Without marketing, most businesses would fail. But many small businesses don’t take the time to create a comprehensive marketing plan.
What often ends up happening is these businesses will try different marketing tactics ad hoc, with only minor to moderate success. Or they’ll score a big win by chance but find themselves unable to properly scale their tactics, goals and strategies.
There are plenty of online marketing tools that give businesses an edge today. But businesses should never forego a well mapped out marketing plan.
So first things first…
What is a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is a report that outlines your marketing strategy for the coming year, quarter or month. Typically, a marketing plan will include these elements:
- An overview of your business’s marketing and advertising goals
- A description of your business’s current marketing position
- A timeline of when tasks within your strategy will be completed
- Key performance indicators you will be tracking
- A description of your business’s target market and customer needs
Learning how to write a marketing plan forces you to think through the important steps that lead to an effective marketing strategy. A plan will also help keep you focused on your high-level goals.
Whether you’re a team trying to set smarter marketing goals, a consultant trying to set your client in the right direction, or a one-person team trying to introduce structure, a solid marketing plan shows that your marketing strategies are backed up by research.
How to create a marketing plan (jump ahead to each section):
Our professional marketing plan templates will help you with #8.
The scope of your marketing plan varies depending on its purpose or the type of organization it’s for. For example, you could create a marketing plan that provides an overview of a company’s entire marketing strategy, or simply focus on a specific channel like SEO, social media marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing, event marketing or online reputation management.
But let’s dive into the parts of a marketing plan that every successful business should have.
What is included in a marketing plan?
Before you start writing and designing, you need to know what the necessary parts of a marketing plan are. There are 7 essential parts of a marketing plan:
1. Simple Executive Summary
Starting your marketing plan off on the right foot is important. You want to pull people into your amazing plan for marketing domination. Not bore them to tears.
One of the best ways to get people excited to read your marketing plan is with a well written executive summary. An executive summary introduces readers to your company goals, marketing triumphs, future plans, and other important contextual facts.
Basically, you can use the Executive Summary as a primer for the rest of your marketing plan.
Include things like:
- Simple marketing goals
- High-level metrics
- Important company milestones
- Facts about your brand
- Employee anecdotes
- Future goals & plans
- And more
Try to keep your executive summary rather brief and to the point. You aren’t writing a novel, so try to keep it under a three to four of paragraphs.
Take a look at the executive summary in the marketing plan example below:
The executive summary is only two paragraphs long–short but effective.
The executive summary tells readers about the company’s growth, and how they are about to overtake one of their competitors. But there’s no mention of specific metrics or figures–that will be highlighted in the next section of the marketing plan.
An effective executive summary should have enough information to pique the reader’s interest, but not bog them down with specifics yet. That’s what the rest of your marketing plan is for!
The executive summary also sets the tone for your marketing plan. Think about what tone will fit your brand–friendly and humorous? Professional and reliable? Inspiring and visionary?
2. Metric-Driven Marketing Goals
After you perfect your executive summary, it’s time to outline your marketing goals.
(If you’ve never set data-driven goals like this before, it would be worth reading this growth strategy guide).
This is one of the most important parts of the entire marketing plan, so be sure to take your time and to be as clear as possible.
As a rule of thumb, be as specific as possible. Try to set goals that will impact your site traffic, conversions, and customer success–and use real numbers.
Avoid outlining vague goals like:
- Get more Twitter followers
- Write more articles
- Create more YouTube videos
- Increase retention rate
- Decrease bounce rate
Instead, identify key performance metrics you want to impact and the percentage you want to increase them by.
For example, take a look at the goals page in the marketing plan below:
They not only identify a specific metric in each of their goals, they also set a timeline for when they will be increased.
The same vague goals listed earlier become much clearer when specific numbers and timelines are applied to them:
- Get 100 new Twitter followers per month
- Write 5 more articles per week
- Create 10 YouTube videos each year
- Increase retention rate by 15% by 2020
- Decrease bounce rate by 5% by Q1
- Create an online course and get 1,000 new leads
You can dive even deeper into your marketing goals if you want (generally, the more specific, the better). Here’s a template for outlining your growth goals:
3. Target User Personas
Now, this may not seem like the most important part of your marketing plan, but I think it holds a ton of value.
Outlining your user personas is an important part of a marketing plan that should not be overlooked.
You should be asking not just how you can get the most visitors to your business, but how you can get the right visitors.
Who are your ideal customers? What are their goals? What are their biggest problems? How can your business solve their problems?
Answering these questions will take lots of research, but it’s essential information to get.
Some ways to conduct user research are:
- Interviewing your users (either in person or on the phone)
- Conducting focus groups
- Researching other businesses in the same industry
- Surveying your audience
Then, you will need to compile your user data into a user persona guide.
Take a look at how detailed this user persona template is below:
Taking the time to identify specific demographic traits, habits and goals will make it easier for you to cater your marketing plan to them.
Here’s how you can create a user persona guide:
The first thing you should add is a profile picture or icon for each user persona. It can help to put a face to your personas, so they seem more real.
Next, list demographic information like:
The user persona example above uses sliding scales to identify personality traits like introversion vs. extroversion and thinking vs. feeling. Identifying what type of personality your target users tend to have can influence the messaging you use in your marketing content.
Meanwhile, this user persona guide identifies specific challenges the user faces each day:
But if you don’t want to go into such precise detail, you can stick to basic information, like in this marketing plan example:
Most businesses will have a few different types of target users. That’s why it’s pertinent to identify and create several different user personas. That way, you can better segment your marketing campaigns and set separate goals, if necessary.
Here’s an example of what your segmented user persona guide could look like:
The important thing is for your team or client to have a clear picture of who their target user is and how they can appeal to their specific problems.
Start creating robust user personas using Venngage’s user persona guide.
4. Accurate Competitor Research
Next, on the marketing plan checklist, we have the competitor research section. This section will help you identify who your competitors are, what they’re doing, and how you could carve yourself a place alongside them in your niche–and ideally, surpass them.
Competitor research is also incredibly important if you are starting a blog.
Typically, your competitor research should include:
- Who their marketing team is
- Who their leadership team is
- What their marketing strategy is (this will probably revolve some reverse-engineering)
- What their sales strategy is (same deal)
- Social Media strategy
- Their market cap/financials
- Their yearly growth (you will probably need to use a marketing tool like Ahrefs to do this)
- The number of customers they have & their user personas
Also, take as deep a dive as you can into the strategies they use across their:
- Blog/Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- SEO Marketing
- Video marketing
- And any other marketing tactics they use
Research their strengths and weaknesses in all parts of their company, and you will find some great opportunities. Bookmark has a great guide to different marketing strategies for small businesses, if you need some more information there.
You can use this simple SWOT analysis worksheet to quickly work through all parts of their strategy as well:
Click the template above to create a swot chart. Customize the template to your liking–no design know-how needed.
Since you have already done all the research beforehand, adding this information to your marketing plan shouldn’t be that hard.
In this marketing plan example, some high-level research is outlined for 3 competing brands:
But you could take a deeper dive into different facets of your competitors’ strategies. For example, this marketing plan analyses a competitor’s content marketing strategy:
It can also be helpful to divide your competitors into Primary and Secondary groups. For example, Apple’s primary competitor may be Dell for computers, but its secondary competitor could be a company that makes tablets.
Your most dangerous competitors may not even be in the same industry as you. Like the CEO of Netflix said, “Sleep is our competition.”
5. Key Baselines
It’s pretty hard to plan for the future if you don’t know where your business stands right now.
Before we do anything at Venngage, we find the baselines so we can compare future results to something. We do it so much it’s almost like second nature now!
Setting baselines will allow you to more accurately track your progress. You will also be able to better analyze what worked and what didn’t work, so you can build a stronger strategy. It will definitely help them clearly understand your goals and strategy as well.
Here’s an example of how you can visualize your baselines in your marketing plan:
Another way to include baselines in your plan is with a simple chart, like in the marketing plan example below:
Because data can be intimidating to a lot of people, visualizing your data using charts and infographics will help demystify the information.
6. Actionable Marketing Strategy
After pulling all the contextual information and relevant metrics into your marketing plan, it’s time to break down your marketing strategy.
Once again, it’s easier to communicate your information to your team or clients by using visuals.
Mind maps are an effective way to show how a strategy with many moving parts ties together. For example, this mind map shows how the four main components of a marketing strategy interact together:
Pro Tip: Try our mind map templates to create professional mind maps in a pinch.
You can also use a flow chart to map out your strategy by objectives:
Pro Tip: Use our flow chart templates to create professional, engaging flow charts in a pinch.
However you choose to visualize your strategy, your team should know exactly what they need to do. This is not the time to keep your cards close to your chest.
Your marketing strategy section may need to take up a few pages to explain, like in the example below:
With all of this information, even someone from the Dev team would know what the marketing team was working on.
This minimalistic marketing plan example uses color blocks to make the different parts of the strategy easy to scan:
Breaking your strategy down into tasks will make it easier to tackle.
Another important way to visualize your marketing strategy is to create a project roadmap. A project roadmap visualizes the timeline of your product with individual tasks. Our roadmap maker can help you with this.
For example, this project roadmap shows how tasks on both the marketing and web design side run parallel to each other:
A simple timeline can also be used on your marketing plan:
Or a mind map, if you want to include a ton of information in a more organized way:
Even a simple “Next, Now, Later” chart can help visualize your strategy:
7. Results Tracking Guidelines
Close your marketing plan with a brief explanation on how you plan to track or measure your results. This will save you a lot of frustration down the line by standardizing how you track results across your team.
Like the other sections of your marketing plan, you can choose how in-depth you want to go. But there need to be some clear guidelines on how to measure the progress and results of your marketing plan.
At the bare minimum, your results tracking guidelines should specify:
- What you plan to track
- How you plan to track results
- How often you plan to measure
But you can more add tracking guidelines to your marketing plan if you see the need to. You may also want to include a template that your team or client can follow, to ensure that the right metrics are being tracked.
For example, the marketing plan example below dedicates a whole page to tracking criteria:
Use a checklist maker to not only track marketing results but also noting down tasks, important life events or tracking your daily life.
7 Design Tips to Keep in Mind While You Create Your Marketing Plan
While a marketing plan doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, an impressive design certainly helps if you want your plan to be more convincing.
Presentation is especially important if you’re presenting your marketing plan to investors, or if you need to convince your boss to approve your requested budget.
That’s where a marketing plan template can help. If you don’t have a designer available, or even if you want a framework to base your own design on, a template gives you a solid foundation to work with.
Start creating your marketing plan with a template and then customize the design to fit your information and to incorporate your own branding.
Here are seven marketing plan templates to get your started, along with some report design best practices you should follow when creating your plan.
1. Identify, describe and illustrate your target audience
Knowing your target audience is one of the most fundamental steps that every marketing team should take before making any marketing decisions. So by the time you begin writing your marketing plan, you should have your target audience identified.
In your marketing plan, you should dedicate a section to introducing your target audience.
To help keep your target audience top-of-mind when planning and executing on your marketing strategies, it can be helpful to visualize your audience personas. Faux images of your personas, illustrations and icons are all great ways to put a face to your personas’ “names”.
For example, take this page from a marketing plan:
A photo of “Cassandra Vane”, their “head of marketing” persona, is provided to make the character seem more real. You can incorporate photos seamlessly into your page design by using image frames.
Icons are also used to visualize the different components that make up this persona (their identifies, their demographic information, their goals and their unique challenges).
Take a look at how this page is used in this marketing plan example:
2. Visualize important process flows and strategy roadmaps
To effectively outline new strategies, processes, and timelines, it can be very helpful to visualize the flows.
You could opt for a classic flow chart or a more creative infographic. Whatever type of visual you choose to create, the goal should be to make the information easier for people to follow. Our flow chart and process infographic templates can help you with that.
The first step is to organize your flow into distinct steps. Remember to clearly label each step and to use visual cues like lines or arrows to indicate the direction in which the flow should be read.
It can also be helpful to visualize each step using different shapes, or attaching an icon to each step.
For example, this page visualizes an email campaign flow:
Icons represent each email as an individual block, to make it easier for readers to visualize the process. Concise descriptions give readers context to understand the flow chart.
Take a look at how information flows visually throughout this promotional marketing plan template thanks to strategically placed visual cues:
3. Emphasize important statistics, metrics, and numbers in your marketing plan
To make your plan both more convincing, and easier to scan, you should create a hierarchy of information in your page design.
For example, you can use charts and pictograms to visualize important stats or metrics. Or you could write important numbers in a bright colored font so they stand out from the rest of the text.
This is an opportunity to get creative with your page design. For example, look at how speech bubble pictograms are used in this page to show key statistics:
In that same marketing plan, important content-related data is emphasized using brightly colored shapes, illustrative icons and big fonts:
4. Use your main marketing goal to guide your design
One of the main goals of your marketing plan is to identify your high-level marketing goals. Your marketing plan design should be driven by this goal–in your page layouts and in the design elements you use.
You can do this by picking a design motif that reflects your goal and using that throughout your marketing plan. This could be a particular shape or item (for example, using images of plants in a work plan to represent growth) or a color scheme that reflects the mood of your mission.
For example, this social media marketing plan identifies their goal as being the go-to source of inspiration and information for runners:
5. Vary your page designs to make your marketing plan engaging
Putting in the extra bit of effort to use visuals will not only make your marketing plan more engaging, it will also make it easier for readers to retain information.
That’s why while you could use the same page layout throughout your whole plan, it’s a good idea to vary your page design. Mixing up your design will prevent your plan from being too predictable. Plus, you will have more flexibility to visualize information creatively.
For example, this SEO plan template simply inverts the color scheme on each page. While the overall color scheme for the whole plan is cohesive, each individual page is varied:
6. Visualize your top channels using charts, icons, and pictograms
It’s important for your team to understand what your highest performing channels. That way, you can identify areas you may want to funnel more resources into, whether it be social media, paid ads, organic or referral traffic.
A simple but effective way to analyze your channels is to visualize them. You can do this using charts, pictograms and infographics.
For example, a pie chart can put into perspective where the bulk of your traffic is coming from:
A stacked bar would also work well to visualize this information.
7. Use borders or color blocks to organize your pages into sections
Generally, it’s good practice to stick to one topic per page. This will help keep your marketing plan more organized and make it easier for readers to scan for information.
That being said, you may want to put more than one topic on the same page, like if both topics are directly related. In that case, you can organize the page into sections using borders or blocks of background color.
A few more marketing plan design best practices:
Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when start designing your marketing plan.
Keep your design elements like fonts, icons and colors consistent
While it’s good to switch up the layout of your pages to keep your marketing plan engaging, it’s important to keep your design consistent. That means:
- Using the same font styles for your headers, body text, and accent text (generally, try to stick to only using 2-3 different font styles in one report)
- Using the same color scheme throughout your plan, and using the same colors for specific types of information (ex. blue for “social media goals” and green for “SEO goals”)
- Using the same style of icons throughout your report, like flat icons, line art icons, or illustrated icons
Download your marketing plan as a PDF
It’s important that your team is on the same page. Sharing your marketing plan via Google Docs or a file sharing service can be unreliable. In most cases, it’s easier to simply download your marketing plan as a PDF and share it with your team that way.
You can download your marketing plan in high-quality PDF or interactive PDF format with Venngage.
Include a table of contents to make it easy to find specific information
This tip is pretty self-explanatory. Even if you’re putting together your marketing plan as a presentation, a simple table of contents at the beginning will give your audience an idea of what they can expect.
Now that you have the basics for designing your own marketing plan, it’s time to get started: