How to write a marketing plan and grow your business with better marketing.
Are you a new business looking for new ways to grow? Or are you a CEO or Managing Director looking to improve your existing marketing efforts. A marketer who wants to know where to get started? When was the last time you saw a new marketing plan from your team?
As a minimum every business should know how they are going to market and promote themselves for the next year. Writing a marketing plan annually focuses your marketing, keeping it in line with your business plan, it keeps the rudder steering the right course. Think of it as a high-level plan that guides the direction of your team's campaigns and goals. A document to reference, a template for growth, it provides the structure that will help you to realise your business plan.
Within this post we'll show you exactly how to write a marketing plan, talk about the benefits of doing so and provide some real life examples of marketing plans and templates to make the whole process easier.
Need help writing a marketing plan? Contact Improve Marketing.
If you haven’t written a marketing plan, you’ll struggle to manage spends and budgets, business planning is made more difficult, forecasts and targets are guess work rather than based on fact.
Your marketing plan will vary depending on what sector or industry you are in. Are you an online or bricks and mortar business or both? How ambitious are you? Are you a start-up or a more established business building on your success?
Regardless of your answers to these questions there are some fundamentals that you can employ when developing a marketing plan for your business. In this article we’ll explore these fundamentals and direct you to some excellent sources that will assist you or your team and show you how to write a marketing plan. Firstly, back to the basics.
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a document that lays down the structure and helps develop the format of your marketing strategy for forthcoming year. It can be as long or as short as you would like, as simple or as in-depth as is required, but the key elements or the structure of the plan should all be laid out clearly and concisely.
If you do not have the data or knowledge in a particular area of the business, research it. Alternatively, bring in the help and resource that you need to achieve that. Write a marketing plan to succeed but that is also achievable. Be honest with yourself, your team or your boss. Make it accurate, this is the foundation block that will determine your strategy, getting it right from the very beginning is critical. Make sure that all the elements and points listed below are included.
The 7 Fundamentals of Writing a Marketing Plan:
Assess where your business is currently
Confirm who your customers are
Analyse your competitors
Set marketing goals and targets
Decide the budget
Outline marketing tactics that are available to you
Understand how you will track and report success
Writing and presenting a marketing plan makes you to think through the important steps that develop into an effective marketing strategy. A marketing plan will also help keep you focused on your business goals focusing the marketing on how to achieve them.
Research is the key, basing your plans and objectives on fact are a must. If there are unrealistic expectations in the marketing plan it will make it unachievable. Plan to make errors, that’s OK, but do your best to minimise the impact of any errors and leave the space to exploit any opportunities. Here’s that again.. Research, research, research. Got that? Let’s move on.
Writing a marketing plan
If this is the first time you have sat down and created a marketing plan, then it can feel like a huge mountain to climb. You need to understand how your business works and more importantly what your customers want. It’s OK though, we’ve got you. Below is a 7 step guide on how to present a marketing plan. Starting with step 1.
Step 1: Honestly assess where your business is now.
This first section defines your company and its products or services then shows how the benefits you provide set you apart from your competition. It's called ‘SWOT analysis’ or an assessment of your businesses; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. In some ways target audiences have become more fragmented but given the right medium or channel they can now be easier and more cost efficient to target. No matter your sector, from holiday businesses to plumbers, training providers to financial services, you need to position your offerings successfully and this requires an in-depth knowledge of your market. You have to be able to describe what you are offering; you must also have an understanding of your competitors positioning in order to better position your own products or services too.
As ever research, make your SWOT analysis accurate and true. The ‘S’ and ‘W’ refers to the ‘Strengths’ and ‘Weakness’ of your own business, while the ‘O’ or opportunity and ‘T’ for threats refers to your marketplace and or your competitors.
So how do you assess your companies’ strengths? Look for how your products or services are better than your competitors. What’s your advantage? How are you leaner than other businesses, what additional value do you or can you offer? Better quality, lower price, faster delivery, location, better customer service and more can all be considered strengths. Identify your strengths and tune your marketing to them, if you have no obvious strengths, create one. Make it real and focus on it as your USP.
Weaknesses are the negative factors that could inhibit your business, stunt growth or provide a bad customer experience. Business processes are most commonly at fault here, lack of finance, your teams experience or skill sets, having the right equipment, lack of stock, not enough staff, bad customer reviews or again location. Whatever your weaknesses are be sure to understand them, write them down, do your best to fix them and if you can not fix them make sure that you account for them in your marketing. E.g. If your delivery is not as fast as your competitors, make sure that is more cost effective. If your team is inexperienced, look to hire some sort of external resource to fill the gap.
Need additional marketing resource? Contact us to talk about our Marketing Consultancy services.
What are the opportunities that you can take advantage of? Is the market that you operate expanding or fragmenting? Does your product or service fill a niche that has not yet been fully exploited? Are there any events that you could attend? Do you get amazing customer feedback? How can you better communicate your strengths or USP’s.
Opportunities for business are everywhere, study your competitors, look at parallel sectors, seek inspiration.
Threats is important too. The best laid plans can be rumbled by an aggressive competitor or a shift in consumer behaviour or technology. The old adage ‘plan for the worst but hope for the best’ holds true here. Talk to others that know your business, be sure to understand all the threats that could potentially impact you and then prepare to defeat those threats should the worst happen.
SWOT analysis will help you to better position your product or service, help structure your plans and provide clarity as to better take on your competition.
You need to assess your product’s selling points and decide how they are superior to your competitors. Identifying strengths and mitigating weakness.
Additionally, you need to understand who is going to buy your product or service, what are the triggers that are most important to them. Low price or high quality, is speed important? Or is great customer service the major factor. Keep it simple because when begin to start building out assets such as content on your website or advertisements this message will need to be easily communicated.
Understanding what your customer wants will help you decide how best to market your product or service. Understanding who your customers are will refine this targeting even further.
Step 2: Who is your target audience?
You will be surprised how many businesses are not aware of exactly who their target audience is. The amount of times that we have heard, ‘well it’s everyone really’ would shock you. Having clarity on exactly who your customers are is a critical process in creating and writing an effective marketing plan.
You can start by simply sketching out who your customers are. Who is the most likely person that is going to buy from you? It could be that you have multiple target markets so write down all the potential target groups and rank them in terms of most likely to buy, how much they buy and how often.
It is important that you prepare specific personas for all of your target markets, but there is a limit. You may need to go back through your work and prioritise the most likely to buy or the most profitable groups. A persona is a definition or a stereo type of each of your target audiences. If they were an individual, what would they look like? Who are they?
For each of these personas you need to understand their demographics.
Demographical analysis allows us to further refine our personas or target groups. Data that will later help you to decide on marketing tactics that will most efficiently target them. Make sure that you include the following information about each of your target personas.
Age: Categorise them in terms of age ranges, such as 25-44 year olds, 16- 34’s. over 55’s etc.
Gender: A more obvious means to target but writing down Male or Female really helps you to build that picture. Bear in mind that sometimes products or services aren’t always gender specific but it may be the ‘main shopper’ or the individual in a household that actually does the purchasing.
Affluence: Are your customers upmarket (A,B’s) are they mid-market (A,B,C1’s) or downmarket (C2,D,E’s).
For more information on affluence measures and demographics visit Wikipedia's guide to demographics.
Life Status: What is their current status? This could be Housewife, Student, Married with Kids, Empty Nester or Retired.
Location: Where in the world are your customers? Are you a global business or perhaps super local? Are your customers in a specific country such as the UK or are they in a particular county or region?
Check out our guide on how to market your business locally.
Depending on your business or offering other factors may be important to you too. If they are write them down next to your personas and make sure that you account for them in your targeting.
Other factors important to your business could include; urban versus rural audience, previous or competitors’ customers, religious inclination, detailed financial status, brand familiarity, family size, job, education, generation and of course what hobbies and interests that they may have plus many more.
If you are targeting other businesses you may need to consider the type of business that you are targeting, job title, the size of the business, where they are in the world or a whole host of other target-able requirements. Be specific, but be accurate.
When you go through the process of either identifying your target audience or confirming your target audience be sure to use every resource that you have. Double check, ask others familiar with your business, ask customers, collect data, interrogate your existing data.
Do not assume or create generic and un-targetable categories, be specific and understand who they are, how likely they are to buy and how much they might buy. This will provide a much greater level of clarity when it comes to choosing your marketing tactics and channels. It will make you more efficient and more effective at targeting your customers with marketing and advertising.
Considering hiring a marketing consultant? Check out the benefits of Hiring a Marketing consultant by clicking the link.
Step 3: Analyse the Competition
Whatever market you enter, there will always be competition. Even if you are a market leader, you will still have hungry companies eroding your margins or stealing share somewhere. Chances are though, you are probably selling something that is similar or broadly related to another business’s product. You’ll have to be better than they are in some form or another and use this as leverage in your marketing.
Competition is good. Competition keeps business’s lean and sharp. Competition makes you focus on your business harder, to better yourself, to out-compete your competitors. Whether you are a start-up or a more established SME you should not get intimidated, you are offering a great service, you have happy customers, but you’ll need to really work those USP’s to stand out from the crowd.
How to analyse the competition:
When assessing how you stand up to your competition you need to outline everything that they are doing. Perform a SWOT analysis on them, look for their strengths and weaknesses and there you’ll find your opportunity and how you can take share from them. No business is perfect, nor can it take every corner of the market. They cannot be cost effective and premium or be fast and have attention to detail. Perform a SWOT analysis of your competitors on Excel, plot their attributes, sales strategies, perhaps the technology they are using or the quality of their assets e.g. brand, the quality of their website, their marketing, how they sell to their customers. But also who their customers are, why they choose to buy from them and how they buy it?
Then add your own businesses SWOT analysis to that chart and see how you stand up to your competition. Where is the opportunity, is there a group of people that aren’t being sold too, where do you win and where do you need to improve? How can you offer something different? This will be a gold mine of useful information that will help you to develop your positioning and counter, at least identify any potential threats from your competitors to your own business.
Again, research, research and research some more. Understanding your marketplace and thoroughly understanding the plans, tactics and strategies that your competitors use will allow you to be prepared in the event of circumstances changing. You may be even be able to ‘magpie’ a few of their ideas to use yourself!
Step 4: Set marketing goals and targets.
What does your marketing plan need to achieve? How does it fit with your business plan? Are you aiming to sell greater volume or higher priced or better margin items? Is your objective to generate more phone calls, if so, how many and when? What’s your growth target?
A marketing plan needs to have goals and targets. These goals and targets will allow you to a) monitor the ongoing performance of your marketing efforts and b) help your business to stay on track for growth.
Many businesses that I have worked in assign their marketing budget by linking to their forecast revenues e.g. If your target was £1million turnover, the budget assigned to achieve that could be 5% or 10% of turnover. You need to allocate marketing budget that is inline with your growth targets. If you spent £50k last year and have set aside the same budget as the previous year you should only expect the previous years revenues. Plan for growth but measure it. Understand how your marketing is performing and if it is delivering the results you need. If not, try something else or put the budget somewhere that is delivering the results that you need.
Make your goals achievable and in line with your business plan. Then monitor the performance of that marketing against the plan. Regularly.
Make a list of goals and make them measurable so that you’ll know when you are on target. These can be monthly targets or annual targets but be sure to monitor them consistently so that you can adapt to opportunities or reduce spend in poorly performing channels.
Here’s a summary that should help you to set realistic and achievable marketing goals.
• Be Specific. Simply saying that I want to achieve more sales or leads isn’t enough, set a financial goal of X% uplift or £X increase in sales. Also, don’t set what we call ‘meaningless targets’, by this I mean I want to have X more followers on Facebook or Instagram. What is a follower worth? What would they generate? Be sure to be specific about your goals and give them real world targets.
• Be Realistic. Very few businesses, particularly well-established ones can double their size in a year (unless you are starting from a low stand point). Make sure that your targets are ambitious but not impossible. You’ll have to account for this in your forecasting and budgeting and the last thing that you want to do is lose you or your teams’ motivation should you under achieve. I have worked in large businesses that have set overly ambitious targets. Year on year sales were well beaten but the target was not achieved. This kind of bitter sweet ending to a year is not positive, nor good for you or your team.
• Be Positive. Yes, some businesses are happy to generate the same revenue as last year, but if you set the target the same if you fail, you’ll fall short. If you plan for growth, focus the team and the efforts of the business on taking more share or improving turnover you are much more likely to succeed. Even if it is modest growth, plan it in and make sure that everyone is motivated to go and get it.
• Have short & long-term goals. How long term is your business plan? One year? 5 years? It is possible to plan marketing for longer than one year, but I would hesitate if asked to lay down accurate plans longer than 12 months. The reason being that marketing changes, products and services change, technology changes, your competitors change. There may be opportunities that come up that you are able to exploit, financial conditions may change and so on. You can accurately plan for 12 months ahead, but it is important to make sure that you are also thinking month by month. Marketing, particularly digital marketing allows almost daily optimisation. Make sure that you are measuring your effectiveness regularly and you are on track to hit the big year end goal by monitoring performance at the very least monthly.
Targets and goals are great motivators, they keep you focused on the job at hand. Having goals and targets helps you to understand where you are winning and when you are losing. It arms you with information that will help your marketing plan to succeed. It will help your business to succeed.
Step 5: The marketing budget plan.
So, how you should budget for marketing? You have probably already allocated funds to marketing. What was your ROI? How much does it cost you to generate a lead or sale? If you know this information, then calculating a marketing budget becomes much simpler. To plan your marketing budget is to know what it costs you to obtain a customer already. This is particularly relevant in lead generation strategies. For example; your objective is to grow your business from 100 customers to 125, so a 25% increase in customer numbers. You know that on average a customer costs you £1000 to convert. So a budget of £25k would be reasonable. Know how much you are willing to pay for that customer, sale or lead and target and budget accordingly.
Of course, this is much easier to do when you are targeting and converting business with digital marketing. Digital marketing is completely accountable, but what do you do when you are using more traditional channels, or if your target is footfall which is notoriously difficult to attribute?
To ascertain a marketing budget most businesses will set aside a percentage of their forecast turnover. This can vary hugely depending on what sector you are in or what your margin is on a given product or service. I have worked in businesses where 5% of the forecast turnover was standard, however I have also worked with clients who spend as much as 20% in order to achieve growth, sometimes it’s even more for companies aggressively targeting market share or for start-ups trying to get a foothold. It also depends on your business plan, is your yearly plan target to achieve an increase in customers, steal share or improve turnover or are you watching the margin and profitability as your preferred metrics?
Ultimately, marketing budgets need to affordable to the business. In turn, forecasts and business plans need to be in line with the amount of money you set aside for marketing. But what you must do is set aside a marketing budget.
All successful businesses market themselves. They are always looking for new customers and trying to retain existing customers. Marketing should not break the bank; you should not over stretch yourself or gamble with marketing budget. But you must market your business and marketing must provide the return that you need it too. The marketing plan is there to ensure that you have done everything that you can to ensure that this happens.
Step 6: Marketing tactics and opportunities
When writing a marketing plan, step 6 is all about identifying how you are going to communicate with your target audience. What channels are you going to use? What is the most efficient and effective way to market to them? Our objective here is not to create the full marketing strategy but start to think about the right channels that we might use to speak to your potential customers and deliver on the business’s objectives. The nitty gritty of what media or advertising you are going to buy, when and for how much is very much part of creating your overall marketing strategy. At this point we are still in planning.
The plan should include a list of the potential channels that you have successfully used before and some that you think would suit your target market. Obviously, you need to consider both the budget and the goals of the business at this point. There is no point saying that TV would be a perfect choice if you have a relatively small budget, perhaps digital marketing would better suit you. Think about the assets that you have, your website, content, email database, a loyal fan base, returning customers. Then consider what channels would be best to target them.
The marketing plan is not a bible, the bible is the marketing strategy that comes later. At this point we are trying to identify the different tactics that we may employ, both on and off line to achieve your goals. If you are targeting an older audience perhaps direct mail may be a core strategy, a younger audience, perhaps social or online video. A business to business audience may be better suited to events or cold calling. Keep it top line but considered.
To summarise your marketing tactics and opportunities section you can outline some of the strategies that you may use in your marketing strategy to reach your customers or potential customers wherever they are in the sales funnel. For example, loyal existing customers could be marketed to via existing email databases, new customers could be driven to your website with a competition mechanism delivered via social media. Once you have signed off your marketing plan then next step will be to thoroughly research each channel for its merits and potential returns. Cost analysis and pricing, each channel or tactic measured for its potential effectiveness and place in the final marketing strategy.
7. Results, Tracking and Analysis.
All marketers like to track and understand how impactful they are being, how and where to improve, to understand where the opportunity is. CEO’s and FD’s will expect to know what the return on their marketing investment is, when you are writing a marketing plan you need to know your goals and how how you are going to track them. How is your business going to assess and report your marketing activity and results? This needs to be detailed in the marketing plan.
If you have an annual forecast set out for the year ahead then your reporting needs to reflect these targets and demonstrate how effective it was at achieving them. Monthly, quarterly, whatever best suits your business.
To do this you need to have pre-planned how and what you are going to track and how you are going to report on the goals and targets that you have agreed, what data are you going to need internally? How often? Who is going to provide it?
Results, tracking and analysis can be broken into two distinct areas. The tools and technology that you are going to use to monitor and assess the marketing and the data and style of the reporting that you’ll need to measure performance against those pre-set goals and objectives.
Tracking Technologies and Analytics There are a whole host of tracking technologies available to you. These include; Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Adwords reporting or Facebook Insights. There are tools to measure footfall, phone call tracking (on and offline advertisements), promotional and discount code tracking software for in-store and online.
How granular is your Analytical data? Audit and test your Google Analytics to make sure your reporting is accurate and correlates with sales data. Perhaps you have a CRM? Great! This can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, but is this set up correctly? Are you pulling data from all your channels or is there holes in the data? When you write your marketing plan, you’ll need to be clear about what you have and what you can report. If you have the resource to improve this tracking do.
Sales data and measuring effectiveness You’ll need to have easy access to as much internal data as you can as well. This might include lead counts, conversion data from sales people, product volume sales, average order values, customer types, frequency and size of orders or to simply understand if the customers that you drove the business where new customers or existing business.
You should finish your marketing plan with a description of what you are going to track and how you are going to report results. This can be as in-depth as is required by the business or top line, but it must be effective at telling you when you are being successful and when you are not.
The bear minimum that you need to identify in this section is:
• What metrics are you going to track? • What tech or resource you’ll need to do this? • The regularity of your reporting.
You’ll need to know what success looks like and when you are achieving it.
Marketing plan templates and assets:
To further assist you in devising your marketing plan we have also looked for some templates that you can use to create your winning strategy. There are some great links to free resources that you can use to write up your marketing plan below. Don’t feel that you have to use them in their exact format, feel free to adapt them and make them suitable for your business.
Marketing Plans Examples:
Still need inspiration on how to write a marketing plan?. Here is some links to some good marketing plans from real business’s like yours. Take what you like from theses samples and leave the rest. Your Marketing plan is going to be unique to your business, so should the style in which you present it.
Why you need to create a marketing plan:
If you are in business, you’ll understand that marketing plays a critical role in driving growth, start up or mature business you’ll need a road map that keeps you on track and inline with your business objectives. When you write a marketing plan it will assist you in keeping your marketing activities defined and stop budgets getting out of control. It will help you to measure success and by tracking its effectiveness will help you to make decisions and find opportunities as your business grows.
Marketing plans are not just valuable for marketers or CEO’s. They can also be useful for giving a business direction, they can be presented to businesses that might sell your products or services, they can even be used to assist in drumming up investment. A business with a plan is far more likely to succeed.
A marketing plan is more than a stuffy document of ideals and demographics. It helps you to drive your business along a clear and controlled path. When key decisions regarding marketing come up then you can always refer to it, making sure that you stick to the plan and your objectives. It helps you to manage budget, track effectiveness and streamlines your planning for the future. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, start your research and begin to put together your marketing plan today.
About Improve Marketing:
Improve Marketing is an award winning full-service Marketing Agency providing Marketing Consultancy, Advertising and Digital Marketing services for businesses in the UK. If you are interested in growing your business via marketing, we would love to hear from you. We can show you how to write a marketing plan and help you to deliver your business goals. You can contact us here.
Further Reading: Marketing your Business in a Recession.