A marketing plan sets out what you want to achieve and how you plan to do it. It helps you focus on the activities that will move you closer to your marketing goals and minimize the ones that keep you busy with small feel-good wins that do little to move your business ahead.
Your marketing plan should be generated from your overall business objectives. These overarching goals set a framework that will directly or indirectly influence your priorities.
For example, if boosting your position in the marketplace against key competitors is a priority, it could call for a PR campaign in addition to product and customer service improvements. Setting a high target for repeat customers may impact the sales team’s process, but their work can be supported by energizing customers and cultivating brand ambassadors from among your biggest fans.
To set your objectives, you need to have a firm understanding of your market and how your business fits. For example:
- What current trends are having an impact on your business?
- Who are your main competitors?
- How would you describe your target audience?
- What opportunities and threats currently exist in the marketplace?
The Right Marketing Mix
Commonly referred to as the “4 Ps,” your marketing strategy will generally depend on one or more of the following four variables:
- The actual product (or service),
- The price (or value) it has,
- Where you place (or distribute) what you offer, and
- How you promote it.
An effective marketing plan needs the right mix of product, price, place, and promotion to get the results you want.
There are actually three different ways to consider your product or service:
- Your core product is something you can’t touch: it’s the benefit your customer is buying—not the product itself, but the problem it solves.
- Your formal product is what people actually use. It includes physical elements like design and texture, or perceived features like quality and styling.
- Any value added features offered “over and above” the base product, like customer service or delivery, to differentiate your business from the competition.
These lenses apply to both physical products and services, although if you offer a service, you’re selling something that’s more intangible as well as unique to every customer. Instead of physical attributes like color or texture, your product is tied to each customer’s experience and any tangible results.
What Every Marketing Plan Should Include
Building on your understanding of where and how you fit into the marketplace, your marketing plan will need to:
- Identify the purpose of your marketing campaign.What problem do you need to solve, and what does success look like?
- Set objectives for your efforts.What are the key measurable results that will define your success?
- Define a process, and identify the tactics, that will help you achieve your goals.What do you need to do to succeed? How will you move your customers to take action?
Identifying Your Marketing Plan’s Purpose
Marketing efforts typically distill down to one of two primary aims:
- To build and maintain demand for your product or service, and/or
- To shorten your sales cycle.
As you begin to craft your marketing plan, focus on what success looks like. What problem does your marketing plan need to solve? In order to “keep your eye on the prize,” you need to have a clear picture of your target.
Setting Objectives for Your Efforts
Good objectives are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Setting objectives that meet those criteria, especially if you’re a new business with no benchmarks to compare to, isn’t easy.
However, these objectives are important. They’ll help guide your decisions as you create your marketing plan, and they can also serve as a “reality check” as you bring your plan to life: each decision can move you toward your goal or become an unnecessary distraction, and understanding the measurable objectives you need to reach can help you make a firmer choice about how to spend energy and resources.
Defining the Process
The actual “how to” of doing the work seems to evolve daily. Marketing is going through what some have described as the biggest shift since the invention of the printing press, and it’s impacting the way businesses scale and thrive.
The challenge is determining which tactics will be most effective when it comes to reaching your goals.
The details of your marketing strategy will be further influenced by your industry, your product or service, and—critically—the most effective way to reach your current and potential customers at the moment.
Mapping your buyer’s journey will help identify who you need to reach, what you need them to do at each stage of your relationship, and what you need to do—through your marketing plan—to move them to take action.
The Buyer’s Journey: Put Your Marketing Efforts in Context
Whether you call it a marketing funnel, buyer’s journey, customer lifecycle, or something else entirely, this model does one thing: it identifies the broad phases a customer goes through before, during, and after their purchase.
Once, this was a fairly straightforward process. The AIDA marketing funnel—Attention, Interest, Desire, Action—is the traditional progression for buyer behavior: customers started at the top and were guided through the other stages, often by a salesperson.