How to Get Started with a Marketing Plan  

The first quarter of the year is when most businesses get serious about putting together their marketing plan for the rest of the year. If this is not an activity you do regularly for your business, it might feel overwhelming. What does a marketing plan look like? How does one get started?

There are lots of opinions on this. We feel that the best marketing plan should be simple enough that you’re likely to follow through with it…or change it, if need be. But it also needs to be robust enough to organize your activities throughout the year.

Here, then, is our quick-start guide for a robust marketing plan in 2024.

To Craft a Marketing Plan, Think Like a Journalist

A good way to think about planning for marketing (or anything else, for that matter) is to think about how journalists do their job. A big part of what a good journalist does is paint a picture of events so that other people can understand them accurately and objectively. To do this, a journalist strives to answer a set of key questions. You probably learned about them in school: WhoWhatWhereWhenWhy, and How.

When creating a marketing plan, you want to start out the same way, answering these questions for your business:

Who is your target market? Who are your ideal customers?

What are their “pain points”? What keeps them up at night?

Where are they spending their time or where are they typically looking for products or services like yours? Online? At events? Through trusted referral channels?

When, in their buying journey, are they most open to talking to a salesperson? When are they educating themselves or “just browsing”?

Why should they prefer your products or services over the competition’s? Why should they buy from you sooner, rather than later?

Only after answering these do we finally get to How: How do you reach this audience, keeping the “when” and “where” in mind?

This is just the beginning, mind you. It is an exercise meant to get you thinking about your business using a marketing mindset. Once you are in that mindset, you can begin laying down the foundation. That foundation, in turn, will help you create more effective and professional marketing campaigns.

Putting the Foundations in Place

Some parts of your marketing plan are foundational, which means they affect every other marketing campaign or tactic you will use. It pays to have these foundational parts well-defined and up-to-date; otherwise, your marketing quickly loses relevance. But with them, you will have the ammunition you need to craft effective campaigns and tactics.

We’ve written extensively about these foundations in our Marketing Foundations series; interested readers are encouraged to check out those articles for a deeper dive. In summary, what you will need to review are your…

Marketing Goals: Goals give you something to aim for. These need to be SMART(ER) specific goals. For example, it’s not enough to say “I need the phone to ring.” A more precise goal would be “Increase monthly call volume of new or prospective clients by 20% by the end of Q3.” This goal is specific, measurable, actionable, and tied to a deadline.

Branding: Branding is not just your logo and company colors. Branding is the experience that people have when they interact with your company. Even widely known brands need good brand identity to differentiate themselves from all the other brands selling similar products.

Messaging: Marketing messages are how your company communicates with your target audience and makes them want to give you their business. As a foundation for your marketing efforts, messaging gets clear on what value you bring to the table, the stories you tell around your products or services, and the call-to-action that spurs them on to the next step.

Budget: Nothing in marketing is more frustrating than spending money, seeing a lack of results, and then second-guessing everything you’ve done to this point. Marketing is an investment, and so you will need to figure out what a sensible marketing budget is, and what can realistically be done with that budget.

Analytics: Once you begin to execute on your plan, you will need to have analytics tools in place to track your effectiveness. Analytics help you understand your customer’s behavior and the impact of your efforts. You don’t need a fancy dashboard for this—but you do need to plan ahead how you will track how your clients find you, and when they purchase.

Technology and Processes: What technology and processes will you need to put the plan into action? You will probably need a CRM and an email marketing platform, at the very least. You will also need people to create content, schedule advertising, and monitor campaigns’ progress. All of this needs to be considered (and budgeted for!) before a cent is spent on advertising or campaigns launched.

You should also make a point to revisit these foundations at least once a year. As your company grows, some of the assumptions that held yesterday might not hold today. Just as a bigger house needs a foundation to match, a bigger, more complex company needs a foundation that matches its current size and aspirations.

An Important Note on What a Marketing Plan Is Not

One quick note of caution. So many times, we’ve worked with small businesses whose owners clamor for a marketing plan—but when we start asking these foundational questions, they wince. What they want to know is which ads will run on which platforms on which dates, or when blog post articles will be published and shared on social media.

What they want, in essence, is a marketing calendar or a marketing schedule. Those are important—we want to be clear about this. But neither the tactics you choose, nor the schedule for your campaigns, are going to make much sense outside of your marketing strategy and foundations.

In fact, your marketing strategy is what is going to keep your tactics and campaigns in check. There will always be more things that your marketing team can do than can be supported by your budget, people and timeline. And that means you will need to make some hard decisions about what things are worth doing—and worth seeing through to the end.

Put another way: Good ideas are cheap, and there will always be more coming in. The main purpose of a marketing plan is to give your team focus and purpose so you can say “yes” or “no” to these ideas in a principled way.

Once you have the marketing strategy and foundations in place, you will be in a much better position to effectively plan your campaign, tactics, and schedules.

Ready to Get Started?

Don’t wait on us. Get out a piece of paper or fire up your favorite note-taking app and begin to outline answers to the questions here. What is your company’s who, what, when, where, why, and how (i.e. what is your marketing strategy)?

Once you’ve got those covered, ask: Which parts of your marketing foundation need to be refreshed? Make a plan to review those, even if you are running ads or conducting a marketing campaign currently. You don’t need to stop what you are doing to review the fundamentals—in fact, we encourage it!

A good way to do this is with what we call our Marketing Physical. Like a check-up at the doctor’s office, a marketing physical will look at your vital signs and assess the health of your marketing efforts—and possibly diagnose what is going wrong. For more information on our marketing physical, reach out and we’ll set up a discovery call.

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