How to create a marketing plan (from the ground up)
A marketing plan is a blueprint for reaching and engaging your target audience, and something that is very easy to get lost in at the expense of actionable work. While important to understand the basics of what you’re trying to undertake, don’t make your marketing plan into an annual report. Ain’t nobody reading that.
Marketing plans are important however, for promoting your company’s products or services, and achieving the business’s goals. Here are the essential steps you need to take to create a marketing plan:
- Define your target audience: Who are the people you want to reach with your marketing efforts? Consider demographic information, such as age, gender, and income, as well as psychographic information, such as values, interests, and lifestyle. In B2B or B2G markets it often makes sense to identify your market by target company type or business vertical.
- Set your marketing goals: What do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? Consider both short-term and long-term goals, and make sure they align with your overall business objectives. This is also a good time to get an idea of what your KPI (key performance indicators) are, and whether there are any metrics that your company likes to meet (minimum number of leads, maximum cost per acquisition, etc).
- Research your competitors: What are your competitors doing in the market, and what sets your products or services apart? This information will help you position your offerings in a way that sets you apart from the competition. In a developed firm, there’s a fairly good chance this work as already been done for you, but in the event that it hasn’t it’s a good idea to consider it.
- Determine your budget: How much money will they give you to work your marketing magic? This will help you determine which marketing channels you can afford to invest in and what results you can reasonably expect. It’s also important to ask if any of this has been earmarked for a particular initiative, because in an existing company, there will likely already be several initiatives that are already contractually agreed upon, that may just be a tough pill to swallow in your first year. More about budgeting.
- Choose your marketing channels: Which marketing channels will be most effective for reaching your target audience and achieving your goals? Consider channels such as social media, email marketing, content marketing, paid advertising, and events. Hopefully there are already some channels that your company uses that make sense (and maybe there are a few home runs you can hit that they haven’t heard of yet, fingers crossed), but most of the time, the alignment between audience and channel is pretty straightforward, and intuitive.
- Develop a content strategy: How will you create and distribute content to your target audience? What’s your voice? How does this audience liked to be addressed? What do they value? This could be devoted to an entire website in its own right (and has been several times over). Consider the types of content that will resonate with your audience, as well as the formats and channels you will use to distribute it.
- Execute your plan: Once you have your plan in place, it’s time to put it into action (and sometimes, you’ll need to start executing on a plan for a quarter, and finish out the rest as the year progresses). Make sure you have a clear process in place for tracking and measuring the results of your marketing efforts, so you can make adjustments as needed.
- Review and adjust your plan regularly: Your marketing plan should be a living document that evolves and changes as your business and the market changes. Unless it’s a contractual requirement, don’t wait until the end of the year to cut activities that don’t work; it’s okay to make adjustments halfway through the year, if you find some things work better than others. Regularly review and adjust your plan to make sure you are always on track to achieve your goals.
A well-crafted marketing plan will help you be successful, but execution counts; don’t put all your eggs into the planning basket without very well throughout plans to follow through with them. Remember that you don’t have to be an expert, and be able to do everything, but for everything that you’re not able to do, you need a plan for who will be doing it. Outsourcing to freelancers can be the cheapest, but it’s hard to vet people, and it takes time. Outsourcing to a company will probably feel more natural, but will be much more expensive.
Let your own feelings of comfort and discomfort guide you, and remember, as you gain comfort, you can switch strategies next year. By following these steps, you can create a plan that will help you reach your target audience, promote your products or services, and achieve your business goals, and just generally rock out.