How to Build a Marketing Plan, Part 1: Foundation and Strategy

Where are you now, and where do you want to go? In this blog, we discuss why marketing plans are important and the first steps on how to develop an effective guide for your year.

During Q4 of the operating year, there’s a collective shudder felt throughout many organizations as everyone begins vying for budget, time, and attention from leadership as they plan for the following year. Luckily, marketers have an important tool they can use to determine their marketing strategy, plan their upcoming efforts, identify resources needed, and share how they will measure the impact of their efforts.

Yes, my friends: this is the marketing plan.Whether you are experienced with marketing plans, or have never built a marketing plan before, my hope with this two-part blog is to share tips, best practices, and approaches to building a marketing plan.

Creating a marketing plan does take time, effort, energy, brain-power, information and data (you may or may not have), and buy-in from those who will approve it. But a marketing plan also:

  • Sets the tone and direction for your marketing efforts
  • Prepares you for the year
  • Engages leaders and cross-functional colleagues during the process
  • Communicates the plan with stakeholder groups
  • Shows your initiative and due diligence as a marketer
  • Allows you to predict your needs (financial, time, staff, tools, vendors)
  • Demonstrates the potential impact marketing efforts can have

Breakthrough Marketing Plans by Tim Calkins from Kellogg School of Management is a good book to review before building your next marketing plan. While his book was originally written before the social media boom, the concepts, approaches, and case studies he shares are sound. From my perspective, there are five key steps to the marketing plan process. This blog will focus on the first two steps (the other three will follow in a future blog post).

Step One: Confirm Your Current State

During this step, you want to ground yourself in your current position in the market, including your strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats (or SWOT).

  • Spend time reviewing your products and services (and what makes them special/different).
  • Analyze past performance from your previous marketing plan—what worked, what didn’t work, and what would you do differently? If you didn’t have a marketing plan, think back on your last year and consider these same questions.
  • Consider any industry trends or even marketing trends that might impact your efforts in the future.
  • Review your competitors and see what they are doing (in comparison to what you are doing); this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do what they are doing, but it’s still good to be aware.
  • Dust off (or create) those potential buyer personas and determine if you need to make any updates, which could include adding new customer groups.
  • Review your company’s mission statement, vision statement, long-term strategic plans, and brand promise.
  • Finally, and most importantly, know what you are trying to achieve. Your leadership has likely identified their SMART goals for the coming year. These are essential because if you don’t know what the company is trying to accomplish, it is impossible to build a marketing plan that supports those efforts.

Step Two: Design Your Marketing Strategy

Your marketing strategy is an important bridge between your goals and tactics. It’s the heart of the plan and shares the overall ways marketing contributes toward the stated goals. It keeps your efforts focused and also helps determine which tactical opportunities don’t make sense for your plan. This can also be a good time to involve three to five strategic-thinking stakeholders to help you think about the best ways marketing can help the company reach its desired outcomes.When generating your marketing strategy, you should focus on the goals you are supporting. If a strategy doesn’t support the goals, it shouldn’t be your strategy. Think high level: How will marketing help support this goal? Your strategic initiatives should be:

  • Clear and simple: Outline what will be done (high-level)
  • Action-oriented: Include a verb in the phrase
  • Measureable: Easy to confirm that progress is being made
  • Relevant: Connect to at least one goal or desired outcome

I also recommend (as does Tim Calkins) limiting your strategic initiatives to three. This allows you to stay focused on three specific approaches, and it also increases stakeholder recollection of your strategies (things are easier to remember in threes).

With three memorable strategic initiatives, your team and colleagues can keep marketing in mind as they become aware of new opportunities that support those strategies. In addition, you can use those focused strategies to weed out ideas or tactics that don’t strategically align with the plan. Don’t discard those ideas completely, but keep them in mind for future years when they might connect with the strategic focuses.

In Part Two of my blog post, I discuss how to build your tactical plan to support your strategies, share how to obtain approvals, and provide advice on how to execute and report on the plan.

Looking to learn more about marketing planning in the meantime? Check out Meld CEO Melinda Pradarelli’s blog post on marketing strategy, or send us a note. We love to talk strategy!

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