Marketing plans and how to create them
Marketing plans help businesses hit goals by breaking those goals down into actionable strategies. An effective marketing plan creates a clear path to achieving incremental KPIs and overall business growth.
But creating that kind of robust plan isn’t easy, and there’s no one-size-fits-all template. Your company’s goals, resources, brand, and target audiences are unique, so you need a specific marketing plan that works for you.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to create a strategic marketing plan, including:
- What is a marketing plan
- Types of marketing plans
- How to write a marketing plan
- Examples of companies' marketing plans
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a detailed breakdown of the marketing actions a business will use to reach its goals. It includes everything from high-level goals to marketing campaign frameworks, buyer personas, strategies and tactics, messaging, and more.
The purpose of a marketing plan is simple — it keeps marketing activities focused on the best strategies to engage with customers and achieve business goals.
But a good marketing plan does even more. It can help keep your team coordinated because it’s easier for everyone to stay on the same page when they have the plan to refer back to. It can also make sure day-to-day activities are aligned with the business goals and help businesses spot new opportunities for growth.
The difference between a marketing plan and a marketing strategy
Marketing plans and marketing strategies are easily confused because these terms sound similar, but there are some differences.
A marketing strategy is all about the big picture. It describes your marketing efforts in general and how they relate to the overarching business goals. You can think of the marketing strategy as the why behind your marketing choices.
Alternately, the marketing plan is the how — the actions needed to support the strategy. This means that while the marketing strategy is more general, the marketing plan gets specific. It includes the practicalities of how to achieve the marketing goals defined in the marketing strategy.
For example, let’s say one business goal is to increase overall brand awareness. The marketing team decides video content is the best way to increase brand awareness. This is the marketing strategy — their general approach to reach their business goal. The marketing plan will detail how they will carry this out day to day, including the editorial calendar, content guidelines, video editing tools, approved workflow, distribution channels, and more.
Types of marketing plans
There are several types of marketing plans. Marketing strategies are often detailed in a variety of marketing plans, so you will likely use many of these. Here are some of the most common types:
- Social media marketing plans include the platforms, campaigns, and tactics you can use to reach your target audiences on social media.
- Content marketing plans cover the types of content, channels, and campaigns you’ll use to guide customers through the funnel.
- Product marketing plans detail the tactics you’ll use to promote an existing product or launch a new one.
- Paid media marketing plans outline the paid channels you use — including PPC, paid social media ads, and performance marketing — to achieve marketing and business goals.
- Email marketing plans include an editorial calendar with email campaign topics, special offers, and promotions.
- SEO marketing plans include strategies for technical audits and updates, keyword strategies, and an SEO content calendar.
- Quarterly or annual marketing plans focus on the strategies you’ll use within a certain time period.
How to write a marketing plan
A strategic marketing plan is worth the effort it takes to pull together. In addition to keeping the team aligned with each other and business goals, a thorough marketing plan can make your job easier in the long run.
A clear marketing plan helps ensure that your marketing efforts are consistent because you’re planning months in advance. Give yourself time to be proactive and plan a series of campaigns that will work together toward your KPIs.
That means a good marketing plan also enables you to respond strategically to new opportunities as they arise because the overall strategy is already in place. A clear picture of themes and strategies already planned reduces the stress of last-minute decisions or unforeseen complications.
All of this together also helps get buy-in for your marketing strategies and campaigns. You improve the employee experience and get better cooperation from your team when they can see how their work supports the business. And it can be easier to get executive buy-in for individual strategies and tactics when you can show a complete plan.
1. Describe your marketing goals and strategies
The first step is always to set goals. Start with overall business goals and reverse-engineer them into marketing goals for your campaigns. Make sure each marketing goal is measurable and assigned to a specific metric.
For example, let’s say that a business goal is to increase revenue by $1 million this year. If you know that your average contract value is $50,000 and your conversion rate is 5%, you can start to set meaningful marketing goals.
To hit the revenue target, you need 20 new accounts. At a conversion rate of 5%, that’s 400 leads. Your marketing plan might break this down even further to 100 leads per quarter and detail where those leads will come from.
2. Identify key performance indicators and other vital metrics
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are central to understanding how successful your marketing efforts are. If KPIs aren’t established at the beginning of a campaign, it can be hard to know how to evaluate effectiveness and which metrics to focus on. It also becomes easy to focus on the numbers that look best, even if they’re not the best indicators of success.
There are two types of metrics that are helpful for creating a marketing plan — those that help make plans and those that help measure success. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV) are two metrics that can help you make smart decisions as you draft a marketing plan.
- CAC represents the total average sales and marketing costs needed to convert one new customer. It's the cost of sales and marketing divided by the number of new customers acquired during that campaign. This is a helpful metric to have on hand as you create a plan, so you know what kind of budget you will need to reach new acquisition goals.
- Customer LTV shows how much revenue a business makes from a single customer over time. It's the average purchase value multiplied by the average purchase frequency, multiplied again by the average customer lifespan. This number is important for making long-term revenue plans.
As specific marketing efforts and larger campaigns wrap up, additional marketing KPIs can help evaluate results. Here are a few metrics to help measure success.
- Return on investment (ROI) represents how much revenue you make compared to marketing spend. You can find out how much a marketing campaign is earning compared to how much it costs to run in order to prove the profitability of your marketing strategies.
- Return on ad spend (ROAS) is a ratio that shows how much money you earn for each dollar spent on paid digital advertising. This is similar to ROI but focuses on money spent on digital advertising — for example, on Facebook Ads campaigns.
- Conversion rate is the percentage of website visitors who complete an action such as making a purchase or signing up for an email newsletter. This KPI is often used to evaluate bottom-of-funnel marketing strategies.
- Social media engagement shows how often users are engaging with your brand through likes, shares, and comments. Social media marketing campaigns should increase engagement to improve brand awareness and brand loyalty.
- Organic traffic demonstrates how effective your SEO efforts are and what content is most important to your audience. SEO campaigns should create a steady upward trend of non-branded organic traffic to the domain.
- The number of marketing-qualified leads (MQL) measures how many potential customers are past the initial engagement stage and getting closer to making a purchase. Email and ABM campaigns are often measured by how many MQLs they create.
3. Clarify buyer personas and target customers
A buyer persona is a customer profile that represents part of your target audience. It’s built from research into customer behavior, demographics, motivations, pain points, goals, and more. The goal of a buyer persona is to help you understand your customers so you know how to engage them.
To get this step right, you need to conduct detailed research, organize and analyze this data to get strategic insights, and arrange it all in a consistent and easy-to-use format.
The data and insights in your buyer personas help you understand the most relevant marketing strategies for your target customers. For example, you’ll know which social media platforms they’re on, what kind of content they engage with the most, and what they need at every stage of their buying journeys.
You can use this information to shape your marketing plan. Understanding your audiences’ needs and wants helps you target messaging for the best possible engagement. Knowing the social platforms they use tells you where you should advertise — and key insights on what content they engage with can inform your content marketing topic choices.
4. Conduct competitor research
Next, it’s time to get started with competitor research. A deep understanding of your competitors makes planning effective marketing strategies easier because you can learn from their mistakes, improve on their wins, and clearly differentiate your brand.
For example, if research reveals that your competitors don’t get much engagement on a particular social media channel (one that you know your target audience is using), you can write a social media marketing plan that takes a different approach. If you discover that your competitors earn a lot of non-branded organic traffic, you can write an SEO content marketing plan that includes the same high-value topics — but details how to do it even better than the competition.
There are a few key considerations to study during competitive research.
- Channels. Start by making a list of which channels their marketing strategy is using. Look for social media accounts, email sign-ups, and CPC ads. You can also use SEO tools to check on competitors’ non-branded organic traffic to determine if they’re making an SEO effort. Identifying a gap here — a valuable channel that primary competitors are not yet using — can be a key insight into where to focus some of your marketing plan.
- Strengths. Look at the marketing strategies that your competition seems to be doing well. You won’t have access to their internal metrics of course, but look for content that is ranking well in organic search, social media posts that get a lot of engagement, and more. Then ask yourself what their successful efforts have in common. For example, if strong social media content is mostly light, humorous videos, then that’s probably a good strategy for your own social media marketing plan.
- Weaknesses. Conversely, try to figure out what the competition is not doing well. For example, if a primary competitor is not winning organic search rankings and traffic for important keywords, you learn two things. First, don’t do SEO content the way they’re doing it. Second, SEO content might be an easy way to meet your audience since the competition isn’t giving them what they need.
When evaluating what the competition is doing well (or not), remember to look for actual data. A social media post might look well designed and well written, but if there are no comments or reactions to it, it’s not working. Be careful not to design your marketing plan around competitor tactics that look good but aren’t necessarily creating results.
5. Outline plan contributors and responsibilities
Now that you know what needs to be done, you can plan who does it. At this point, you can start assigning tasks and KPIs to specific teams and team members.
For example, in our competitor analysis in the previous section, we determined that a key competitor is missing a big opportunity on a particular social media channel and that another competitor has a strong SEO content strategy. The next layer of detail in our example marketing plan would outline goals and KPIs for the social media and SEO content teams. And if some of those opportunities rely heavily on media, the marketing plan might also detail strategies, goals, and metrics for video and graphics teams.
As you plan resources for specific contributors, don’t forget to consider which teams will need to grow or outsource work to contractors. This is important information for the next step.
6. Define your budget
Now that you’ve figured out which strategies you’ll use and who will do them, you can estimate how much it will all cost.
Here are some of the expenses you should be aware of when planning your budget:
- Software and tools
- Content creation
- Paid ads and sponsored content
- New hires
There may need to be some adjustments made once the budget is set. Working step-by-step through this marketing plan process will create an ideal budget, but you might not have that much to spend.
If the budget you need comes to more than you can actually get, be sure to work backward to determine what you can realistically do with the budget you have. Then adjust your goals and metrics accordingly.
7. Write an executive summary
The executive summary is a brief but detailed overview of the marketing plan, including the current marketing campaigns, as well as future goals and objectives. Although the executive summary is the first page of your plan, it should be written after you’ve ironed out the rest of the details.
You want the executive summary to briefly demonstrate how your marketing campaigns will help achieve business goals. There are a few key features that will help you do this.
- An overview of business goals. Get the C-suite’s attention by anchoring the plan in the overarching business goals that your plan is going to support.
- An overview of the key success metrics and KPIs. Be brief but clear about your targets for the marketing plan. Leadership wants to know that you’re prepared to be accountable for results.
- An overview of your target customers and marketing strategies. Describe the key points of your buyer personas and highlight the marketing tactics you’ll use to attract them. Highlight one or two key strategies designed to take advantage of a competitor’s weak marketing efforts, if possible.
- An overview of the budget and projections. Be clear about how much the marketing plan will cost and what kind of returns you expect it to generate.
Examples of companies’ marketing plans
Building a marketing plan can be daunting. So let’s take a look at a couple of successful marketing plans and how they helped create meaningful results for their brands.
FIS, a global leader in fintech solutions, needed to redo its marketing plan after several acquisitions as the brand was going to market without a common voice. The marketing team went back to square one and developed a digital-first marketing strategy that would unify their efforts.
The marketing team began creating campaigns to drive engagement and reach customers early in their journeys. Their measurable targets generated market-sourced leads that contributed to 30% of the sales pipeline and delivered a 6% contribution to closed business.
The FIS revamped marketing plan enabled its team to exceed its targets with a 37% contribution to sales leads and a 16% contribution to sales.
AvidXchange is an accounts payable software provider that needed to create a centralized marketing operations plan for its email campaigns. The plan allowed the marketing ops team to create email campaigns much quicker while giving campaign managers the opportunity to analyze results, optimize messaging, and find new lead nurturing strategies.
Under the guidance of the marketing operations plan, marketing campaigns have been more efficient. For example, the marketing plan has led to a 4 times increase in the number of emails sent with a 3 times increase in CTR. Ultimately, this brought in 1.5 times as many MQLs through email channels.
Get started on your marketing plan
A thorough marketing plan is the backbone of an effective marketing team. It inspires, clarifies, and guides marketing campaigns that produce measurable impacts on the company’s bottom line.
Now that you’ve seen how to build a marketing plan, it’s time to get started on your own by breaking down your business goals into specific marketing objectives. When you’re ready to get started on a robust marketing plan, make sure you have the software your team needs to plan, organize, execute, and measure it.
With Adobe Campaign,you use rich customer data to build, manage, and deliver engaging marketing campaigns. Watch the demoto see how Adobe Campaign can help you create a marketing plan that inspires your team and achieve measurable results.