How to create a marketing plan

Marketing fuels growth. It is often the driver of a successful business, from increasing brand recognition to driving sales leads. But smart marketing is no accident. You need a well-crafted marketing plan that maps programs and activities to business and marketing goals.

Developing that plan requires upfront research. How do you know what goals are right for your team? Or what work you should do to achieve those goals? The answer depends on what you want to accomplish at the organizational level. To navigate these decisions, many marketing teams follow a top-down strategic planning process.

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What is strategic planning?

A strategic planning process refers to starting with your desired end state and defining the work needed to get there. The output of that process is your marketing plan. Some teams might create plans that extend as far as a few years while others create them quarterly. It all depends on when strategic planning takes place at the organizational level.

Strategic planning at the marketing function or team level (e.g., product marketing or digital marketing) should also be a top-down approach. Once you have determined clear objectives at the marketing level, you can align team plans accordingly.

You can also build marketing plans for specific campaigns or other large marketing efforts, such as support for a major product release. These plans still include strategic goals that the work needs to support, but are often more tactical in terms of the level of detail.

How to create a strategic marketing plan

Begin with your company's vision and goals. Then work backward to identify the marketing goals that will best help your organization achieve its objectives. Putting goals first will also help you weed out work that will not move you forward.

Whether you are creating an annual plan for the entire marketing team or defining a short-term campaign, the following steps will help you capture the essential details:

Identify business-level objectives The first step is to identify business-level objectives. Maybe your company has a goal to double its revenue by the end of the year. Or perhaps your company wants to become the top-rated provider of a particular service. Capture these to inform the marketing work that will follow.

Set goals and initiatives Marketing goals should directly support the company's objectives. If you are building a longer-term marketing plan, you may also want to create initiatives, which are broad themes of work required to achieve those goals.

Revisit buyer personas Next, document the profile of your ideal potential customer. You need to know what matters most to them, what they already know about your company, where they conduct research, and more. This will help you decide how to best reach your intended audience and motivate them to take the desired action.

Know the alternatives It is important to know what alternative solutions exist and identify opportunities to differentiate. You may want to do a SWOT analysis to ground yourself in where you stack up against alternatives on the market. This lets you effectively communicate what makes your company, product, or service unique.

Build a roadmap Marketing teams are increasingly building roadmaps to visualize their plans. You can lay out the marketing activities that will best help you achieve your marketing and company goals. Linking organizational level strategy all the way down to the tactical work ensures that alignment holds strong.

Create a budget proposal Now that you know what you want to deliver, you will need to propose how much you expect to spend. You may need to allocate money for advertising or work with an agency to produce creative assets. Once your budget is approved by executive leadership, you can then assign out the work.

Write a creative brief Lastly, you may want to write a creative brief that aligns everyone around the important details of your marketing project. Your creative brief should include objectives, key messaging, audience, timing, and budget. Creative briefs are most often done at the campaign or program level and are especially useful if you work with agencies or other external partners.

Once you have created a marketing plan, revisit it often — track progress and identify any roadblocks. You may find that you need to adjust your plan over time to ensure that you are always delivering work that aligns with company objectives and delivers real value.

Tools marketing teams use to create strategic plans

Free planning templates can be a helpful place to start. But with siloed plans and visualizations, it is challenging to keep everything aligned and updated. That is why marketing teams use purpose-built software like Aha! to do strategic planning. You only need to enter your data once and you can easily visualize it in different formats and share it with the broader team.

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