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Marketing plan template: step-by-step guide plus examples

Marketing plan template

If you have a business you want to promote, there are so many directions you can go with your marketing efforts - build your own website, post on social media, send out email blasts and more. With a plethora of both free and paid options for promoting your business online, marketing has become easy and accessible for everyone.

Still, it’s no secret that marketing requires time and money. You’ll need to use your resources wisely if you want to scale efficiently and have a high return on investment. For that reason, it’s wise to avoid haphazard promotional efforts, and come up with a marketing plan: a cohesive operation that aligns all your marketing efforts and directly ties back to your business’s goals.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to create a marketing plan - including a template you can use to write your own. By outlining your objectives as a company, defining your KPIs, and then unifying your marketing strategies accordingly, this type of plan streamlines your promotional efforts and yields results.

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What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a roadmap that helps you manage, implement and track your various marketing efforts. In other words, it’s a structured framework that links together all your marketing activities into a single, cohesive operation.

Typically, a marketing plan takes the form of a report that gives an overview of your marketing strategy for the upcoming year, quarter or month. The report defines your company’s goals over a given period of time, and clearly outlines the steps you’ll need to take to achieve them. It's an essential part of any SMBs marketing efforts.

Here’s just a taste of what a marketing plan includes:

  • An analysis of your competitors and your stance in the market

  • A description of your target audience and their needs

  • Your company’s unique selling proposition

  • An overview of your marketing and advertising goals

  • A timeline of the various tasks that need to be completed

  • The key performance indicators (KPIs) that you’ll be tracking to measure success

Creating a marketing plan is the most efficient way to generate demand for your product. Whether you’re running an online T-shirt store, working as a business consultant, or launching a blog for moms, mapping out your strategy in advance will help you drive people through the marketing funnel and get customers.

Types of marketing plans

Before we dive into the specific elements of a marketing plan template, let’s briefly touch on the different types of marketing plans, which can vary depending on your company. They include:

  • Annual, quarterly or monthly marketing plan: Marketing plans are typically annual, but they can be quarterly or monthly depending on your business’s goals. This type of plan will highlight all your promotional activities within the specified period of time.

  • New product launch marketing plan: This is a specific type of marketing plan that focuses on the strategies and tactics you’ll use to promote a particular product.

  • Social media marketing plan: This kind of marketing plan provides a comprehensive outline of your goals, channels, and tactics for promoting your business on social media.

  • Content marketing plan: Similarly, this type of plan provides a comprehensive outline of your various content marketing strategies and goals.

  • Media marketing plan: This focuses on building a strategy using all media types: owned media (your own website, app or email marketing tools), paid media (advertising campaigns), and earned media (word of mouth marketing, organic traffic, viral content) to support an integrated marketing approach.

In this article, we’ll talk about the broadest type of marketing plan. This will outline all of your small business marketing efforts and help you map out a clear strategy.

Using this marketing plan as a guide, you can then create more specific plans - such as a content marketing or social media marketing plan - based on the areas you want to focus on.

How to create a marketing plan in 7 steps

01. Analyze your market and competition

The first step in writing a marketing plan is to identify your competitors. This is important so that you know who you’ll be marketing against, and how you can outshine them with your promotional strategy.

Take into account that different competitors will be stronger in different areas. Your biggest competitor on social media, for instance, might be different from your competitor with the best SEO.

With that in mind, do a SWOT analysis of your competition. Using this acronym - which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats - gives you a systematic way to identify your competitors’ performance in your field:

  • Strengths: What are the competitors’ advantages in the industry? What are they excelling in?

  • Weaknesses: What could this company be doing better? What processes of theirs could be improved?

  • Opportunities: Are there any new trends or upcoming events that are relevant to your industry? Identify them, and seize the marketing opportunity before your competition does.

  • Threats: Are there external factors such as new government regulations, declining customer interest, or industry shifts that are threats to your competitors’ success? If so, find a way to navigate these threats and avoid making the same mistakes as your competition.

Even if you’ve already done a SWOT analysis in the past, it’s important to reassess the playing field as you write your marketing plan. In particular, anticipate whether anything new is about to happen in the coming year or quarter, such as a change in government policy or the emergence of a new competitor in your market.

And, of course, keep an eye out for niches your competitors haven’t gotten to yet. For instance, if you’re selling products to new moms, a SWOT analysis might reveal that none of your competitors are creating products for new dads. In this case, that would be an opportunity for you to expand your audience, attract new customers, and grow your revenue.

As you create your SWOT analysis, use this free SWOT analysis template to guide you, and make it a part of your marketing plan:

SWOT analysis downloadable template

02. Research your target audience

Just as you research your competitors, you’ll need to look into your target audience. This is the specific group of people at which your product or service is aimed - and, as such, they’re the primary audience of your marketing strategy.

If you’re unsure of who your target audience is, there are a few different ways to gather this information. First, think about which needs your product fulfills and which types of people it caters to. You can also use your SWOT analysis to point you in the right direction. Look at competitors’ websites, blogs and social media channels to determine the types of people they’re marketing to.

To hone in on your audience even further, analyze your existing customers to understand which kinds of people you’ve attracted in the past. Talk to your current and potential customers as much as you can. Get their feedback, use focus groups, and analyze the data to figure out their shared behaviors and characteristics:

  • Age: Does your product seek to address the needs of people of a certain age - for example, older adults or millennials?

  • Location: Are your target customers within a specific country or region? Where are they, and what languages do they speak?

  • Spending power: How much money are your target customers able to spend? Are they seeking out luxury, or could money be an issue when deciding whether to purchase?

  • Stage of life: Can you identify your target customers based on their stage of life, such as new parents, college students or retirees?

  • Hobbies and career: Can you group them based on certain hobbies, career paths, or other lifestyle interests?

Track this information in an orderly way by creating buyer personas, or detailed descriptions of specific types of customers. Each buyer persona should reflect both existing or potential customers, based on the factors above: demographics, location, job title and more.

Be sure to include this information at the beginning of your marketing plan, side-by-side your SWOT analysis, to provide a thorough assessment of the market in which your company is operating. Ultimately, these various audience types will represent customer segments - groups of people you can target with different marketing materials depending on their interests.

03. Set your goals and KPIs

Next, set your business’s goals. What do you want to achieve next quarter? How about by the end of this year? 5 years from now?

The more ambitious the goal, the more time, effort and money you should dedicate to it. Determine each goal, and break it down into small steps, either by month, quarter or year, depending on your time frame. Not only will this help you build a clear timeline, but it will also help you allocate your budget.

Once you divide up your big goals into small goals, consider how to measure them. In other words, how will you know whether you’re meeting your goals, or falling short?

This is where KPIs - key performance indicators - come into play. Essentially, KPIs are the specific metrics used to monitor your progress in achieving your goals.

For instance, if you want to create an active online forum for pop music creators, then your KPIs should be site visits, your number of active visitors, and your number of returning visitors. Your position in Google search results for niche keywords, such as “pop music creator” or “music production software,” would also be a relevant KPI.

Whichever KPIs you choose, include them in your marketing plan alongside your goals and write down the metrics you’ll use to measure your success. For example, if your KPI is to make more sales, you might want to track metrics like lead generation and conversion rate.

By checking your achievements every quarter compared to your KPIs, you’ll learn about the pace and abilities of your businesses. If you achieve your KPIs relatively easily, you can set more ambitious goals. On the other hand, if you’re falling short of your KPIs, you might consider recruiting more people to help you get there.

04. Write a unique selling proposition

If you were to give a 30-second marketing spiel to a potential customer, what would you say? Come up with a statement that would appeal to your target audience’s interests and increase demand for your business.

If you’re already a market leader that offers high-quality products, you can claim that you’re “the best solution for” a particular need. On the other hand, if you’re still a relatively small player in the market, you can position yourself as being innovative and groundbreaking - the brand that offers fresh, modern solutions. Many smaller businesses tend to find that creative, funny, or even unorthodox branding gives them the attention boost they need from their audience.

When targeting multiple audiences, you may find it challenging to create a single message that resonates with everyone. One tip for attracting many types of customers at the same time is to create slightly different messages for each buyer persona. Going back to the product lines for new moms and dads, you may find that you need to split your messaging between a few different customer types:

  • New moms: Target them with the message that they need high-quality products for their babies.

  • New moms who want their spouse to be involved in childcare: Target them with a new message that they’d have more time to relax if their spouse also used the product.

  • New dads: Target them with a different message that these products can help them become good fathers and supportive partners.

Be sure to record this messaging in your marketing plan so that you can use it throughout your various promotional efforts.

05. Choose strategic marketing channels

Once you come up with your core messages, decide which marketing strategies you’ll use to spread the word. There’s an abundance of options here, both paid and free. Some popular paid channels include:

  • Social media ads (Facebook, Instagram and more)

  • Google ads

  • Online ads on other sites

  • Press releases

  • Partnerships with other companies

  • Outreach marketing

  • Guerilla marketing

  • Email campaigns

  • Offline media such as magazine, billboard and radio ads

Facebook ads are a particularly effective option because they reach almost every type of audience and can be targeted based on demographics and interests. They’re fairly simple to make, especially if you already have a Facebook business page. And, depending on your website platform, you can even create Facebook ads directly through your site.

Paid channels are a reliable choice, but it’s also worthwhile to couple these efforts with free promotional options as well. These take a little more time to develop, but they’re also a valuable way to get more exposure and build a loyal audience. They include popular inbound marketing tactics such as:

  • Blogging

  • Website SEO

  • Creating company social media pages

  • Being active in online forums and Facebook groups

When choosing what channels to use, it’s important to think about which ones will actually reach your target audience. If you’re marketing to elderly folks, for instance, then Instagram ads may not be the way to go.

Similarly, build a strategy for the timeline of your campaigns. Take into account any holidays and other special events, such as elections or the Super Bowl, that you can use to your advantage when crafting marketing content.

And remember - not all your campaigns will be planned in advance. You’ll need to set aside budget for on-the-fly campaigns, also known as real-time marketing (RTM). This involves taking advantage of precious opportunities like global events and new internet trends. For instance, the January 2021 Bernie Sanders meme was a great chance for companies to get easy attention, earn free media coverage, and go viral. Ikea even used the meme to promote its folding chair and oven mitts.

Pro tip: Once you’ve established the right channels and timeline, you may be eager to launch your campaigns right away - especially if unexpected marketing opportunities arise. Resist the temptation until you’re absolutely sure your product is ready, with at least 85% positive feedback from users. Asking for a second chance will cost you much more than nailing a great impression the first time around.

06. Brief your team

One of the main reasons to create a marketing plan is to develop a unified operation that your whole marketing department can participate in. For this reason, it’s critical that you keep everyone in the loop.

Update your marketing team, as well as the suppliers that create the marketing materials for you. The best way to ensure everyone is aligned is to create a marketing brief - a one-page document that summarizes the market research, company goals, messaging, and action items established in your plan.

You can use the marketing brief template below to create a quick, efficient overview of your plan. It includes guiding questions to help you analyze your competitors, determine your target audience, identify your KPIs, and craft a compelling company message. Fill out this document, and share it with anyone who works with you so that they’re on the same page about your strategy and goals:

Marketing plan downloadable template

07. Monitor your analytics

Once you start implementing your marketing campaigns, you’ll need to closely monitor the results. To ensure your strategy is effective, continuously track your KPIs and see how the numbers stack up against your goals. That will allow you to adapt the marketing plan based on the goals you’re achieving and those you aren’t. Customer analytics can help you in this process.

Marketing plan: Customer analytics

There are two places to monitor analytics: Google Analytics and your website.

  • Google Analytics can easily be connected to your company website, and it’s a helpful way to track your site visitors and evaluate the performance of marketing campaigns.

  • Wix Analytics is another useful tool that provides a comprehensive analysis of your performance, and it’s conveniently located within the Wix website dashboard. This tool allows you to create custom audiences based on their demographics, geographic location, or other defining features, and you can access it directly from your website.

Using these two tools, look at the data. If the numbers indicate that you aren’t meeting your objectives, brainstorm action items for how to improve. If, for instance, you notice that some of your website visitors are located in Europe, try creating a multilingual website; it may just help convert them into customers. Likewise, if you’re getting traffic to your website or blog but are lacking in conversions, try creating content campaigns around specific products.

Don’t be discouraged if, after two quarters, you aren’t reaching your goals. This happens to the best of us, and it’s simply an indicator that you’ll need to refine your marketing plan and go back to Step 1.

Marketing plan template

Now that you know how to create a marketing plan, use this marketing plan template to walk you through the process. It’s free for download and use, and can easily be adapted for any business.

Marketing plan downloadable template

Marketing plan examples

While the marketing plan template above provides you with everything you need, it may also be helpful to look at other examples for inspiration. If you’re seeking additional resources, use these marketing plan examples to guide you:

The Small Business Administration provides a highly detailed marketing plan template that can be downloaded as a PDF and easily adapted to suit your company. The plan covers all the must-haves, like an explanation of your products and an analysis of your target market, but it supplements those with finer details like location analysis and product packaging.

Unlike most marketing plan examples, this isn’t a file that you print out and fill in. Instead, it’s an online generator - a fill-in-the-blank template that walks you through the creation process page-by-page. The generator feels almost like an AI bot, asking you to fill in your name and then replying “Awesome! It’s great to meet you, [Name]!” This is a great way to make the marketing plan process more dynamic and fun.

Marketing plan example

The advantage of More Business’s marketing plan template is that it’s downloadable for Microsoft Word, allowing you to fill in each section directly on the document. The document not only contains different strategies that you can use to inspire your own marketing efforts, but it also comes with examples of tables and charts for your marketing plan.

This template is available for download on Microsoft Word, Google Docs and SmartSheet, but we particularly like that it’s available as an Excel version. As a one-pager, it’s short and sweet - ideal for getting your marketing plan started without getting lost in too much detail from the beginning. It’s a helpful sheet for brainstorming, or for summarizing your marketing plan once it’s complete.

This marketing plan template comes in yet another format - an attractive slide deck that’s downloadable for both PowerPoint and Google Slides. This includes all the essentials, but in a more visual format, making it a useful asset for turning your marketing plan into a presentation.

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