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Writing a marketing plan: a comprehensive guide

In increasingly competitive business markets, marketing plans can mean the difference between organisational success and failure. This is because marketing plans serve as roadmaps that guide marketing activities, helping businesses to achieve their objectives and deliver sustainable growth.

Through an effective marketing plan, businesses can position themselves effectively in the market, reach their target audiences, and optimise their efforts to stand out against competitors.

“Essentially, a marketing plan is a return to the basics,” says the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). “It’s all about finding out where you stand now, analysing where you want to be, and then establishing a route to get there. It is the touchstone for all marketing activity and, ultimately, the long-term mission of the business.”

Understanding the importance of marketing plans 

To understand the importance of marketing plans, it helps to first understand what, exactly, marketing plans are. 

Marketing plans are documented strategies that organisations use to:

  • Outline their marketing goals and objectives.
  • Identify target markets and audiences.
  • Provide details about specific marketing activities and initiatives.
  • Offer direction and clarity around marketing efforts.

The results of this work can be significant. For example, CoSchedule’s 2022 Trend Report on Marketing Strategy found that organised marketers are 674% more likely to report success.

This success can be attributed to a number of typical marketing plan elements and outcomes, such as:

  • Defining the marketing strategy. A marketing strategy is achieved by conducting market research, analysing industry trends, and understanding an organisation’s target market – all of which provide invaluable insight that businesses can harness to achieve their goals.
  • Allocating resources effectively. A robust marketing plan enables organisations to allocate their marketing budget, time, and resources efficiently by identifying the most effective marketing channels and initiatives to reach their target audiences.
  • Measuring success. With clearly defined objectives, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs), a marketing plan means organisations can track and evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns – and make data-driven adjustments as needed. In fact, being agile in marketing is linked to a 469% increase in success.

The difference between a marketing plan and a business plan

While a marketing plan and a business plan support one another, they serve distinct purposes. A business plan provides a comprehensive overview of an entire business, including financial projections, operational details, and strategic goals. It outlines the big picture and can help secure funding and support.

On the other hand, a marketing plan focuses specifically on marketing efforts. It delves into the strategies, marketing tactics, and implementation details necessary to achieve marketing goals. A marketing plan is a subset of the business plan, addressing the marketing-specific aspects required to drive growth and deliver the business plan.

Developing a marketing plan: first steps

Before a marketing plan can be written, there are a few important steps that need to happen first. These include:

Conducting market research

One of the first steps in the process should be gathering information about the organisation’s industry, competitors, target market, existing customers, and potential customers. This can include demographic data, consumer insights, and market trends that will help foster a deeper understanding of the audience’s needs, preferences, and behaviours.

Identifying the target market and audience

Alongside market research, organisations need to define the specific market segments they aim to serve. This step includes developing buyer personas, which represent ideal target customers, and considers their demographics, motivations, pain points, and buying habits.

Setting clear marketing goals and objectives

Next, it’s important to establish SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with the overall business objectives. Whether it’s increasing market share, acquiring new customers, or launching a new product, organisations need to ensure that their goals are realistic and attainable.

Analysing the competitive landscape

After the market research has been conducted, it can be helpful for businesses to complete a thorough competitive analysis to understand their competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and marketing strategies. Doing so can help identify opportunities to differentiate the business and develop a unique selling proposition (USP) that sets it apart.

The marketing plan template: how to structure a marketing plan

A new marketing plan will typically be crafted in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, or sometimes using a paid or free marketing plan template, such as the ones offered by HubSpot or Shopify.

Marketing plan structures can vary between organisations, but generally there are a few common components that marketing teams should expect to include:

  • An executive summary. This initial section provides a concise overview of the marketing plan, highlighting the key marketing objectives, strategies, and expected outcomes. It aims to capture the attention of stakeholders and provide a high-level understanding of the plan.
  • A mission statement and value proposition. This section should clearly define the organisation’s mission and value proposition by emphasising what makes its products or services unique and appealing to the target audience.
  • A situation analysis. It’s important to conduct and include a situation analysis, such as a SWOT analysis (looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to assess – and respond to – the organisation’s internal and external marketing environment.
  • Target market and buyer personas. This section should provide a detailed description of the business’s target market, including demographics and buying behaviours. 
  • Marketing goals and objectives. This fundamental section of the marketing plan outlines the specific marketing goals and objectives, and clearly articulates the desired outcomes the organisation aims to achieve through its marketing efforts.
  • Marketing strategies and tactics. This section of the marketing plan presents the specific strategies and tactics that will be used to achieve the plan’s objectives. It will typically include a mix of online and digital marketing channels, such as social media marketing, email marketing, content marketing, SEO (search engine optimisation), and webinars, and offline or traditional distribution channels such as print-based products.
  • Budget and resources. It’s important to allocate marketing budget and resources effectively, and to consider the estimated costs of each marketing initiative. Businesses should aim to prioritise the strategies that yield the highest return on investment (ROI), and ensure the marketing budget aligns with the overall business goals.
  • Implementation plan and timeline. This section should outline a step-by-step implementation plan that includes a timeline for executing marketing activities. It should also assign responsibilities to team members and establish deadlines.
  • Metrics and evaluation. This section is typically the final element of the marketing plan, but one of the most important. In this section, the plan needs to define its key metrics and KPIs that should be used to gauge its success. It should also outline the mechanisms that will be used to track and measure the performance of marketing campaigns, such as website analytics, social media metrics, and customer feedback.

Deepen your expertise in marketing and business

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This part-time Master’s degree is designed to provide you with a well-rounded understanding of the fundamental subjects needed to manage a business within a complex and ever-changing environment. You will also have the opportunity to develop your understanding in key areas of marketing, such as:

  • International marketing and planning
  • Digital marketing
  • Global relationship marketing
  • Applied consumer behaviour