How to Write a Marketing Plan: A Step-By-Step Guide

how to write a marketing plan

You’ve done the hard work and started your own business. Congratulations—it’s no small feat. As you’ve likely realized by now, though, launching a small business is only the beginning of your to-do list. A business owner’s job is never done, after all.

One of the most important tasks all businesses need to complete is deciding what their marketing strategy will look like. This is a significant undertaking, but once you’ve gathered all your information you can create a marketing plan to detail how you’ll implement all your ideas. 

You may not have considered marketing when you first started your business, but you want to make sure as many people as possible to learn about your products, services, or establishment. How can you improve your reach, grow your brand awareness, and increase sales? Why, by learning how to write a marketing plan, of course. Let’s get started.

How to Write a Marketing Plan: An Overview

A marketing plan can be a huge help for growing your business. Any good entrepreneur worth their salt knows that simply putting one foot in front of the other will move you on the path to success. In fact, this is why you created your business plan when you first started your business, so you’d know what steps to take to successfully launch your company. Sometimes your customers need a path too. A marketing plan can help guide your customers to your services or products. 

You can use a marketing plan to not only plan out your marketing strategy, but also as a guidebook to learn more about your business. Even if you aren’t a new business owner, you’ll want to consider writing a marketing plan straight away. Keep reading for the key steps for writing a marketing plan. 

How to Write a Marketing Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

When writing your marketing plan, you should think about your short-, medium-, and long-term goals. You’ll outline the actions you’ll need to meet your goals as well as review your market research, budget, and how you’ll measure success. Your goals could be broken down by what you want to accomplish in the next month, quarter, year, and several years—or other periods of time that are meaningful to your business. You’re in the driver’s seat, so customize your marketing plan to your suit your business’s needs. 

Step 1: Provide an Introduction

Getting started is easy. You’ll begin writing a marketing plan by briefly summarizing your marketing goals and how you plan to achieve them. You can also summarize your marketing team and, if your business has been around for some time, provide a recap of your past marketing efforts, what worked, and what you learned. 

While you’ll go into more detail later on in your marketing plan, you may also include an overview of your target market, who your customers are, and what your competition—and their marketing campaigns—looks like.

If you want to be extra organized, you can also add a table of contents here so your readers have an overview of what’s included in your marketing plan. Essentially, this section should help the reader understand what to expect throughout the plan. Right now, you’re focused on selling this marketing plan to you and your team. 

Step 2: Set Goals

Marketing is important for all businesses of any size. But every business will have their own needs, budgets, and, most importantly, goals. Growing sales is not the only indicator of a business’s success. You can set a variety of business goals you’d like your marketing plan to obtain over the next month, quarter, or years.

A business that finds new customers easily may want to focus on retaining their customers for longer periods of time. On the other hand, ecommerce businesses may want to increase the time their visitors stay on their website. Perhaps you want to create a campaign that encourages customers to leave good reviews about your products. Or, maybe you want to grow your social media following.

Ideally, all goals will lead to increased income and growth. But breaking down that overarching goal into smaller, actionable steps, will help make achieving your goals easier. With each goal, though, be sure to detail why it’s important to your business and what results you’re hoping to see from each. Once you’ve identified your goals, you’ll be able to design specific marketing campaigns to help you work toward them. 

Step 3: Identify Your Target Market

No matter what your marketing goals are, you’ll want to conduct market research to figure out the best way to achieve them. Market research is something your entire business should take advantage of—especially when it helps you identify your target market (aka who you want to sell to, where you’ll find them, what their interests are, etc.). If you’ve already created a business plan, chances are you already have plenty of market research that you can easily incorporate when writing your market plan. Ideally, you should take the following steps while conducting your market research.

  • Identify your target market: When you first launched your business, you may have had an ideal customer in mind. But now it’s time to look at your sales data and find out who is actually buying your products or services. Do young moms love your products? Is your shop mostly popular with teenagers? Identify your current customer base and what it is about your business that speaks to them. Next, decide how you want to grow your market. Will you try to bring in more of the same type of customer, or will you expand to new markets?
  • Create customer personas: Study your customers and put together everything you know about them in customer personas. You can have more than one type of persona, so you’ll want to create a couple different ones that you can reference. Create customer personas that really explore who you’re trying to sell to—i.e. do they live in the city or the suburbs, are they married or single, do they have kids or pets, do they rent or own, etc. You don’t have to cater to each customer persona every time you make a decision for your business, but having a clear picture of who they are will help you fine tune your business.
  • Provide value: Now that you know who your target market is, you should identify their needs. And most importantly, how you can fill those needs. When writing a marketing plan, consider exactly how your products or services can provide value to your potential customers and how you can relay to your customer base that you can solve their problems.

Step 4: Show the Research

Now that you have a handle on who you’ll be marketing your business to, the next step in writing a marketing plan is to explore your competition, as well as your own business’s strengths and weaknesses. Looking at outside competitors as well as internally can help you see the big picture when it comes to how you can better reach your audience and spread brand awareness. Let’s take a closer look at two types of analyses you should conduct.

  • Competitor analysis: It’s time to do a little digging on your competition by adding competitor analysis to your marketing plan. What type of marketing efforts seem to be working for your top competition? Do they send out really creative email blasts? Do they consistently purchase ad space in the local newspaper? Are they engaging with their customers on social media? Copying another business is never going to be the best way to stand out. But, you can look at what your competitors are doing and try to improve on the areas in which they aren’t succeeding.

    Beyond their marketing strategies, also look at your competitors products or services. Are they leaving a gap in the market that you can fill—and highlight in your marketing campaign? Or do they have the market cornered on a specific product, in which case you should focus your marketing efforts on another facet of your business? 
  • SWOT analysis: If you want to go the extra mile, include a SWOT analysis in your research section. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis is usually divided into two sections. “Strengths and weaknesses” and “opportunities and threats.”

    The strengths and weaknesses section will take a look at your company from an internal perspective. These are the good and bad things you have control over such as employees, location, and intellectual property. For the opportunities and threats section, you’ll take note of what is happening outside your company. You’ll have less control over this area as it will concern the market you’re in. Even if you can’t directly change what is going on outside of your company, you can be aware of how you can take advantage of opportunities in the market or ward off any threats. For example, you can learn valuable lessons when a competitor is critiqued for their latest campaign. And you can benefit when there is a drop in the cost of your raw materials due to a political event. 

Taking an honest and close look at both your own company, as well as those around you, can better inform your marketing plan and help you identify opportunities to effectively market your business.

Step 5: Design a Marketing Campaign

When writing your marketing plan, you should clearly lay out what your marketing efforts will look like. You don’t need to do all the work now or have all the answers, but you should be able to determine what you want to get done, as well as how you will get there—or what you still need to figure out to get there. This will give your team, or just yourself, a look at what your upcoming marketing efforts and goals will look like, as well as what everyone’s roles will be to make them happen. Consider breaking down your plans by the following factors:

  • Campaign title
  • Goal of campaign
  • Marketing channel (this will likely be a combination of several channels, including print ads, social media posts, email campaigns, in-person activations, and more)
  • Marketing assets needed (graphics, copy, physical materials, etc.)
  • Launch date and run time
  • Team members involved
  • Total cost

You can discuss logistics like timelines and creative direction later. You don’t want to get too into the weeds at this stage of your marketing plan; rather, you want to provide a high-level look at your marketing strategy. 

Step 6: Break Down Your Budget

At this point, you’ve identified exactly how you plan to market your business and you should have a general idea of what these efforts will cost. If you’re still unsure, take the time to research and talk to outside sources to lock down ballpark figures. Some of your marketing efforts may require very little capital. For example, you may choose to start promoting your business on your brand’s social media pages more. But other marketing plans can be more cost-intensive, like if you want to purchase Facebook ads to boost your brand reach or upgrade your business website to look more professional. 

A very important part of writing this plan is creating a marketing budget. If you don’t have an appropriate budget and funds ready to execute your marketing plan, then your efforts could fall apart mid-year. In the budget section of your marketing plan, you’ll break down very specifically what each area of your marketing plan will cost. 

Take it a step further. Say you want to rent billboard space. At first glance it will seem like you need to budget for materials and rent. But there are sneaky costs you may not realize at first. For example, do you need to hire a graphic designer to create the art for the billboard? Do you need a copywriter to come up with flashy text? Perhaps someone on your team will require time and resources to do proper market research before you land on a location for your billboard. Break down every cost you’ll encounter so you don’t run into any expensive surprises later—surprises that can risk derailing your entire marketing plan. 

Step 7: Define Success Parameters

You know what your goals are and have an idea of how you want to get there. But do you know how to track your success? Just because your sales go up, it doesn’t mean your marketing plan is necessarily worthy of all the credit. To be sure that your marketing efforts are responsible, you need to find a way to measure the results of your marketing plan. The last thing you want is to continue spending on an ineffective method because you didn’t identify the true source of growth. For instance, positive Yelp reviews may be the key to your success, not those flyers you’ve been handing out around town. 

So, you need to find a way to determine if your efforts have been successful. How can you do this? For digital advertisements, tracking links may do the trick. For more traditional marketing efforts, the occasional customer survey can shed light on how they discovered your brand. 

Before you revamp your marketing efforts, establish a baseline. Have a clear idea (and the numbers to back you up) of where you started. Log whatever data is relevant to tracking the success of your efforts. Page views, sales, media mentions, etc. You should update this log frequently, on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. Perhaps even weekly for smaller projects such as creating social media content.

Essentially, in this section you will identify what your marketing plan’s KPIs (key performance indicator) are. A KPI is a measurable value that can prove how effectively your business is achieving its key objectives. Both individuals and organizations can use KPIs to evaluate their success.

Then, once your marketing plan has been executed, you can use the data to determine what worked, what failed, and how you can better your marketing efforts in the future.

The Bottom Line

Like all areas of business, there is no getting around hard work. A high-quality marketing plan may take weeks or even months to create. Analytical, creative, and research skills are all required to create a plan that can lead your business to success. 

When learning how to write a good marketing plan, it’s important to give yourself the time you need to create a thoughtful plan. Now is not the time to rush. If you are lucky enough to work in a team, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Their insight and ideas could prove invaluable.

Jacqueline DeMarco

Jacqueline DeMarco is a writer and editor based in Southern California. She has written on everything from finance to travel for publications including LendingTree, The Everygirl, Coveteur, and Apartment Therapy, among others. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, especially if going somewhere she can spend time with animals.

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