There are so many parts to a marketing plan, it’s easy to get them all tangled up. It’s hard to wrap your mind around all of them and make sure you’ve done enough, covered everything, and/or not done too much.

Big picture: I think of a marketing plan as a flowchart. It starts big at the top. With Why, and Who, and then breaks into smaller supplemental parts with What & Where, When, How, Budget and Outcomes. After going through all those pieces and documenting each part, it’s probably not realistic to house your entire marketing plan in a flowchart.

When we plan a client’s marketing, we use a series of documents, processes and calendars to keep the information organized and complete each activity on time. I wish it could all be in a simple flow chart, but little boxes with one word on each line doesn’t really seem all that functional. I do find that the flow chart image serves as a good guide for people (including myself) to connect with what they’re trying to produce.

Whether you start in a flowchart or build it out in separate documents, all marketing plans need to have at least these seven things:

  1. Why – Your goal defining what you hope to achieve from your marketing activities.
  2. Who –  This has two parts: One part details your target audience, explaining who you plan on reaching with your marketing.  The other part outlines your brand message, who you are and how you represent yourself in all of your marketing activities.
  3. What & Where – These are the activities you plan to do and where you will do them. 
  4. When – The deadlines for each activity.
  5. How – Each activity will have two Hows: the deliverables — what you need to do the activity and the creative — and the ideas to make the deliverables connect with your audience.
  6. Budget – The time and money to complete each activity in your plan.
  7. Analysis – How often you’ll review your outcomes, the metrics you’ll review and other indicators of a successful plan.

Why

Your Goal Defining What You Hope to Achieve from Your Marketing Activities

The why behind creating your marketing plan is your goals.

Why are you considering doing a particular activity or set of activities? What do you want the long-term effects of those activities to be? Your goal should be specific, and you may need more than one. For example, if you have more than one division of your company, you may have a goal for each division.

Nearly everyone has the goal of getting more business. You may also have more specific goals to generate new or return business. Because those goals may require different activities to accomplish, you’ll want to separate them. While both of them would feed the big goal of growing your business, I would still divide them out because you’ll have different activities to reach different audiences to achieve those goals.

For example, most of our new clients are for web design (on purpose — I want to figure out if people are crazy before I commit to marketing their business for them month after month 🤪) , and my existing clients often turn into online advertising clients. Our marketing to achieve the goal of selling websites to new people requires different marketing activities than those we would use to sell online advertising to our existing clients.  Some activities overlap while others are entirely designed to support one goal versus the other. So our plan has two big goals at the “top.” 

Your goals in this section don’t necessarily need to be full on SMART goals, because you’ll talk about the time frame, how you’ll measure them in other parts of your plan.

Who

Two Parts: Your Target Audience & Your Brand Message

Your Target Audience

Your target audience are the people you’ll need to reach to achieve your goal. And you might have more than one.  If you provide services to residential and commercial clients you’ll most likely have two audiences. If you work in different industries you may document the audience for each. If you’ve done buyer personas in the past. Now’s the time to pull them out and review them to define your target audience. 

For each audience, you’ll outline: 

  • Demographics
  • Location
  • Job Role/Title
  • Their Goals/Challenges

I do this for each audience separately.  That allows me to see where they overlap and how they differ and it helps outline creative ideas for later and define what activities will best connect with your audience. 

Your Brand Message

The second part of “Who” is you – the story you want to tell with your brand message. Who are you? How do you talk about yourself? What are the rules?

Include your identity guidelines. Outline your company colors, fonts and logo usage. If they’re already documented just add a clearly labeled link in your plan. Then take it a step further and give all the people working on your plan clear rules of engagement. Provide them with a unified vocabulary: 

  • What do you call clients, staff or members? 
  • What do you call your service types?  
  • Do you ever abbreviate your company name? 
  • Share words and phrases you use frequently, to describe your brand, products or services. 
  • Also outline any words that are banned from your marketing content. For example, assisted living centers are no longer referred to as nursing homes. And the people who reside in assisted living centers may not be referred to as residents, they may be called patients.  

What & Where 

The Activities You Plan to Do and Where You Will Do Them

Combine your strengths and your assets to make your plan.

How to Create a Marketing Plan - Strengths + Assets = Your Plan

You need activities that help you create a bond with your target audience, but also ones that you can actually achieve and do well.To select the right mix of marketing activities  to fit your company start by reviewing your strengths as a team, then review your company assets and build a plan revolving around those two things. 

For example, if you faint in front of a microphone don’t put public speaking in your marketing mix.  If you hate writing don’t start a blog. There are tons of ways to market your business, it doesn’t have to be a chore. Let your strengths shine and carry you into new business.

Choose activities that compliment your talents and use your assets to build an audience. Assets are all the resources you have access to like a past client list, a great business location and of course, money. Take what you have be it printers, interns or sidewalk chalk and turn it into what you need.

Pair active & passive activities.

You’ll want to pair passive and active activities. Pairing the two types of activities ensures you have a well rounded mix. Active marketing activities like email marketing, direct mail or online ads help you get in front of new people you don’t already know by taking the initiative to reach out and gain their attention.  While passive activities like your website, podcast, blog or YouTube videos are just hanging out waiting to be found by people who need what you’re promoting.  

How to Create a Marketing Plan - Active Activities relate to Social Media, Email Marketing, and Paid Online Advertising
How to Create a Marketing Plan - Passive Activities relate to Website, Blogging, Directory Listings

Don’t forget the where.

Back to documenting…notice the title of this section is “What & Where”.  When you outline the activities in your plan you need to say more than just “what”.  You need to document “Where” you’ll be doing the activity. 

For example don’t just list “social media”, get specific. Say posts on LinkedIn or ads on Facebook.

If you attend networking events. You wouldn’t just list “trade shows” in this category. Document the actual trade shows you’ll attend. 

You can even break this into two sections if you want to. One for “What” and one for “Where”.  Social media with all the types of social media below it, and social ads with all the types of social ads below it. Events with all the types of an events outlined.

I prefer to combine the two and just have one list of activities it’s more direct and concise but to each their own.

When

The Deadlines for Each Activity

Here is where you’ll define your timeline:

  • When are your events?
  • When will you run your ads?
  • When is an ad due to the printer?
  • When do the flyers need to be printed in order to be mailed on time? 
  • When do you plan on mailing them?

You also outline the frequency with which you would do the activities. So this section of your marketing plan might look similar to:

One Printed Brochure for Association Tradeshow August 1st
Creative Due
– June 15
Send to Print – July 1
(Allow two weeks for printing and give yourself wiggle room here!)
Needed in hand by July 27

If you are doing tons of activities that you’ll probably house your timelines someplace else. However, it is important to look at your mix as a whole and the timing of ALL of the things you want to do. 

For example, if you know that you’ll be at four tradeshows in August and you need brochures for your booth, you need to start working on them in June. Also, don’t plan to get a whole lot done the month of August since you’ll be on the road the whole time.

Once you get all your deadlines set out, put them on a calendar or put them in a spreadsheet. That way you can sort them and make sure they get done on time.

If you don’t set due dates and plan out your activities this way don’t be mad when they don’t happen. Life will get in the way. Accountability will slip, and you’ll just work in your business instead of on it. The squeaking squeaky wheel gets the grease.

At MayeCreate we make a spreadsheet of all our events each year to make sure that we’re not overwhelming ourselves and can still get our normal jobs done. We use Google Calendar to plan out all of our marketing activities and those of our clients’ for months at a time to make sure we can get them done by the deadlines. For example, it’s October, and we just started on our tradeshow video and signage for January because we know we’re super busy during December.

How 

Two Parts: Deliverables & Creative

Deliverables

The deliverables of your campaign, are the physical things that you’ll be producing and the items you’ll need to make the end product. Deliverables are all checkboxes. They’re black and white, did you do it or did you not?  Leave the grey area for the creative section.

You’ll outline the end products and all the things you need to make it because each thing takes time to accomplish. It’s incredibly defeating to sit down to design something only to realize you don’t have what you need to do it, especially if you’re on a tight turn around. Avoid that challenge by outlining everything that you need, and gathering it ahead of time.

So for example, if I’m doing a printed newsletter:

  • How big will it be?
  • How many will I be printing?
  • Do I have all the mailing addresses?
  • How will I handle postage?
  • What are the things that I need to make that newsletter? (Articles, photos, illustrations, etc.)

If you’re running online ads, you’ll need to know how many, what type and who you’re targeting for each set of ads.  Ad targeting can also be documented as a deliverable because you’ll need to research it ahead of time to make a good decision about how to target an ad on a particular network to get the best results.

Creative

Now some people start with deliverables and then move on to creative and other people start with creative and move on deliverables. It’s up to you. Because I’m a creative person. I generally start with creative. Outlining the deliverables needed to fulfill the creative ideas I have. It doesn’t matter what order you do it in. It just matters that you document both.

Creative is a gray area it’s not filled with checkboxes. Here you outline everything from colors to tonality. Each type of activity you plan will be different things you might include depending on your plan are:

  • Social media topics to post about
  • Ideas for blog posts
  • Taglines for ads 
  • Concepts for trade show banners

You’re going to document every little idea you come up with and highlight every decision you make, here why. When you’re in the mindset planning out your marketing magic happens. Then, when it’s an ordinary Tuesday. And you just dropped your kids off at school after a tough morning and you have to sit down and prepare that newsletter. It’s not so magic. That’s why you document, so you will go back and find all of the magic details that you outlined in those sparkling moments.

Budget 

The Time and Money to Complete Each Activity in Your Plan

A lot of people think of budget as just money. And in all cases, money definitely needs to be documented as part of your budget. How much money will you spend on each ad? How much money does it cost to print the newsletter? These costs affect your bottom line.

Your productivity at work also affects the bottom line. At a certain point, if you’re not seeing returns on marketing you’re investing a ton of time in, even if that marketing is “free” it’s not worthwhile.

Take each deliverable from the How section. Make a guess about how long you think it will take you (or whoever it’s assigned to) to do each item.

  • How long will it take you to write for social media posts a month? 
  • How long will it take you to photograph your staff for staff highlights? 
  • How long does it take to create a newsletter?

Break these down in their smallest part and then estimate high.  For example making a newsletter isn’t just about putting it together.  You have to write it, revise it, design it, get it approved and schedule it to send.  How long with each of those tasks take?

Don’t underestimate here. If you’re feeling optimistic just add a minimum of a half hour on everything, because it always takes longer than you think it will.

Estimating time is especially important when setting expectations for management.

If you’re the worker bee producing all this stuff and management just thinks that you’re *poof* creating it out of thin air. It’s difficult to set their expectations about how much they can receive from you in a given time frame.

If you understand how long it takes you to do something. And they understand how long it takes you to do something, then you guys can compromise on what needs to be done now and what can be done later.

Tracking a time investment in a project means you can quantify from “it feels like it’s taking FOREVER!” into “it’s taking more time than last time because ______________”. If you’re not sure how long it takes you to do something track it. There’s lots of tools out there that will help you do it. The MayeCreate team uses a variety of easy methods: calendars, appointment books, online time trackers, even just plain old notebooks.  

Analyzing Your Outcomes

Reviewing Frequency, Key Metrics and Success Indicators

Any marketer worth their salt understands that tracking is the biggest component to a successful marketing campaign. However, marketing with purpose requires a strong constitution.

You can’t be afraid of getting it wrong. You will get it wrong, that’s how you learn. Don’t back away from reviewing your numbers. Marketing is a social science experiment. You try one thing and then try another and see if it worked or not. You won’t know if you’re winning if you’re not tracking.

Make a commitment to your marketing, decide how often you’ll review. To make those reviews easy, determine what key metrics should look at and other indicators for success.

Each activity you outline in your plan will have different data available to determine the success of the activities. More traditional mediums like print or activities like networking events offer limited tracking possibilities. You can, however, look at call volume and website traffic, as well as leads.

For online marketing, ah… where do I start?  It’s so trackable — almost like a vortex of tracking.  There’re all kinds of lovely metrics you can review, so many, in fact, that I need to write an article about every single one of them (you can wet your whistle by reading this post highlighting our favorite-ist digital marketing tools.) Because if I outlined them all here it would be completely overwhelming.

Not everything will need to be reviewed at the same frequency. I like to look at things like online ads weekly or bi-weekly, while I look at things like social media, email list growth and sales monthly.

A final piece of advice…from a lady who’s messed it up a time or two…

After your plan is set review it often. And don’t be afraid to go back and adjust. You can’t be emotionally attached to your marketing plan. Your first answer might be wrong. And that’s okay. As you’re creating your plan document alternatives.

When your creative juices are flowing during the planning process you may have a ton of activities or creative strategies to consider. Some of them likely landed on the chopping chopping block because you don’t have enough time or budget to do them initially. Keep a list of all your ideas for Plan B. Then you’ll have a handy list of alternates in case the ones that you selected initially aren’t working as planned.

So once again, when you’re creating your marketing plan if you’re feeling overwhelmed, break it into smaller steps. These seven areas are meant to guide you through formulating a plan that’s realistic and attainable, one you can use to grow your business

More about the Author

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Monica Pitts

Monica is the creative force and founder of MayeCreate. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics, Education and Plant Science from the University of Missouri. Monica possesses a rare combination of design savvy and technological know-how. Her clients know this quite well. Her passion for making friends and helping businesses grow gives her the skills she needs to make sure that each client, or friend, gets the attention and service he or she deserves.

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