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How to create a marketing plan + examples

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. You have to oversee everything from accounting practices to hiring employees. And one of the most critical components of growing your business is your marketing strategy. 

Learning how to create a marketing plan allows you to identify your target audience and reach customers. It also clearly outlines the answer to critical questions for your team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to boost your marketing efforts. We’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide to the things you or your marketing team need to include when crafting a plan. Lastly, we’ll give a couple of marketing plan examples you can use when designing your own marketing plan.

What is a marketing plan and why is it important?

a hand holding a magnifying glass and some bullet points covering what a marketing plan aims to do.

A marketing plan is a document that outlines how you’ll introduce and deliver products to customers. It tends to highlight your business needs, detailing the steps you need to take to put yourself in the best position possible to sell your products. The document itself doesn’t need to be overly long, as it’s just one portion of your overall business plan.

Completing a marketing plan will require extensive market research. A marketing plan is not something you should try to complete in one day. Investing time upfront to develop a high-quality marketing plan will help put your company in a better position for success down the line. The right marketing plan will help you: 

  • Identify your target customers 
  • Define how you’ll reach your target customers 
  • Outline retention strategies so potential customers become repeat customers
  • An effective marketing plan can help you acquire new customers and increase your market share.

Whether you have a new product you’re looking to bring to market or are simply looking to change your current marketing campaign, taking time to develop a marketing plan is in your best interest. 

Marketing plan overview

Before diving into the elements of a marketing plan and how to create one, here’s a brief overview and the order of what typically goes into one: 

  • Your business’s marketing objectives: These should be attainable and measurable goals—using the SMART method is recommended. 
  • Marketing positioning: This is an analysis of the current state of your business.
  • Market research: This consists of customer needs, current market conditions, expected direction, and sales volumes of the industry.
  • An outline of your target audience: This covers your target market and their demographics.
  • KPIs: This is a list of the different key performance indicators that you’d like to track.
  • Marketing mix: Your marketing mix is the varied factors that influence your customers to purchase products or services. Be sure to focus on the 4 P’s of marketing (price, product, place, and promotion). 
  • Competition: This is a list that states your competition and what their current strategies are and how to counter them.
  • Marketing strategies: This should include the strategies you’re planning on implementing, such as how you’ll advertise and other promotional strategies. 
  • Budget: This section breaks down your financial budget and available resources for these strategies.
  • Performance and monitoring tools: This section is an opportunity to discover if your current tools to track performance are still effective or if they need to be updated. 

Another tip is to follow the 80:20 rule—for example, your marketing plan should focus on the 20% of customers that bring in 80% of the revenue. It should also focus on the 20% of services and products that account for 80% of your volume.

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Prep work: Marketing plan research

steps to follow before creating a marketing plan with icons like a green graph, orange heart, yellow lightbulb, and blue person sign

Before you begin to develop your marketing plan, you’ll need to sit down with your marketing team and brainstorm an outline. Below are the main things to consider when doing so. 

1. Identify your business goals

You first need to consider your business goals before writing your marketing plan. Ask yourself, which type of product are you focusing on? What are your marketing objectives for running this campaign? How will you measure growth? 

The goals you define should be objective and measurable. For instance, “Increase sales of product X” is not as specific as it could be. But, “Increase sales of product X by 10% by the end of Q4” provides you with something tangible that you can work toward.

2. Determine why a customer would (or wouldn’t) come to you

Next, conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. A SWOT analysis allows you to determine your competitive advantages and disadvantages. What are your unique selling propositions? What sets you apart from the competition?

Determining why a customer would want to come to you involves much more than merely restating your business’s mission statement. You want to clearly define the reason behind a customer choosing you over a competitor. 

3. Identify your target customers

Your target customers are the people most likely to purchase your product. Take time to figure out what your ideal customer base is. Doing so involves combining both demographics and psychographics. 

  • Demographics: This information includes age, gender, household income, marital status, homeownership status, and more. Your best free resource for demographic data is the U.S. Census Bureau. The Small Business Administration website also offers links to online resources for demographic information that you can use.
  • Psychographics: This involves analyzing consumer lifestyles and asking customers what they think about various activities, statements, and interests. Reasons for their responses could include any number of factors, like a person’s lifestyle, economic class, activities and hobbies, values, attitudes, and personality.

Psychographic information is a little harder to collect without a membership to an analytics organization like Nielsen or Kantar Media, which may be worth the investment to help measure audience behavior.

4. Analyze your competition

The most critical competitors you’ll face are the ones who are directly targeting your ideal consumer. Conduct an honest assessment of your competitors and what they have to offer that you don’t. 

Also, take some time to analyze how they might react to your business. Are they prone to discounting, aggressive advertising, or special offers? What else might they do to maintain their brand awareness and a competitive edge?

How to create a marketing plan for small businesses

orange clipboard and paper featuring some graphs and steps to a successful marketing plan

Now that you’ve completed your data collection, you need to actually formulate your marketing plan. Here are the key features to be sure to include:

1. Executive summary 

The executive summary is a breakdown of everything that’s included in your marketing plan. Although the executive summary comes first, you should complete it last when you’ve finished everything else on the list.

2. Mission statement

The mission statement is an analysis and summary of the goals you have for your business and should be included in your marketing plan. Although it should probably be similar, the mission statement you use for your marketing plan doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as your company’s overall mission statement. 

When crafting a mission statement, consider including:

  • What you want to accomplish
  • Your reason for doing it
  • The people you’re doing it for

3. Situation analysis

A situation analysis is an overview of your company’s current state. This is where you should include information such as what you’re selling, what separates you from competitors, and your company’s best practices. 

The more information you can add here, the better. You’ll paint a clearer picture for the reader about what makes your company strong and what puts you at a competitive disadvantage.

Not only will you want to include information about your own company, but about other market influencers as well. This is also where you want to add your SWOT analysis.

4. Target audience description 

You’ve done all the work to understand who your target customer is, so spend time writing out a description of this target audience. It should be as descriptive as possible. Don’t forget to include any psychographic data you might have as well.

Content marketing 

If you choose to use the content marketing channel, you can tailor your content creation around the target audience you discover during your market research. You’ll know what resonates with them, and capturing that audience can be done by creating videos, blog posts, ebooks, studies, and more.

5. Marketing goals

Transfer the marketing goals that you came up with to this section. Remember, you want to make your goals measurable so that you can see results. Having goals allows you to track progress so that you can make adjustments if need be.

Email marketing 

If you plan to run a digital marketing campaign through email marketing, your goals and objectives will be similar to a marketing plan, however, you’ll want to tailor this to your online presence. 

For example, you may want to tailor your goals to driving more traffic to your website or planning a goal of spending X amount of your budget on online ad campaigns. You can do this by starting a monthly newsletter that can cover announcements about your sales, new products, recent happenings with your business, promotions, or other niche-specific topics your readers may find useful.

6. Strategies and tactics

Using your marketing goals as a blueprint, determine the strategies and tactics you’ll use to achieve them. These will include the different types of media you want to use and the various advertising or outreach tools you’ll use. 

Spend time looking at your audience and determining the best way to reach them. Not every customer can be reached the same way.

You can use more than one marketing strategy to be more effective. For instance, maybe your digital marketing campaign involves using social media to reach your target audience. Don’t be afraid to utilize various distribution and social media channels when crafting your marketing plan.

Social media 

If you plan to focus your marketing plan efforts on social media channels, you might consider practicing social listening. Do research around the name of your competition, social media account handles, and other relevant keywords on social media. Look into what they’re sharing and what others are saying about them.

7. Determine your budget 

Your marketing budget will need to strike a balance between being high enough to make an impact but low enough not to wipe out your start-up fund. Gather costs for the tactics you outlined in step 6. If you have the option of working with multiple media outlets, gather a few quotes so you can compare and contrast their services and value.

Marketing plan examples 

Looking for a little more guidance regarding your marketing plan? The examples below are three of our favorites. They give a clear indication not only of the type of information you need to include but also how thorough you should be and how you need to organize your plan.

  • University of Illinois: The marketing plan they laid out is detailed and specific when it comes to defining tactics, objectives, and success measurements.
  • Lush: This marketing plan provides a great example of how your mission statement and tone of voice can be used with internal publications. 
  • Contently: Contently lays out their marketing plan in a “strategy waterfall” template, making the points of the plan very clear and easy to understand.

If you’re not familiar with marketing plans, be sure to give these a read before creating your own for some additional guidance.

A successful marketing plan can help you grow

Don’t overlook the importance of a marketing plan. If done well, your marketing plan can quickly become a rallying point for you and your employees—something to strive toward and succeed at. 

It can also be a way for you to focus if you ever find yourself uncertain about which direction to go. Take the time to create a marketing plan that works for your business. You’ll be thankful you put time and effort into doing so. 

To help you save time and energy toward crafting your marketing plan, be sure to utilize QuickBooks Live for streamlined bookkeeping. 

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