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How to Develop a Marketing Plan


Why do most SMB marketing campaigns fail? Is it because of a fundamental lack of understanding surrounding the target market and audience? Is it because it's poorly put together or simply have no goals surrounding the desired results of the campaign? Or perhaps is it a lack of consistency and cohesion between the marketing actions and the company’s major business events throughout the year?

In my eyes, campaigns fail for all of the reasons above and then some.

When it comes to pulling off a successful digital marketing campaign there are a number of different things that should be considered before anything is ever published; the top on that list being a detailed marketing plan. Not only does a properly written marketing plan take into account everything from above (goals, personas, business and campaign calendars, etc.) but it also helps create informed campaign ideas and decisions that then help guide marketers through an extended time period, establishing consistency within marketing actions.

So if you’re currently running a marketing campaign and haven’t yet created one of these, I know what you’re asking yourself. "How do I actually develop a marketing plan then?"

I’ll be the first to tell you that there’s no one right way to do it. Our Managing Partner, Eric Pratt, would tell you that there’s more than one way to skin a cat (maybe he’d say squirrel?). If you search on Google you’ll find dozens of experts who will give you their opinions on what you should include and how everything should fit but sadly, most of those experts will be talking about a traditional marketing plan.

So if you’re a digital marketer who is looking for some help creating a marketing plan for your efforts online, below is a list of items I believe you need along with a few easy steps to follow to help you build out the foundational elements of a digital marketing plan that you can then customize to both your marketing style and your campaign’s needs.

The 4 Building Blocks Every Marketing Plan Needs

Before we start walking you through how to actually create a marketing plan document, you first need to understand what elements should be created and accounted for that will ultimately help you build detailed campaign plans. Marketing goals, business & campaign timelines/calendars, strategic gap analyses and a marketing scope are all required before you can begin generating the best, most informed marketing plan possible.

Marketing Goals

What is it?

Marketing goals are detailed, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) goals that inform you and everyone else involved with that campaign about the most important results expected to be achieved. These are major KPI’s connected to your marketing’s major function within the company such as qualified lead and customer generation for sales.

Why is it important?

Goals are much like personas within digital marketing campaigns. You need them to inform your overall decisions above almost all else. Without detailed, SMART goals attached to your campaigns or year, how will you know what to prioritize when it comes to what you want your campaigns to achieve? How will you know if your marketing actions are targeting the things that are important to your company? Having goals helps you connect the dots between your marketing actions and your role as a marketer so that you can then filter all of your campaigns and marketing actions through them to ensure that you meet and exceed them.

How is it created?

When it comes to creating goals, they both need to be SMART and connected to your department and company’s objectives for the year. Use this article to help you brainstorm and filter general goal ideas through the SMART filter before then using this worksheet to connect your SMART-approved goals to real numbers that you can then begin to target.

Business & Campaign Timelines/Calendars

What is it?

Business and campaign timelines/calendars are nothing more than a detailed list of planned business events for the year. This timeline/calendar is a 12 month look at what the business or marketing department is either planning on or planning for when it comes to things like:

  • Seasonal Events – Does your company or industry go through seasonal cycles? If you’re B2C, do you have high volume and low volume seasons that you need to plan for? If you’re B2B, does your clientele normally make purchasing decisions within a certain part of their fiscal year? If there’s a recurring event or season that you know requires more planning and attention or could use an improvement in results, it should end up on your calendar.
  • One-Time Events – Do you know of any events that your company is either planning to throw or attend? Are there specific conferences, trade shows or industry events that require marketing support in one form or another? Is your company putting on a seminar series or customer event that will take up a majority of your time at point in the year? Anything events that require your attention and support should end up on the calendar as well.
  • Company/Department Objectives – Does your boss want a new website up and live by Q3 of this year? Is the company planning on adding a new service to its offering list in Q2? If there are internal company objectives that you will either be involved in or requires marketing promotion, it should be planned for and added to the calendar.

Why is it important?

Knowing what you already have on your timeline/calendar as a marketer, either items that require your immediate attention or gaps/lulls that allow for creative problem-solving, provides you the opportunity to tackle the “low-hanging fruit” of marketing campaigns and actions. If you already know that you need to focus most of Q2 planning and building for a major company event in Q3, you now no longer have to worry about creating a new campaign from scratch and can now focus more on the details of what needs to be done.

How is it created?

Creating a marketing timeline/calendar like this must be a collaborative effort. The Marketing and Sales departments should have a general idea of the major company and marketing activities being planned around seasonal and one-time events while other company and department leaders will be able to fill in the gaps with any relevant company/department objectives. Once dates are collected, all you need to do is prioritize the different elements on the timeline/calendar with all key decision-makers (Marketing, Sales, Leaders, etc.) to find the major elements that you then need to focus on for that timeframe.

Strategic Gap Analyses

What is it?

A strategic gap analysis is a review of different elements of a marketing campaign or department to understand where both you and your competitors are at and what you can be doing differently to improve. Elements like buyer personas, voice and messaging, competitive analysis, SEO, offer funnel analysis, email, blogging, social media, lead management and nurturing and lead to sales handoff should all be considered and documented.

Why is it important?

It’s important to review your current campaign elements against both your competition and internal benchmarks/goals so that you can continually recognize and target different gaps in your game through future actions and campaigns. With a list of things to prioritize and target both internally and through campaigns to target personas, you now have another set of items that you can include in your timeline/calendar as well as marketing plans.

How is it created?

HubSpot recently published an extremely detailed blog that both explains how to target each campaign element listed above as well as what to focus on within each one.

Marketing Scope

What is it?

A marketing scope can mean a number of different things to a number of different people. For agencies, a marketing scope is the type and amount of work that will be performed on a regular basis. For a marketing director, a scope could be his/her budget for the year or the mediums they are allowed to use to perform their duties (some companies want to focus more time on traditional marketing than digital, some more on social than advertising, etc.). No matter who you are what scope means to you, the idea is that you will know what you can and can’t do with your marketing on a regular basis and in specific times of the year.

Why is it important?

Knowing what you can and can’t do with your marketing activities throughout the year will help you better understand how or if you can target a specific item on your timeline/calendar. If you only have a budget of $10,000/year for all marketing activities, you’ll know really quick if it’s worth throwing $5,000 at a PPC campaign in Q2 if you also have to prepare for detailed campaigns in Q3 and Q4. Having a set scope is important when it comes to both prioritizing marketing actions and keeping those selected realistic.

How is it created?

Depending on your definition of scope, there are a number of ways that it can be created but for the most part, your marketing scope is driven by budget. If you are an agency or consultant, the marketing scope will be found in the signed contract. If you are in a company’s marketing department, work with the company’s leadership team to understand what your marketing budget is for the year so that you know exactly how much you have to work with for the next 12 months. Once you’ve done that, request clarification on whether or not you have complete freedom on how that budget is used or if there are checks and balances in place when it comes to approval. Once you know these items, you will have a better idea of how much you can spend and how it can and cannot be allocated.

How to Develop a Digital Marketing Plan

Once you have your various building blocks created and collect for you marketing (now that you know what they are and why you need them), you are ready to put the different pieces together to develop a detailed and informed marketing plan that you can present to your leadership team and use to direct your campaign implementation for the next 12 months.

Step 1: Connect Your Goals to Your Timeline/Calendar

Starting with a fresh timeline/calendar, write down your SMART goals, breaking them up by quarter or campaign if you can. Consider even plotting the goals on a chart over the timeline to visually showcase when the numbers increase throughout the year so that you know when extra pushes need to be made. Having your goals listed out on the timeline will help you stay connected to your marketing’s overall performance indicators and will provide the very first filter that every other step below will use.

Step 2: Connect Your Marketing Scope to Your Timeline/Calendar

Somewhere on your timeline/calendar you will also want to include your well defined marketing scope so that you can filter all marketing action and campaign ideas through these. This will help you understand what campaigns are realistic and what areas require more budget or attention.

Step 3: Prioritize Items from Your Business & Campaign Timeline/Calendar

Now that you have your timeline/calendar’s base items, you can begin filling it in with items collected from your business and campaign timelines/calendars. As you place them on the new timeline/calendar, you’ll want to prioritize them based on the following criteria:

  • What items will help you hit your marketing goals? If your goal is to increase lead generation by 15% by the end of the year does it make sense to focus on your company’s lead-generating seminar series or re-designing your website’s about page? If QII’s goals calls for a major spike in customer acquisition, you better make sure you have a campaign scheduled go drive those numbers.
  • What items provide the best opportunity for increased growth and success? Is there a lull in your timeline after a major campaign where a secondary product could be marketed? Is there a lack of strategy and marketing support surrounding conferences and tradeshows that could ultimately help us get more out of them?
  • What items are highest priority for the department, company or leadership team? Does your boss want to have the website redesigned by the end of the year? Since he’s the one providing you a marketing budget and is signing your checks, you should probably align yourself with his priorities.
  • What items fit within the marketing scope? Does your boss’ request for a new website require $10,000 that you don’t have in your budget? You either need to get that money or temper your boss’ expectations about what you can and can’t do with your current budget.

Step 4: Prioritize Items from Your Gap Analyses & Place them on Your Timeline/Calendar

Once you have your business and marketing timeline/calendar laid out, you can now add a new dimension by filling in your new timeline/calendar with items from your gap analyses. As you place them on the new timeline/calendar, you’ll want to prioritize them based on the following criteria:

  • What items will help you hit your marketing goals? If you want to increase organic traffic by 25% should you consider targeting your SEO strategy’s gap analysis at the beginning of the year or in Q3? Redesigning your landing pages would be a good thing to target earlier on in a campaign if you want to generate more leds, no?
  • What items are connected prioritized items from the business and department timeline/calendar? If you know that you want to provide better marketing support to your conference and tradeshow teams but don’t have a set strategy in place, you probably will want to prioritize creating that strategy with the team before the year’s first conference.
  • What items are highest priority for the department, company or leadership team? Has your boss pointed out a serious gap in your current offer creation strategy that needs to be fixed? You’ll probably want to prioritize that above other fixes.
  • What items provide the best opportunity for increased growth and success? Does social media advertising give you the opportunity to both increase your reach on the platform while driving more leads? Can your company and campaign benefit from integrating your marketing automation software and the Sales department’s CRM?
  • What items fit within the marketing scope? You might have ten items on your list of gaps that need to be filled but what if you only have $3,000 of budget allocated to filling them and the first six steps cost $2,900 to complete. Looks like you need to figure out which ones are really the most important or get more budget.

Step 5: Create Campaigns around Your Highest Prioritized Items from the Above Lists

Now that you have a completely full timeline/calendar with goals, marketing scope, prioritized business and marketing items as well as prioritized gap analysis items, you can begin to put the pieces together on what campaigns need established and what activities need to be done for each. To help identify and build out the best campaigns, consider the following:

  • Are any items on the timeline/calendar connected? Can you place the creation of a conference and tradeshow marketing strategy in the same campaign as your first conference of the year? Should the redesigning of your services page be included in the campaign build-up for the promotion of your newest service offering?
  • Which persona(s) is this campaign targeting and how should it be positioned to be successful with them? If you know that your seminar series targets personas A, B and C, what do you know about that audience and what your company can do for them in general that will help you establish campaign messaging and proper actions to successfully attract and convert them?
  • What can be done within scope to make this campaign as good as possible? If you have a limited budget to plan, implement and promote your company’s major customer appreciation event, how should you allocate it to get the most bang for your buck?
  • How much time needs to be dedicated to all aspects of the campaign? What do you need to do to plan and prepare for something? How much time will that take? When do you need to go live with the actual campaign? How long will it last? Do you need time after the campaign has ended to analyze results and create reports? When will they be due?

Step 6: Fill Gaps Where Possible

With your major campaigns established and perhaps mapped out, you may find that your timeline/calendar still has gaps or that your marketing scope and budget still allows for more spend. If that’s the case, you’ll want to begin establishing gap campaigns using the following criteria:

  • How much scope/budget do I still have to use? Do you have $5,000 to work with across any medium you want or do you have $400 that can only go advertising and promotion?
  • What prioritized items or new actions can be done to help us reach our goals? From your list of items created from the business and campaign timeline/calendar as well as from the gap analysis timeline/calendar, you should have plenty to work with when it comes to figuring out what else you can do. If you’re list has already been exhausted, consider how you can either dedicate more resources to your already built campaigns or consider new campaigns and actions during different parts of the year that you can run to help you ultimately reach your department’s goals.

To Sum it All Up

Marketing is often thought of as being a creative job that is ultimately much easier to do than other areas of the company like Sales or Accounting. I believe that this misconception comes from people’s experiences with bad marketers who don’t take the time to build a detailed marketing plan like the one described above. If every marketer took the time to truly understand their goals, their audience, their calendar, their gaps and their scope, I believe the world would be a better place where marketers were seen as strategists and planners instead of daydreaming creatives.

Do you have questions about the marketing plan described above? Don’t know where to start or how to finalize a particular element? Think I missed something? Leave a comment in the section below and let’s chat!

Don’t feel like spending the time building and implementing something like this? Don’t have the resources and team to do it right? Let’s talk and see what Revenue River can do for you.

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