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How to create a marketing plan

Author's avatar By Annmarie Hanlon 07 Dec, 2021
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7 steps to creating an effective marketing plan

A marketing plan is a bit like a job description for your company. Everyone should have one, but they’re often not fit for purpose, out of date and reviewed infrequently... Research has shown that businesses with plans succeed, outperform competitors, and retain staff, more than those with no plan.

Without a plan there’s no direction for the company or its employees, decisions can be uninformed, opportunities can be missed and threats can damage or destroy the business.

Whether you are looking at creating a traditional marketing plan or a multichannel digital marketing plan, here are the seven steps to creating a marketing plan.

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What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is your place to document the process of managing and optimizing your digital marketing strategy and creating a roadmap for future growth and business development.

This includes setting SMART objectives, vision for digital channels, developing resources, structures, skills, marketing technology and insight- as we will explore below.

A popular structure for planning is PR Smith’s SOSTAC® model, which we will apply to the steps below.

How to create your marketing plan

It can be daunting to develop a marketing plan for the first time, so let's walk through the basics, covered in full in our RACE Practical Digital Strategy Learning Path. And, if you’ve already got some of the work in place or available, you can move swiftly on to the next step!

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Step 1. Situation Analysis - Understand your customers

A good plan starts by asking 'Where are we now?'. Gain an overview via your customers, but don’t forget to ask the right questions. One of my pet hates is the ‘hypothetical question’ e.g. A hotel asking “if you would stay here again?” It’s possible you would stay there again, but if it’s been a one-off visit it’s very unlikely it will actually happen. Removing hypothetical questions ensures you capture facts, not fiction.

If you’ve got a start-up business or are looking at a marketing plan for a totally new area, many other research resources are available including online reports, insights via trends and conferences. This informs your business decision and ensures the plan is fundamentally sound.

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Step 2. Situation Analysis - Marketing audit: where are we now?

After you’ve captured customer insights, the next step is a comprehensive review or audit of the business. Most countries publish statistical data on businesses in their region. This can tell you the number of businesses in specific sectors, average numbers of employees, average earnings, average income per household and more. This valuable information highlights market values, market potential and opportunities. This enables you to understand where your business sits in its market sector and the market share available.

A key element of the audit is the SWOT and whilst you and many marketers are familiar with the SWOT analysis, you may be less familiar with the McKinsey 7S framework of business. Taking a holistic look at the business, thinking about Strategy, Structure, Systems, Staff, Style, Skills and Shared values forms a base for your SWOT. Business members can access a 7S and SWOT template in the Business marketing plan guide.

Part of a marketing audit is competitor benchmarking. Really understanding what the competitors offer. The more you understand how they work, the more likely you are to be able to predict their next move. You won’t be one of these companies that says “we never saw it coming”. Tools such as Google alerts help you embed this as an automatic on-going process.

Google Alert

One of my clients ensured they always got the early news on their key competitor by buying some of their shares! It meant they had access to latest reports, newsletters and could attend annual meetings to hear what other shareholders thought. This was all for an investment of £150.

Step 3. Objectives - Create sustainable objectives: Where do we want to go?

It’s easy to create general objectives; it’s harder to develop SMART objectives.

Taking this one stage further, businesses that use numbers alone often miss key values inside the business. It’s easy to become numbers-driven; it’s harder to create ‘softer’ objectives. In Emarketing Excellence (2012) ,Dave Chaffey and PR Smith developed the 5s model, initially as a mechanism for reviewing websites. I’ve used this for many years to develop business objectives. It tends to challenge the thinking within a business and gets the owners and managers considering the business as a whole, rather than sales alone.

Look at your business. Do you have SMART objectives for:

  • The sales forecast; sales figures, number of new clients wanted?
  • Customer service; how can you improve the service to customers?
  • Communication (speak) providing information to clients?
  • Saving time, increasing your business efficiency and reducing costs?
  • The wow factor! Adding sizzle to make your business stand out from the crowd?

Step 4. Strategy: Segment your customer base

Key strategic initiatives for your business will include one or more of these options:

  • Enter new markets
  • Develop new products
  • Improve the competitive position of the business
  • Maintain the competitive position
  • Harvest part of the business
  • Exit the business

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When you know the strategic initiatives the business is taking, it’s easier to segment your customer base, whether you’re B2B, B2C or a blend of both. You can use the mnemonic SUPERB to identify your customer segments:

  • Size – Is the market large enough to justify segmenting?
  • Unique – Do measurable differences exist between segments?
  • Profits – Do anticipated profits exceed the costs of additional marketing plans and other changes?
  • Easy Access – Is each segment easily accessible to your team?
  • Reaction – Is the market able to react to your communications?
  • Benefits – Will the different segments need different benefits?

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Well-defined segmentation is crucial for optimizing your digital marketing. For more segmentation tools and resources, including using personas and the loyalty ladder, Business members can access the Business marketing plan guide for a planning template.

Step 5. Strategy: Target new customers and position your business

Growing a business always involves finding new customers, this may be different segments or markets and may encourage your business to look at product development.

What opportunities are there in your business to:

  • Sell more of your existing products or services to your existing customer base? (Market Penetration Strategy)
  • Introduce your existing product range to a new customer group? (Market Development Strategy)
  • Augment or improve the existing product offer? (Product Development Strategy)
  • Move into a new market with a new product offer using the skills within the business? (Diversification Strategies)

Pricing is a critical area in any business. Kotler (1988) described nine marketing mix
strategies on price quality, which we look at in detail in the Business marketing plan guide for Business members, to support your pricing strategy development.

Pricing Matrix

Our pricing matrix, for Business Members helps you identify opportunities within your product and pricing strategies. Don't forget to research which of these strategies are your main competitors using too.

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Step 6. Tactics and Action - Create your marketing action plan

The key to making it happen is to create a detailed marketing action plan. If you don’t have time to conduct each step yourself, you can explore other options and contract out specific tasks to an external consultant or agency.

I have found that an Action Plan that includes more detail, nominates someone to do the work and sets dates by when it should be completed, is more likely to get done than a loose set of instructions. A good action plan becomes ’work instructions’ for different people.

Busy marketing managers may enlist support from the admin team who often relish the opportunity to carry out new tasks, as long as they have a detailed brief. Or for more specialized work, marketing managers may wish to enlist an Agency. Our Business marketing plan guide, for Business members, includes a checklist for your brief to ensure the smooth operation of your action plan.

Step 7. Control - Monitor, manage and improve

The final step is about monitoring action, managing the process and measuring results. The 7 steps to make your plan happen are:

  1. It is essential to maintain the impetus, start the plan today, not tomorrow.
  2. Appoint one person to monitor the entire plan and give them the authority to do so.
  3. Regular meetings should be held to review the plan. These could be 20-minute meetings at the start of the week.
  4. If you don’t do it today, your competitors will start tomorrow.
  5. If one item is difficult to start, move on to the next area.
  6. At the end of each quarter, review what has taken place and where more help is needed.
  7. The most successful businesses stick to the plan and make it happen – whilst still getting on with the day job.

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Other types of marketing plan

As the world of digital marketing continues to develop, many find that particular functions within marketing require their own planning document. See examples of where this may be useful below:

  • New product marketing plan: Launching a new product requires its own planning, this process can be make or break for your product. Find out about the product launch plan that generated $1 billion in 60 days.
  • Content strategy: 98% of marketers believe 'having or following' a content strategy is 'important for marketing success'.
  • Nich marketing strategy: Niche marketing considers the narrow category into which your business falls and targets specific subsets of customers accordingly.

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But, remember, it is recommended to define one flagship plan for the whole team, for governance and accountability, before branching out into secondary planning.

One final tip; set a start and an end date for creating the marketing plan, if not, the audit stage could continue indefinitely!

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By Annmarie Hanlon

Annmarie Hanlon PhD is an academic and practitioner in strategic digital marketing and the application of social media for business. Dr Hanlon has expertise in the strategic application of social media for business and the move from digitization, to digitalization and digital transformation for business. Her expertise spans consumer touch points, online customer service, the use of reviews, the role of influencers, online engagement and digital content. You can follow her update on Twitter

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