How to write a marketing plan
How to identify your objectives and write a plan that will help your marketing generate sales, including tactics and objectives
Marketing is a key part of business success - and you should use a marketing plan as a basis for executing your marketing strategy.
A marketing plan sets out clear objectives and lists the actions you will take to achieve them. Perhaps most importantly, it looks at how you can ensure that your plan becomes reality.
A marketing plan includes factors such as deciding which customers to target and how to reach them, how to win their business and keep them happy afterwards. It also includes continually reviewing and improving everything you do to stay ahead of the competition.
A well-researched and coherent marketing plan will give you a better chance of building long-term, profitable relationships.
This guide outlines the key areas to look at in an effective marketing plan and what you should include in it.
Marketing plan summary and introduction
Summary and introduction of your marketing plan and what you should include, such as your overall business strategy and key marketing segments to target
Your marketing plan should start with an executive summary, which gives a quick overview of the main points of the plan.
However, although the executive summary appears at the beginning of the plan, you should write it last. Writing the summary is a good opportunity to check that your plan makes sense and that you haven't missed any important points.
It's a good idea to introduce the main body of the plan with a reminder of your overall business strategy, including:
- what your business is about (your business mission)
- your key business objectives
- your broad strategy for achieving those objectives
This helps to ensure that your marketing plan, your marketing strategy and your overall business strategy all work together. For example, suppose your business strategy is based on providing premium quality products and service. Your marketing strategy and plan will need to take this into account. It should target customers who appreciate quality, promoting your product in ways that help build the right image and so on.
You should segment your customers into particular groups characterised by their 'needs'. Identifying these groups and their needs through market research and market reports, and then addressing those needs more successfully than your competitors, should be one of the key elements of your marketing strategy.
You can then create a marketing strategy that makes the most of your strengths and matches them to the needs of the customers you want to target. For example, if a particular group of customers is looking for quality first and foremost, then any marketing activity aimed at them should draw attention to the high quality of your products or service.
External and internal analysis for your marketing plan
Assessing the business environment, and your own strengths and weaknesses, to identify the best opportunities
Understanding the environment your business operates in is a key part of planning, and will allow you to discern the threats and opportunities associated with your area of business.
An external analysis looks at the wider business environment that affects your business.
An internal analysis looks at factors within your business such as your strengths and weaknesses.
Examining your internal and external analyses together gives you a complete picture of your current situation and the steps you can take to plan your marketing.
PESTLE external analysis
A PESTLE analysis helps you to identify the main external opportunities and threats in your market:
- Political changes such as trade agreements between countries
- Economic factors such as interest rates, exchange rates and consumer confidence
- Social factors such as changing attitudes and lifestyles, and the ageing population
- Technological factors such as new materials and growing use of the internet
- Environmental factors such as environmental law and impact on the environment
- Legal factors such as new and existing legislation
SWOT internal analysis
You also need to understand your own internal strengths and weaknesses.
A SWOT analysis combines external and internal analysis to summarise your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. For example, a new business may note the following:
- Strength: enthusiastic employees or a unique product
- Weakness: no existing customer base and limited finances
- Opportunity: potential customers with problem the product solves, interested investors
- Threat: competition from established businesses with a bigger budget
You need to look for opportunities that play to your strengths. You also need to decide what to do about threats to your business and how you can overcome important weaknesses.
For example, your SWOT analysis might help you identify the most promising customers to target. You might decide to look at ways of using the internet to reach customers. And you might start to investigate ways of raising additional investment to overcome your financial weakness.
To find out more about strategic analysis, see measure performance and set targets.
Invest NI's Business Direction Tutorial includes a chapter on how to use SWOT analysis to assess your business. See the video below:
Your marketing objectives
Setting SMART objectives for your marketing that are specific, measurable, achievable realistic and time-bound, to help you achieve your business goals
Your marketing objectives should be based on understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and the business environment you operate in. They should also be linked to your overall business strategy.
For example, suppose your business objectives include increasing sales by 10 per cent over the next year. Your marketing objectives might include targeting a promising new market segment to help achieve this growth.
For more information on how to identify the best opportunities, see external and internal analysis for your marketing plan.
Objectives should always be SMART:
- Specific - for example, you might set an objective of getting ten new customers.
- Measurable - whatever your objective is, you need to be able to check whether you have reached it or not when you review your plan.
- Achievable - you must have the resources you need to achieve the objective. The key resources are usually people and money.
- Realistic - targets should stretch you, not demotivate you because they are unreasonable and seem to be out of reach.
- Time-bound - you should set a deadline for achieving the objective. For example, you might aim to get ten new customers within the next 12 months.
Plan your marketing tactics
How to choose the best way to achieve your marketing objectives by thinking of product, price, promotion, place, people, processes and physical evidence
Once you have decided what your marketing objectives are, and your strategy for meeting them, you need to plan how you will make the strategy a reality.
Many businesses find it helpful to think in terms of the four Ps:
- Product - what your product offers that your customers value, and whether/how you should change your product to meet customer needs.
- Pricing - for example, you might aim simply to match the competition, or charge a premium price for a quality product and service. You might have to choose either to make relatively few high margin sales, or sell more but with lower unit profits. Remember that some customers may seek a low price to meet their budgets, while others may view a low price as an indication of quality levels. See price your product or service.
- Place - how and where you sell. This may include using different distribution channels. For example, you might sell over the internet or sell through retailers.
- Promotion - how you reach your customers and potential customers.
Some examples of promotion include:
- advertising: the basics
- public relations (PR)
- direct marketing: the basics
- social media
- pay-per-click and paid search advertising
- email marketing
For a more comprehensive approach, you can extend this to seven Ps:
- People - for example, you need to ensure that your employees have the right training. See training your staff.
- Processes - the right processes will ensure that you offer a consistent service that suits your customers.
- Physical evidence - the appearance of your employees and premises can affect how customers see your business. Even the quality of paperwork, such as invoices, makes a difference.
Implement your marketing plan
Making sure your marketing plan is carried out and learning from your mistakes, consider your resources, the costs involved and how you will control activities
Your marketing plan must do more than just say what you want to happen. It must describe each step required to make sure that it happens.
The plan should include a schedule of key tasks. This sets out what will be done, and by when. Refer to the schedule as often as possible to avoid losing sight of your objectives under the daily workload.
It should also assess what resources you need. For example, you might need to think about what brochures you need, and whether they need to be available for digital distribution (by email or from your website). You might also need to look at how much time it takes to sell to customers and whether you have enough salespeople.
The cost of everything in the plan needs to be included in a budget. If your finances are limited, your plan will need to take that into account. Don't spread your marketing activities too thinly - it is better to concentrate your resources to make the most of your budget. You may also want to link your marketing budget to your sales forecast.
As well as setting out the schedule, the plan needs to say how it will be controlled. You need an individual who takes responsibility for pushing things along. A good schedule and budget should make it easy to monitor progress. When things fall behind schedule, or costs overrun, you need to be ready to do something about it and to adapt your plan accordingly.
From time to time, you need to stand back and ask whether the plan is working. What can you learn from your mistakes? How can you use what you know to make a better plan for the future?
How to write a successful marketing plan
Setting clear, realistic objectives that match your strategy and putting your plan into action by making someone responsible for monitoring progress
To write a successful marketing plan, it is important to:
set clear, realistic and measurable targets - for example, increasing sales by 10 per cent
include deadlines for meeting targets
provide a budget for each marketing activity
specify who is responsible for each activity
Make sure you think through each of your objectives logically. For example, you might set a target for the number of new enquiries. But if you don't provide the resources and training to follow up these enquiries and turn them into sales, you will have increased costs without any benefits.
Link to your strategy
Assess the business environment to identify the opportunities and threats that you face. Look for where you can capitalise on your strengths or where you need to overcome a weakness.
All parts of your business must work together. For example, if you have limited cashflow you should avoid seeking large orders from customers who demand extended credit or that will involve you in heavy, up-front costs.
Remember to focus on your long-term strategy. Reducing customer service might boost short-term profits, but next year you might not have any customers left.
Make it happen
A plan will not happen by itself. You need to make someone responsible for monitoring progress and chasing up overdue activities. Reviewing progress will also help you learn from your mistakes so that you can improve your plans for the future.