Creating a marketing plan can be the difference between growing your business fast and letting it wither away in an attempt at success.
It might sound a bit tedious to plan out your strategy in advance, but it can help you better understand how to make your customers happy, ultimately leading to bigger profits and more growth.
A marketing plan is just as important as a business plan, so we wouldn’t advise skipping this crucial step as you develop your brand.
If you’re just starting out, we’re sorry to say that there’s no such thing as a standard marketing plan template, but there are several vital ingredients involved in creating a successful marketing strategy.
We’ll explore seven of these elements that we find the most critical and delve into why we picked each of them in more detail.
But first, let’s talk about what a marketing plan even is and why it is important.
Marketing Plans 101
In simple terms, a marketing plan is a roadmap to creating and implementing your marketing strategy.
If you have a website, you probably know that the custom web design company you hired to build it made a rough outline first. That’s because, just like marketing, web development has grown in complexity over the last couple of decades.
Therefore, marketing plans have also become more complex, as you’re expected to focus on an increasing number of avenues to address your customers.
There are several questions you should try to address in your marketing plan:
- What is your business going to offer its customers?
- What is your target demographic?
- Why would your customers buy your product and not that of the competition?
- How can you use marketing messages to reach prospects?
- Which marketing channels work best with your business model?
- What are your marketing goals, both short-term and long-term?
- What indicators will you use to measure your strategy’s success?
These questions will help you create a marketing plan that can outline your strategy’s structure, helping you achieve your goals. Once your marketing plan is written, you can revise it as often as you need to, responding to new challenges and exploring new mediums.
A marketing plan should never remain static. Instead, it should grow and evolve with your company.
Why Is a Marketing Plan Important?
Marketing is a complex subject. There are many ways you might choose to approach your prospects, and failing to develop a proper strategy can lead to mixed results.
Let’s say you decided to market your business on social media, and you picked a social media platform on a whim. Let’s also say that that social network is Instagram.
You’ve heard that Instagram can be an excellent platform for reaching customers that belong to your demographic, so you open an Instagram Business account and start collecting followers. But, in a few months, you realize that none of your Instagram followers are getting converted into customers.
Why is this happening? If you had created a marketing plan, you might have some idea, but without an original strategy, there’s nothing to revisit to check where it all went wrong. To make things worse, you’re back at square one — you need a marketing plan.
A good marketing plan is also critical for your bottom line. You can look at the liquid capital you have available and decide how much money you can afford to funnel into your marketing efforts. In time, you’ll be able to track how much money you’ve been spending on marketing and calculate your ROI for each marketing strategy and channel.
Critical Elements of a Marketing Plan
If you’re serious about building a business, it is time to learn what elements your marketing plan needs and how to execute each of those elements with success. Let’s get started!
1. Listing Your Goals
Even though you won’t usually list your goals at the beginning of your marketing plan, they’re the best place to start because they can be used to steer all the other parts of the plan accordingly. It’s simple — if you don’t know what your goals are, you can’t really find success no matter what you’re doing.
Goals will help you drive your company forward and light the way to your destination, both in terms of marketing and business in general.
Your marketing plan goals should obviously relate to marketing. So, what should you include?
An excellent place to start is setting a return of investment goal. Track the revenue-to-cost ratio of your marketing efforts and try to keep it at least 5:1. If you can go as high as 10:1, you’ll be beating most of your competition.
Next, think about brand awareness. Blogging, email marketing, social media marketing, and other channels should help make your audience more aware of your brand. It might be difficult to track this using a specific metric, so you could create goals for each social network.
2. Doing the Research
Research is certainly not the most exciting part of starting a business, but it is crucial if you want the best results. Having as much knowledge as possible about your competitors and your industry as a whole could provide a critical edge.
Aside from the competition, you should focus on internal obstacles, as well as your target demographics. These are all data points you can use to guide your marketing strategy.
Remember to remain objective in your research and fill your marketing plan with facts, no matter how much you might not enjoy them. It is better to know what obstacles await you and what opportunities you can take advantage of instead of just winging it.
3. Describing Your Product/Service
You should carefully describe your products or services in your marketing plan, thinking of ways to make them appealing to your prospects. Think of this as a trial run for when the time comes to start writing actual marketing copy.
What is it that makes your product unique and separates it from the rest? How can you leverage its benefits to attract more customers?
Let’s say that you specialize in installing solar panels. You’re likely hoping to attract eco-conscious homeowners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and the cost of their electric bills.
It would be best to include these details in the description of the solar panels. Use examples of concrete benefits your prospects could enjoy if they choose to purchase panels from you and have you install them.
4. Defining the KPIs
The next thing we should talk about is your KPIs (key performance indicators) and how you will measure them.
If you’re going to have a marketing strategy, you’ll need KPIs. These are meant to measure your success in achieving the goals you set out to accomplish in the first step of this guide.
Hopefully, by this point, you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, so it’s time to translate those goals into metrics you can measure.
Let’s say your goal was to increase your Instagram followers by 30 percent in three months. That goal is a KPI in its own right. You’ll measure it by keeping track of your Instagram followers over the next three months.
To ensure the achievement of this goal, you’ll improve the quality of your Instagram content, get in touch with influencers, do paid promotions, etc.
This is an example of a very simple KPI, but each key performance indicator should have a way to be measured. These can include tracking email subscribers, bounce rates, website traffic, and so on.
5. Creating a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Considering it is one of the most straightforward marketing concepts, the USP is misunderstood surprisingly often. It is defined as the factor of consideration a seller presents as the most prominent reason one product or service is different from and better than another.
In other words, the USP is what makes your product special and separates it from the rest.
If you’ve followed this guide closely, you’ve already performed an extensive analysis of your competition. Now it’s time to go back to that spreadsheet and look for whatever your competitors’ products have in common, but yours does not.
What can you offer your prospects that your competition can’t? As long as it is appealing to your established buyer personas, that should be your USP.
6. Produce Content for Each Stage on the Buyer’s Journey
We’ve come to one of the most important elements of a marketing plan — content. The first step to creating content is, of course, planning it. It would be best to create an editorial calendar within your marketing plan describing where, when, and what you will post.
Think about what type of content you’ll post on each medium, and try to plan your content calendar at least a couple of months in advance. You should include the topic and preferably a rough outline of each piece of content and where it will be published.
Each piece should target customers in a different stage of the buying cycle.
In this stage, you’ll be looking to set yourself up as an authority within the niche and convince your prospects that you have the information they are looking for.
Your content targeted at this stage of the buyer’s journey should serve to educate rather than sell. Your target audience should think of you as a trusted friend who has their best interests at heart.
Listicles and how-to guides (much like this one) are excellent formats for this stage. In email newsletters, customers in the awareness stage should get educational messages and some light sales pitches.
Now that you have your prospects’ attention, you’ll want to push the throttle a bit when it comes to sales pitches. Your emails to these customers should focus on presenting specific benefits of your products and services.
In terms of long-form content, you might want to include information on your unique selling proposition, as well as links leading customers to where they can learn more and complete a purchase. Make sure your CTAs are compelling enough to get readers to take action.
When you acquire a new customer, make sure to send them a thank-you email, or think of another way to make them feel special that is more appropriate to your situation.
The content you present to your converted customers should underscore the quality of your products and the benefits they are gleaning from them.
Acquiring new customers is difficult enough, but retaining them is a whole new challenge. Make sure to keep the line of communication open with your existing customers to let them know about any updates they might be interested in, such as new product releases, location changes, etc.
7. Lay Out a Plan of Distribution
Finally, your marketing plan should include all the ways in which you plan to distribute your marketing messages. There are several options available in this regard, but they may not all fit with your structure and business plan. The channels you’ll have at your disposal are the following:
- Paid ads — Taking out paid advertisements in magazines, search engines, or social networking platforms can help drive sales. However, you’ll need to make sure that they fit your budget. If you’re tight on funds, consider a retargeting campaign. This way, you’ll be showing ads to people who are already familiar with your brand, which has been shown to benefit conversions.
- Social media — We already mentioned social media in the context of paid ads, but there’s another way you can use social media to promote your brand. You can publish original content as well as marketing messages and announcements about your products. Pretty much any social media platform can work well if used correctly, but we suggest starting with the big ones like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Email — Having an email list of qualified leads is always a good idea. These prospects, or former customers, might appreciate content that informs, entertains, and educates. Make sure to include persuasive CTAs in your emails, with links to your sales pages or contact information.
- Blogging — Writing a blog on your website can help you reach more people with your message, as well as provide a massive boost to your SEO efforts. Blog posts should mostly cover educational and informative content, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t end each post with a clear and compelling CTA that encourages the reader to buy your products.
|Christopher is a digital marketing specialist and a freelance blogger. He is focused on new web tech trends and digital voice distribution across different channels. In his free time Christopher plays drums and Magic: the Gathering.|