What is a Marketing Plan and How to Make One?

By Sara McGuire, Jul 19, 2021

What is a Marketing Plan and How to Make One Blog Header

After employee salaries, marketing is typically the biggest expense for most businesses.

As a business owner or marketer, don’t you want to make sure your marketing dollars are being spent in the most productive way possible? Yeah, me too.

But what often ends up happening is most businesses try different marketing tactics without a clear plan, and walk away with little success.

Or they’ll get lucky and score a big marketing win but soon find themselves unable to scale their marketing tactics, goals and strategies to drive consistent growth.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to grow your business strategically and maximize ROI generated from your marketing dollars with a well-defined marketing plan.

Don’t know how to create a marketing plan? Start with one of Venngage’s templates today. You don’t need any design skills to make a great plan that helps align your team and grow your business.


 

Click to jump ahead:

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 includes:

  • 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 (KPIs) you will be tracking.
  • A description of your business’s target market and customer needs.

For example, this marketing plan template provides a high-level overview of the business and competitors before diving deep into specific goals, KPIs and tactics:

Orange Content Marketing Plan Template


 

Learning how to write a marketing plan forces you to think through the important steps that lead to an effective marketing strategy And a well-defined plan will help you stay focused on your high-level marketing goals.

With Venngage’s extensive catalog of marketing plan templates, creating your marketing plan isn’t going to be hard or tedious. In fact, Venngage has plenty of helpful communications and design resources for marketers. If you’re ready to get started, sign up for Venngage for Marketers now. It’s free to register and start designing.

Venngage for Marketers Page Header


 

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 hustling it out, Venngage for Marketers helps you get things done. You’ll also get helpful webinars and presentations delivered right to your inbox, like this one:

Growth By Content Webinar Banner

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How to create a marketing plan: 

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. like in this example:

content marketing plan


 

Let’s look at how to create a successful marketing plan (click to jump ahead):

    1. Write a simple executive summary
    2. Set metric-driven marketing goals
    3. Outline your user personas
    4. Research all of your competitors
    5. Set accurate key baselines & metrics
    6. Create an actionable marketing strategy
    7. Set tracking or reporting guidelines

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.

Red Creative Marketing Plan Template


 

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.

Simple Business Marketing Plan Template


 

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 three to four paragraphs.

Take a look at the executive summary in the marketing plan example below:

Modern Content Marketing Plan Template


 

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?

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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 be as clear as possible.

As a rule of thumb, be as specific as possible. The folks over at VoyMedia advise that you should set goals that impact website traffic, conversions, and customer success — and to 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.

Take a look at the goals page in the marketing plan example below:

Creative Marketing Plan Template


 

They not only identify a specific metric in each of their goals, but 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 marketing plan example that shows how to outline your growth goals:

Growth Goals Marketing Plan Template


 

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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 does your business solve customer 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:

Creative Blue & Gray User Persona Template


 

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.

Purple User Persona Template


 

Next, list demographic information like:

  • Age
  • Job
  • Income
  • Identifiers
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Activities/Hobbies

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 an influence on the messaging you use in your marketing content.

Meanwhile, this user persona guide identifies specific challenges the user faces each day:

Modern Content Marketing Strategy Plan Template


 

But if you don’t want to go into such precise detail, you can stick to basic information, like in this marketing plan example:

Colorful Creative Social Media Plan Template


 

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 a marketing plan example with a segmented user persona guide:

Modern User Persona Marketing Plan Template


 

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.

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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. It’s something you can learn to do with a tool like GrowthBar. 

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:

Marketing Business SWOT Template


 

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:

Modern Green Social Media Marketing Plan


 

But you could take a deeper dive into different facets of your competitors’ strategies. This marketing plan example analyses a competitor’s content marketing strategy:  

Competitor Analysis Content Marketing Plan Template


 

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.”

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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 a marketing plan example where the baselines are visualized:

Blue Social Media Marketing Plan Template


 

Another way to include baselines in your plan is with a simple chart, like in the marketing plan example below:

Simple Blue Social Media Marketing Plan


 

Because data can be intimidating to a lot of people, visualizing your data using charts and infographics will help demystify the information.

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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 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:

Simple Marketing Plan Mind Map Template


 

You can also use a flow chart to map out your strategy by objectives:

Simple Business Flow Chart Template


 

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 strategy section may need to take up a few pages to explain, like in the marketing plan example below:

Creative Modern Content Marketing Plan Template


 

With all of this information, even someone from the development team will understand what the marketing team is working on.

This minimalistic marketing plan example uses color blocks to make the different parts of the strategy easy to scan:

Blue Simple Social Media Marketing Plan Template


 

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:

Simple Product Roadmap Plan Template

A simple timeline can also be used in your marketing plan:

Red Marketing Timeline Template

Or a mind map, if you want to include a ton of information in a more organized way:

Colorful Business Strategy Marketing Plan Template

Even a simple “Next, Now, Later” chart can help visualize your strategy:

Creative Now Next Later Chart Template

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7. Results Tracking Guidelines

Close your marketing plan with a brief explanation of 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.

Simple Marketing Plan Template


 

The marketing plan example below dedicates a whole page to tracking criteria:

Modern SEO Marketing Proposal Plan Template


 

Use a checklist maker to not only track marketing results but also to note down tasks, important life events or tracking your daily life.

Similarly, the marketing plan example below talks about tracking content marketing instead:
Blue Social Media Simple Marketing Plan Template


 

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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 you 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 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”.

Take this page from a marketing plan example that includes imagery and icons:

Modern Black & Green Content Marketing Plan Template

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).

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 marketing plan infographic. Whatever type of visual you choose to create, the goal should be to make the information easier for people to follow.

The first step is to organize your flow into distinct steps. Remember to clearly label each step and to use symbols 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:

Red & Blue Promotional Marketing Plan Template Template

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:

Red Promotional Marketing Plan Template


 

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. Look at how speech bubble pictograms are used in this marketing plan example to show key statistics:

White Content Marketing Strategy Plan Template

In that same marketing plan, important content-related data is emphasized using brightly colored shapes, illustrative icons and big fonts:

Creative Content Marketing Strategy Plan Template

Color choice, icons and font styles all help bring key information forward in this content strategy plan template:

Teal Content Marketing Strategy Plan Template


 

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.

This social media marketing plan example identifies their goal as being the go-to source of inspiration and information for runners:

Blue Social Media Marketing Plan Template

Take a look at how they use chat bubble icons and a bright, bold color scheme to give their marketing plan a friendly and energetic design:

Colorful Social Media Marketing Plan Template


 

Pro Tip: You don’t need to create a comprehensive marketing plan yourself. With our real-time collaboration feature, you can leverage your entire team to help you shape your marketing plan together anytime, anywhere. In real-time.

Real-time Collaboration

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:

Minimalist SEO Marketing Proposal Plan Template


 

6. Visualize your top channels using charts, icons, and pictograms

It’s important for your team to understand 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, mobile app advertising, organic or referral traffic.

This is where visual communication can be highly effective. A simple but effective way to analyze your channels is to visualize the data. You can do this using charts, pictograms and infographics with Venngage’s infographic creator.

For example, a pie chart can put into perspective where the bulk of your traffic is coming from:

Green Business Marketing Plan Presentation Template

A stacked bar would also work well to visualize this information.

You can also use icons to emphasize and differentiate between channels, like in this marketing plan slide:

White Business Marketing Plan Presentation Template

Take a look at how charts, icons and color-coding make it easy to scan this marketing agenda presentation for information about specific channels:

Professional Green Marketing Agenda Presentation Template


 

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.

For example, look at how this page is clearly divided into two sections, thanks to the use of a color block background:

Blue & Gray Business Marketing Plan Template

Blocks of color are also used to make the sections headers stand out. Take a look at the different pages in this promotional plan template:

Blue Business Marketing Plan Template


 

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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

marketing plan example

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.

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5 Marketing plan examples to inspire your growth strategy

1. Venngage nonprofit marketing plan example

Here’s a marketing plan example that is ideal for organizations with a comprehensive vision to share. It’s a simple plan that is incredibly effective. Not only does the plan outline the core values of the company, it also shares the ideal audience persona.

Green Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template


 

Note how the branding is consistent throughout this example so there is no doubt which company is presenting this plan. The content plan is an added incentive for anyone viewing the document to go ahead and give the team the green light.

2. Contently marketing plan example

This one-page marketing plan example from Contently outlines a content strategy and workflow using simple colors and blocks. The bullet points detail more information but this plan can easily be understood at a glance, which makes it so effective.

Contently marketing plan example

Source

3. Cengage marketing plan example

One of the marketing plan examples that caught our eye is this one from Cengage. Although a bit text-heavy and traditional, it explains the various sections well. The clean layout makes this plan easy to read and absorb.

Cengage marketing plan example

Source

4. Starbucks marketing plan example

This one-page marketing plan example from coffee chain Starbucks has everything at a glance. The bold headers and subheadings make it easier to segment the sections so readers can focus on the area most relevant to them.

Starbucks marketing plan example

Source

What we like about this example is how much it covers. From the ideal user persona to actional activities, as well as positioning and metrics, this marketing plan has it all.

5. Lush marketing plan example

This marketing plan example from Lush cosmetics is a long one but it’s also very detailed. The plan outlines numerous areas, including the company mission, SWOT analysis, brand positioning, packaging, geographical criteria, and much more.

Lush marketing plan example

Source

Now that you have the basics for designing your own marketing plan, it’s time to get started:


 

This article is also available in Spanish: ¿Qué es un Plan de Marketing y Cómo Hacer uno?

More marketing design guides and templates:

15 Marketing Infographic Templates and Tips to Boost Audience Engagement

12 Business Pitch Deck Templates and Design Best Practices to Impress Investors

10 Page-Turning White Paper Examples and Design Tips

The Evolution of Marketing [Infographic]

 

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About Sara McGuire

Sara McGuire is the former Content Marketing Manager at Venngage. She believes that growth by content doesn't require a big budget if you're scrappy. Her writing has been published on Marketing Profs, HubSpot, and Content Marketing Institute. Follow her on Twitter @sara_mcguire