How to create an effective marketing plan

02 March 2021Reading time: 6 min.

Whether you’re new to designing a marketing plan or have faced this challenge in the past – with more or less satisfactory results – finding new information and planning methods is always useful. Discover our tips and get actual templates to inspire you.

Company objectives for the new year have just been unrolled at the start of 2021. The dreaded request from your boss has arrived. The time is now: you must present the marketing plan that will guide your team’s strategy for the next months.

You have no idea what to do or where to begin. So you stare at your excel sheet, hoping it’ll suggest a setting. You turn to Google, but it all seems too complex and your deadline is just a few days away.

In all likelihood, this could be the recurring nightmare of many marketers. Indeed, preparing a marketing plan can be rather complex, and a large part of a company’s marketing strategy success depends on it. 

Here, we’ll try to give you some tips and share actual templates. Use these as a reference guide to structure an effective marketing plan and understand the must-have elements in your planning. 

What’s a marketing plan, and what’s it for?

A marketing plan is a roadmap with a timeline of activities. It serves as a business tool to outline, organize, manage, and track a future marketing strategy. Don’t confuse it with a marketing strategy. A marketing plan is a broader frame of reference for channeling one or more strategies that achieve a single, final goal. 

All that’s needed for a marketing plan

Objectives

First, ask yourself: “Where do we want to go?” This question will help you identify the main objectives that the marketing team will have to follow, bearing in mind all the strategies they’ll develop. Our advice is to define objectives that are:

  • clear and precise;
  • consistent with the mission and general corporate objectives, and 
  • specific, but not too much. The objectives must suggest the marketing activities’ direction without outlining too much of the operation. Otherwise, they risk turning into the objectives of a single strategy (and as we’ve said, strategy is not to be confused with the marketing plan). 

Here’s a practical example:

Let’s assume that your company’s mission allows young people to search for study breaks and projects abroad in a quick and easy way. Then, your marketing plan could aim at an audience of students and aspiring workers, convey the importance of training abroad, educate about the existence of funds, services, associations, and charity projects that facilitate this type of training and, thus, convert these people to use your research platform. 

To help you in this activity, use the SMART goals technique. SMART is an acronym of the 5 fundamental qualities that should characterize any objective:

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable 
  • Relevant 
  • Time-based 
smart objectives marketing plan

Source: Taskomat

Reference target

Answer the question: “Who do we want to reach?” It is the next step after defining the objectives. This datum will orient the different marketing strategies even more sharply, further defining their action perimeter. 

Don’t limit yourself to establishing a generic target: create buyer personas that reflect the prototype of your target user/customer. In fact, buyer personas are an inbound marketing tool meant to aid the identification of your target needs and the development of the right strategies to intercept it

What are buyer personas? 

These imaginary people are archetypes of “typical consumers” designed on the basis of a research that goes beyond demographic, economic, and geographic info. They include behavioral, situational, and emotional data linked to characteristics like interests and hobbies.

Here’s a practical example:

A buyer persona model that represents the target audience of our previous example could be the following:

Name: Lucia
Age: 19
Occupation: Senior year high school student (linguistic high school)
Objectives: Enrolling in Language Mediation 
Hobbies: Passionate about oriental music and culture, traveling, and Japanese manga
Information sources: Google and social networks
Urgent needs: Meeting new people, organizing post-graduation travel, learning a new language, and gaining new experiences
Decision-making criteria: easy and all-inclusive solutions, low organization requirements, and low costs 

Analysis of the current situation

Analysis of the current situation means: “Where are we now?” It’s about grasping the scenario and the company position in both the general context and the reference market. The goal is to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of the hypothesized strategies

A comprehensive analysis of the current situation includes:

  • analysis of the context or, rather, the cultural, sociological, technological, political, and economic conditions of the current historical period. For example, this type of analysis would drastically influence the 2021 marketing plan of our project abroad search platform. In fact, the current scenario would need to focus on totally different digital strategies than in the past.
  • analysis of the market and the competitors focuses on the target market and identifies your competitors’ strategies, channels, content, advertisements, tools, and every detail about their activities that can be useful to you. Based on the findings, it identifies your USP, i.e., your competitive advantage.

What does USP stands for?

USP means Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point. It’s the element that differentiates your product and its sale argument, meaning its advantage over the competitors. In short, we can identify 3 macro categories of advantage: cost (when your product’s strong point is affordability), differentiation (when your product is meant to make a difference), and specialization (when your product is designed to respond to a specific need).

  • analysis of the reference target’s habits and evaluation of market attractiveness to define even more precise preferences, needs, behaviors, devices, and channels used by the public you want to intercept. You can consult the studies of research institutes like Statista, and Emarketer, or rely on tools such as Google’s Consumer Barometer and Facebook Insight.
  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). This analysis relies on the external and internal factors that impact company objectives and strategies, classifying them into strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats based on a 2×2 matrix:
SWOT analysis

Choice of channels

Your buyer personas and your previous market analysis will help you understand the most effective channels to:

  • intercept your target audience;
  • publish and share your content;
  • advertise your products or services; 
  • start a conversation with an audience, and
  • provide assistance to your customers.

For your choice to be effective, you may want to draw up a list of the potentialities and the pros of each channel and compare it with the needs and preferences of your target. 

Here’s a practical example:

Our buyer persona, Lucia, belongs to Gen Z, i.e., the mobile-first generation par excellence. She mainly uses the smartphone for web searches, emails and, above all, social media. 

Hence, the choice of channels is obvious and almost unavoidable: 

social networks to publish content and ads;
website and email communications with a mobile optimized design
integration of the SMS channel with Email Marketing strategies to exploit the full potential of SMS (first of all, their 98% open rate)
use of instant messaging platforms like Telegram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp for immediate and fast communication. 

Budget

Your strategies and activities may also take advantage of free channels and platforms. However, these imply a significant number of hidden expenses and on-demand costs that need to be considered, company-approved, and defined. Just think of sponsorships or the need for new work team resources. Estimate all the necessary costs and establish a scale of priorities to prepare a marketing budget and identify the expenses that you could give up in case of need. 

Plan of activities and responsibilities

Draw up the key macro activities to achieve the preset objectives, schedule them, and assign a time limit and a priority of intervention. For this, it may be useful to analyze seasonality and trends (using tools like Google Trends and Google Analytics) to identify slack and active periods. This way, you can work in the most suitable time interval (when it’s better to start a discount and promotion campaign, for example). 

Furthermore, keep in mind that a complete marketing plan must include all the activities of interaction with the public along the customer journey, from the funnel early stages (awareness and interest) to the retention marketing activities (loyalty).

Once your activities are listed, assign a specific owner to each of them. The owner will be responsible for ensuring the implementation of his or her action in compliance with the deadlines. 

Analyzing metrics

Metrics are the last element to consider within your marketing plan. The work team will use them to track the progress of the activities and the performance of the strategies implemented. 

First, define which KPIs must be monitored. This will enable you to determine the short-term goals, that is, the fundamental steps for achieving the final objectives. 

Email Marketing KPIs to monitor in 2021

Examples of marketing plans 

After so much theory, let’s move on to practice. How can we set up a real marketing plan that includes all the factors mentioned so far? Get inspired by this selection of marketing plan examples.

Buffer’s content marketing plan

Buffer offers a free template for a complete and effective content plan. Each section of the document guides the compilation of the plan by highlighting the questions to ask. It also suggests tips and examples to define a timely and correct planning. 

If you don’t know where to start, this can be a great tool to make your job easier. 

Chief Outsiders’ growth marketing plan

Chief Outsiders provides two templates for:

For both plans, Chief Outsiders provides a concrete list for drafting your marketing plan. 

Forbes’ marketing plan

The Forbes’ marketing plan has reached about 4 million views since its release in 2013. That article, in addition to offering a free template, provide details on how to correctly fill in the 15 sections that make up an effective marketing plan:

  • Executive Summary
  • Target Customers
  • Unique Selling Proposition
  • Pricing & Positioning Strategy
  • Distribution Plan
  • Your Offers
  • Marketing Materials
  • Promotional Strategy
  • Online Marketing Strategy
  • Conversion Strategy
  • Joint Ventures & Partnerships
  • Referral Strategy
  • Strategy for Increasing Transaction Prices
  • Retention Strategy
  • Financial Projections

The “waterfall” methodology in Shane Snow’s plan

For the launch of his book Dream Team, Shane Snow has structured a content plan following a data-driven methodology and a “waterfall” approach. He explained it in great detail in this article

His methodology, called content strategy waterfall, is a sequential and linear approach that provides the following roadmap:

contently waterfall strategy

Source: Contently

This waterfall methodology requires following a series of phases in which the output of each becomes the input of the next step. This produces a timeline where each phase must be completed before the next, avoiding overlapping. 

This approach can be useful for those who prefer an orderly method and need a tight, well-defined business plan. 

Conclusions

This mini guide to an effective marketing plan was meant to give you useful information, effective advice, and concrete examples for one of the most critical and decisive marketers’ job.

All you have to do now is take action!

This article was written by

Paola Bergamini

Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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