Marketing plans can be a contradiction. On one hand, they’re the cause of stress and late nights for marketers who want to make a great job of an extremely important document. On the other hand, once created they’re often left to rot on the company network, making the time and effort put into them worthless.
In this guide, we’ll talk through the reasons marketing plans often aren’t as effective as they could be, the best way to create a marketing plan that gets results, and how to write a marketing plan that’ll be read and used instead of forgotten.
Why a Strong Marketing Plan Matters
Your marketing plan should set the direction of your day-to-day work, helping you to separate the important tasks from the distractions. It should provide clear measurement criteria so you understand whether your activities are working as they should be, and can quickly make changes if necessary.
Your plan can also help you get sign-off for the resources you need to be successful; whether that’s convincing your manager to increase your marketing budget, or getting sign-off to recruit a new team member.
Done right, your business’s marketing plan helps you get the most from your marketing investment, giving you a strong platform to implement a successful campaign.
Why Marketing Plans Go Wrong
The reason many marketers struggle with marketing plans is that they start at the end. They jump straight into “how should I structure my plan” before they’ve actually done any planning!
Many marketers assume there’s a “correct” structure for a marketing plan, and start by downloading a template so they can “fill in the blanks”. However, the right way to structure a marketing plan depends on your business’s individual circumstances, so relying on somebody else’s template can be a recipe for disaster.
Instead, start by understanding what a marketing plan is really for. A good marketing plan should do three things:
- Set out the goals you want to achieve with your marketing
- Explain how you’re going to achieve your goals, and why you’ve chosen this approach
- Outline the resources or investment you’ll need to execute your plan
The real purpose of your marketing plan is to get those three things clear in your head, and to make sure your boss (or anybody else who reads your plan) understands them too. Your finished plan should include the information necessary to do that, and nothing more.
There’s no right way to structure a marketing plan.
An amazing marketing plan might be presented as a one-page summary or a 200-page volume. It could include multiple graphs, charts and graphics, or none at all. It could include detailed ROI performance forecasts, or just a few KPI’s to monitor.
A good plan is tailored to include just what’s necessary to get the marketer’s point across clearly. For this reason, “filling in the blanks” on a template document doesn’t guarantee success.
Top Tips for Creating Your Marketing Plan
1. Don’t think “marketing plan”, think “marketing planning”
Your marketing plan is a written summary of a much more important piece of work: your marketing research and planning. It’s all too easy to dive into writing a plan without spending enough time on research, and that could mean you end up with a plan that misses the mark.
If you’re not sure what to include in your marketing plan, it might be because you’ve not done enough research to have anything to write about yet! Focus on getting the planning process right first, and typing up the final plan will be a breeze.
2. Go overboard on research
A good research phase is crucial to a successful marketing plan, and this is the one area where it’s really worth investing as much time as you can. While researching your own business and competitors can be useful, we’d recommend that the majority of your research focuses on developing buyer personas.
The better you understand your customers and their needs, the better you’ll be able to meet their requirements and ensure they love doing business with you. This means understanding your customers’ needs and wants, as well as the triggers that motivate them to purchase, and the factors that are most important to them when they choose who to buy from.
If you don’t truly understand who your customers are and what they need from you, it’s easy to create a marketing plan that’s tailored to your needs, not theirs. While skimping on research might save time now, in the long term it’s a recipe for disappointment and sub-par performance.
3. Give yourself time to think
Thinking time is often overlooked, but is a really important part of the planning process. Taking the time read and re-read your research allows your brain to fully process what you’ve found and really get under the skin of your customers, so don’t move on from your research phase too quickly.
Taking time to mull over your findings before you write up your plan increases the chances that you’ll have a “eureka moment” and come up with something new and exciting. If you’re very pushed for time, even just leaving things overnight can help you come back to your work with a fresh perspective.
4. Refine, refine, refine
Your finished marketing plan should be as concise as you can make it. While it’s tempting to submit a huge document that says “look at all my hard work!”, people are far more likely to actually read and fully understand shorter documents. A carefully edited 5-page plan can help you achieve much more than a 20-pager than doesn’t really get to the point.
While it’s good practice to include some of your research findings to back up your recommendations, there’s also no need to include every last piece of data in your marketing plan. It’s fine to cut this down to just the key points, or attach your research as an appendix and just focus on your reasoning.
Resources for Your Perfect Marketing Plan
Every marketing plan is different, and we wouldn’t recommend just blindly filling in somebody else’s template. However, there are some great resources online to use as reference points for getting started.
Here are a few of our favourites:
SOSTAC is a straightforward marketing planning model. We love SOSTAC because it really helps embed the right thinking process to create a plan that gets results.
SOSTAC is a mnemonic for the six stages of the planning process:
- Situation – where are we right now?
- Objectives – where do we want to be?
- Strategy – what’s our overall approach to getting there?
- Tactics – how exactly do we get there?
- Action – what needs to happen and when?
- Control – how will we know if it’s worked?
Taking the time to get to grips with SOSTAC will pay dividends – as well as making writing up your marketing plan as straightforward as possible, the thought process behind SOSTAC will help make your plan stronger and more likely to succeed.
Mplans Sample Marketing Plans
Sample marketing plans for a wide range of different industries and business types. These are great for getting a feel for how similar companies to yours might operate, as well as for comparing and contrasting different approaches.
Business.gov.au Marketing Plan Template & Guide
A thorough example marketing plan created by the Australian Government. This is handy if you want to present a very formal, structured document – just remember to tailor it to your business’s needs rather than just diving in and filling in the boxes!
Key Points to Remember
Creating a marketing plan that gets results doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take a little thought. Follow our top tips to create a plan that gets noticed:
- Don’t blindly fill in a marketing plan template – focus on the thought process of planning first, then structure your document based on your findings.
- Research is really important – and understanding your customer is the most important piece of research you’ll do. Spend as much time as you can on this step. Creating a set of buyer personas is a great place to start.
- The format of the completed plan doesn’t really matter – it can include whatever sections you need to thoroughly explain your reasoning.
- Generally, shorter is better – take the time to refine your finished plan so it gets straight to the point and your argument comes across clearly.
We’d love to hear your thoughts – do you have any handy tips for creating a marketing plan, or any resources or templates you find useful? Comment below or Tweet us @UnwrittenC with your suggestions.
For help writing a marketing plan that focuses on your customers wants and needs, please call 0191 300 8550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org