swift
7 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

We get it: strategic planning is time-consuming and often falls to the wayside in a fast-paced business environment.  If you don’t feel confident in the field of marketing, it can be incredibly daunting to sit down and create a strategy that depends on expensive ad buys. However, taking the time to develop a marketing plan is imperative, especially this year with all the economic and consumer changes from COVID-19.

And there’s greater risk in not making a marketing plan: your hard-earned marketing dollars get spent without any traction or results, you overspend your budget and you stay in the exact place your business was in before. 

 Below are 7 easy steps to create a viable marketing plan for your business. With these steps, you will get back in control of your marketing spends and be on track for growth in 2021. 

1. Perform a Situation Analysis

The first step in creating a marketing plan is researching your current market situation both internal and external. A SWOT Analysis is a great tool to use. It will help dictate your strengths and weaknesses that exist within your business, as well as opportunities and threats from outside factors. Next, consider how the benefits of your products or services outweigh the benefits offered by your competitors. You may also want to conduct a competitive analysis to understand where the gaps are in the marketplace and any missed opportunities your competitors are facing. This step also helps you understand if your competitors are spending money in advertising and how your budget might stack up. 

Ultimately, performing a Situation Analysis will guide you to better understand what type of buyer is most likely to purchase your services or products. Even if you think you know the answer to this, you may be surprised at what your research determines!

Think About:

What external opportunities can we capitalize on?

What is our competitive advantage?

What is our ideal type of buyer and what do they need the most right now?

2. Define Your Target Audience

Once you have a deep understanding of your market, you’ll be able to articulate your target audience. An important thing to note here is that target audiences can be fluid year over year. Even if you have buyer personas already set up, this step is important to take to refine or adjust based on current market needs.

A target audience can be based on geography, demographics, interests and personality characteristics. A target audience can also be based on verticals such as B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). For B2B target audiences, size of business, job title and industry are all important considerations to include. 

Defining your target audience correctly from the beginning will help your marketing tactics stay on course and allow you to better make decisions on channels and content. And remember: stay laser focused and don’t switch things up without giving your target audience the proper amount of time to turn from stranger to customer. 

Think About:

What personality traits do our customers have? 

What type of content do our customers engage with and what language is being used to connect with them?

What drives our customers and tugs at their heartstrings?

3. Segment Your Audience

After you have articulated your overall target audience, let’s segment them down into smaller groups. This can actually benefit many departments in your business including sales, marketing, customer service, product development and more. 

Segmentation can be broad or specific depending on your business needs and audience size. A simple audience segment might be based on geography or age brackets. More detailed audience segments might include specific buyer persona personality traits or a specific interest in one product vs. another product. 

Audience segmentation improves your focus, ensures your strategy is customer-first and gives you the ability to leverage the targeting capabilities of digital advertising to drive better results in your marketing efforts. 

Think About:

What are our customer’s needs and how do they relate to our products/services?

Are our sales driven by a local or regional market?

How can future content of ours be appropriate for each customer we service?

4. Create Your Smart Goals

SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. By using this framework to develop your set of goals, you drive the greatest impact and are able to focus your marketing investment in a more targeted way.

Begin your SMART goal creation with smaller objectives that help you move toward your company’s long-term vision. Then, make sure you see these goals through to the end of a given year. It is critical to allow enough time for these marketing goals to make an impact. You should also align your time expectations with the length of your sales cycle. For example, if your buyers typically take 6 months-1 year to make a buying decision for your products/services, you can’t realistically expect marketing results to happen in 1 month. 

Think About:

Are our goals attainable considering our revenue history, current bandwidth and sales process?

How can we make our goals measurable?

What tools can we add to our tech stack to track our progress? 

5. Analyze Your Future Marketing Tactics

The first 4 steps of creating a marketing plan outline your opportunities, what your marketing must accomplish and your ideal target customers. Our next step is considered the “heart and soul” of your marketing plan and helps you figure out which marketing tactics to use to best reach your [future] customers. 

A great marketing plan ensures you are reaching your customers at all stages of both the buying funnel and your sales process. How can you reach someone who has just visited your website vs. someone who has already spoken to a sales rep but not yet converted? What tactics should you put into place for retention? What about brand new customer acquisition?

Now that you have an understanding of your target audience and buyer segments, you should have a good idea of what types of media they consume regularly. You should also have an understanding of how your target audience prefers to communicate. Are they heavy emailers? Or are they an older demographic that still loves phone calls? Do they listen to the radio? Are they loyal to major publishers such as The New York Times or The Economist? 

Your marketing tactics should include specific channels and strategies such as email, Facebook, SEO or Programmatic Advertising. It could also include sales support such as loyalty programs, referral programs or customer service tactics to improve your overall customer experience. And remember to make sure your tactics are helping you move towards your goals. 

Pro Tip:

Make sure you figure out your channels before you start developing content. You certainly don’t want to waste time on content creation only to find out it doesn’t work with your current channels and goals. 

6. Set Your Budget

Creating and following a marketing budget is crucial. I repeat: crucial. The amount recommended for marketing budgets varies by market, industry and competitive outlook. It also is important to set a budget that aligns with your desires of growth. If you want to grow aggressively, you will simply need a more aggressive spend. If you are in a highly competitive arena such as law, real estate or retail, you should assume your marketing budget needs to be extra healthy in order to get the results you are looking for. 

Additionally, what to include in a marketing budget varies from business to business. Some businesses include marketing employee salaries, software and events while others just include paid advertising spends. 

If you need a place to start when crunching your numbers, most companies on a national level spend between 6.8% and 10% of total revenue on marketing. However, in some industries and markets, you might find companies allocating 30%-50% of total revenue towards marketing. Make sure you understand what your competitors are spending and consider your profits and cash flow before making any large spends. 

Pro Tip:

If you can’t afford marketing right now, keep saving. Don’t spend a small amount of money just to do something. Instead, focus your efforts on what you can accomplish internally like content or customer service until you have enough to really make an impact. 

7. Write Your Marketing Plan

Why is the act of writing a marketing plan so important? For starters, it gets all of your research, analyses and tactics in one place to fully give you a big picture look. Second, it allows you to properly communicate your plan to your partners, leadership or investors. And lastly, it gives you a baseline for the next year to understand what worked and how you should adapt.

A high-level marketing plan should include a Business Summary, Business Initiatives, Target Market, Market Strategy, Budget and Channels.  Once a document is created, make sure you have a cadence in place for communicating this across appropriate departments. For example, some businesses keep their marketing and sales departments completely separate. In this day and age, making sure your marketing plan is integrated across your departments ensures that everyone is working towards the same goals and encourages employee participation in marketing efforts.  

Don’t be afraid to create additional sections in your marketing plan if the need arises. If you have a huge social media presence, you may want to include Social Media in it’s own section.

Pro Tip:

Don’t be afraid to create additional sections in your marketing plan if the need arises. If you have a huge social media presence, you may want to include Social Media in it’s own section. 

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