Starting a Business

How to Create a Strategic Marketing Plan

J.J. Starr  
A woman works on a computer

Creating a marketing plan is a complex task that requires customization. This overview will give you a 30,000-foot view of what it takes to create a successful marketing plan for your business. We will provide you with the key components and reasoning—but remember that marketing plans are not one-size-fits-all. Your task is to pull out what’s meaningful and workable for your business. 

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a formal, written document that outlines how you plan to sell a business’s products and services. 

Your marketing plan is a roadmap that helps to get your business from where it is today to where it needs to be in the future. It’s a written document that explains how you’ll implement your marketing strategy. It documents what you’re marketing, how you’re doing it, how much you’re spending on it, and why. Beyond this, you can use your plan to instruct partners within and outside your organization. 

Finally, your marketing plan is a collaborative, living document. We recommend that you write it with the help of your team members. As you implement the plan, you can and should make adjustments based on performance and feedback.

Marketing plan vs. marketing strategy: what’s the difference?

These terms are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably, but it’s important to know their differences. Your marketing strategy is how you approach your target market with a valuable service or product. Base your strategy on what you can observe about your target market: what do your potential customers want, value, and need? How can you position your offering to best fit these desires, values, and needs? 

Your marketing plan includes your strategy and outlines the tactics you use to execute your strategy. Your plan will also include necessary information that backs up your strategy and tactics. The specifics will vary depending on your organization, industry, and other factors like budget and competition.

Is a marketing plan essential?

Yes, a marketing plan is an essential tool for meeting business goals. But it doesn’t have to be a behemoth document stuffed with tables and charts. Your plan should be concise and only include the need-to-know information. 

  • Pro-Tip: It’s a common misconception that a marketing plan should be a long document. Clear, concise plans are more effective because they are typically easier to understand. Shorter formats also make it easier for you and your team to spot (and fix) any holes in the plan. If you have (or need) extended documentation, place the need-to-know information in the beginning of the document or the beginning of the relevant section. Nice-to-know information should be signaled as such, for example by placing it in an appendix. 

What’s the purpose of a marketing plan?

Your marketing plan can make running your business easier and more efficient if you understand how to create and use it. The primary purpose of a marketing plan is threefold:

  1. Outline marketing goals, the proposed course of action to meet those goals, and how you’ll track progress

This is the heart of the document. It’s what your marketing efforts will produce for your organization, how it will do it, and the resources it will take.

  1. Inform key stakeholders of the goals and course of action 

Stakeholders are the people who have an interest in the success of your marketing plan. The number of people who will serve as stakeholders will depend on the size of your organization. You should include your marketing, finance, and sales teams at a minimum. 

  1. Serve as a place where planning can be reviewed and revised

Your marketing plan is a dynamic document. It can and should be in flux throughout the deployment of your plan. Set up easy ways for your team members to comment on or discuss the plan such as a Google Doc, Slack channel, and/or regular meetings. 

Additional purposes for your marketing plan

Creating a plan that informs stakeholders, invites and incorporates feedback, and tracks progress is amazing on its own. But your marketing plan can also help you and your team by:

  • Outlining specific actions and timetables that can be assigned to team members.
  • Serving as a guideline when prioritizing monthly, weekly, and daily tasks.
  • Providing a shared understanding of where your marketing budget is going and why.

Your marketing team

Many businesses have a marketing team, and teams are often composed of individuals inside and outside your organization. Here’s a general list of the people who might be involved in your marketing plan:

  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
  • Marketing Manager, Strategist, or Analyst
  • Brand Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Social Media Manager
  • Digital Marketing Manager
  • SEO Strategist, Manager, or Writer
  • Data Analyst

Keep in mind that these roles could be fulfilled by full time or part time employees, independent contractors, or interns depending on the structure of your company.

The essential components of a marketing plan

Your marketing plan should include the ten sections listed below. Each section will warrant more or less detail depending on your business goals and needs. But even if your plan is relatively simple, you should take plenty of time to research and consider how each section fits together and serves your overall strategy.  

For example, if you are using one marketing channel, be sure you understand why you’re only using that channel, how it fits your marketing strategy, and how it meets business goals. In other words, you want each part to align with the other parts so you get the most momentum from the least amount of effort. 

Let’s take a look at each component. 

Executive summary

This short introduction should outline the key aspects of your offering—i.e. your product or service. It should include the thesis or elevator pitch of your strategy with one or two essential data points backing up your plan. You can also include a mission statement here. 

Situation overview 

This section provides a broad overview of your business and the market in which it operates. Include business goals (either of the entire business or a business unit) and an analysis of business strengths and weaknesses.

Follow this with a market SWOT analysis, which outlines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the broader market. Include information about targeted and untargeted customers, current and potential collaborators, a competitive analysis of direct and indirect competitors, and the market’s environment.  

Goal(s)

This is where you define the goal that your company wants to achieve with this marketing plan. The goal defined here will serve as a beacon for day-to-day operations. Include a statement about the goal’s purpose and the benchmarks you’ll use to track progress and assess performance. This section should answer the following:

  1. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. How much should you achieve?
  3. When should you achieve it? 

This is also the place to add any sub-goals that will help you achieve your main objective. 

Marketing strategy

This is a pillar of your marketing plan: the target market and your value proposition. Your target market is the group of customers to whom you are tailoring your marketing plan. Include information about who they are and why you’re speaking to them. You might include (or create) a buyer persona for this section. 

You also want to include information about your company’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to the target market, the competitors who are also targeting this market, and the environment in which the target market operates. 

Your value proposition should state the need that your offering fulfills and the value your offering creates for your target customer. In other words, what is your offering fulfilling and why would your target customer buy it? 

Marketing tactics

Here is where you say how you will achieve your objects. This should include your offering’s unique selling points—what makes your offering valuable to your target market and how your target customers will hear about your offering. This is also where you’ll include information about pricing and incentives. 

Implementation

This is how you will implement your plan based upon your strategy and tactics. This section should include the actions and timeline needed to accomplish your goals and the milestones you’ll use to track your progress. 

Control 

This is where you will outline your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are the metrics you’ll use to measure and understand your plan’s performance and progress. You should also outline how and when you will conduct reviews and how you will collect feedback. 

Exhibits

This section is where you house all your supporting documentation, including nice-to-know information that you have used to create your plan. It also serves as a place to house any additional information for reference throughout the deployment of your plan. 

The information you include in your plan is what your team members will use to set goals and create your social media marketing strategy, content strategy, and other plans to ensure your plan comes to fruition. Be sure to take your time creating it and don’t be afraid to hire a professional to help you. 

Hiring a marketing professional

If marketing is not your strong suit, you may want to outsource all or part of your marketing tasks. You know your strengths, weaknesses, and budget best. If you can’t bring on a full-time marketing manager, consider these alternatives:

  • Hire an experienced professional to create the marketing plan and an entry-level person to execute it. 
  • Hire an experienced professional to create the marketing plan, and you can execute it.
  • Create your marketing plan and hire a marketing consultant to review it with you. Deploy this plan with or without additional support. 

Marketing plan final thoughts

Once you have a solid plan in place, it’s important to remember that it’s not set in stone. Making small or large adjustments may be necessary—conditions change, opportunities arise, and things don’t always work out as expected. Set time aside regularly to review how your plan is working. After all, that’s why you’ve spent the time deciding on the best KPIs to follow. 

You also want to follow your competitors’ marketing strategies. Are they deploying new campaigns? Testing new channels? That doesn’t mean you have to make any changes right away, but you want to be aware of what others are up to. 

Marketing plan FAQs

How is a marketing plan different from a business plan?

Your business plan covers every aspect of your business, from finances to company structure. Your marketing plan is an up-close analysis of your marketing strategy, your marketing tactics, what your competitors are doing, and where your audience gives their attention. 

What is the most important element of a marketing plan?

All the components of a marketing plan are crucial, but nothing is more important than understanding your target audience (aka your customer). Who is your customer? Where is your customer? How does your customer hear about new products or services? Your strategy and tactics should be based on the answers to those questions and supported by additional research.

Updated: June 16, 2022

J.J. Starr
J.J. Starr J.J. is an educator, personal finance writer, and former registered banker. She's helped dozens of small businesses set up and manage their day-to-day expenses, secure business loans, and develop financial plans.

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