Most entrepreneurs and managers are familiar with the importance of a business plan, which provides a holistic view of the entire organization and how it will operate and grow. It’s a prerequisite just to get a foot in the door with lenders and investors. While marketing strategies are generally included in a business plan, it tends to be more of a financially-oriented document, so it makes sense to invest in the development of a separate, more-detailed marketing plan. For most businesses, attracting new customers and turning them into repeat customers is essential to growth, and a marketing plan can serve as a roadmap to achieving that goal.

The specific objectives of any marketing plan will vary depending on the nature of the business behind it and that business’s goals. In general, a marketing plan has four objectives: lead generation, brand awareness, brand consideration, and direct sales, (i.e., convincing your target audience to buy from your business).

Know your market

“A marketing plan needs to be based on the business plan, and the business plan needs to be based on the market,” says Art Saxby, founder and principal of Chief Outsiders, which helps business owners implement growth plans. While most key elements of a business plan involve internally focused activities, the entire plan needs to be based on a strong understanding of the market, customers, competitors, and how the company will be differentiated in a meaningful way, he says.

Sometimes it makes sense to prepare multiple marketing plans to address specific targets. For example, for a business to attempt to crack the huge federal government sector without a marketing plan specifically designed to support that effort “is equivalent to a general contractor starting work without any architectural designs,” says Lourdes Martin-Rosa, an advisor on government contracting at American Express OPEN.

Marketing plan basics

Every marketing plan should include objectives, strategy, and tactics, advises David Schimmel, founder and creative director of strategic branding and design firm And Partners. Questions the document should answer include:

  • What is the goal of this plan?
  • What specific steps will you take to accomplish that goal?
  • Who is your target market, where are they, and how will you reach them?
  • What is the product/service you want to sell or promote?
  • What are the current trends and competitive forces driving this market, and where and how does your product/service fit in?
  • What are your timeline and budget for achieving the goal?
  • How will results be measured?

A marketing plan should also be used to set product pricing and distribution and to develop a roadmap for the product’s evolution, says Gerard Corbett, chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America. He suggests businesses use a continuum approach in formulating a marketing plan, including details and timing for each major component in this order: product, pricing, distribution, promotion, service and support, and customer engagement.

Matching your message to your tactics

Consistent and customized brand messaging for the product or service should be developed based on goals and objectives, target market, competition, and the nature of the industry, says Nicole McGarrell, founder of Sunny Day Marketing. “Then choose the marketing vehicles that will be used to communicate the brand messaging to the target audience, and create a marketing calendar detailing when the different vehicles will be implemented,” she says. The plan should also include a financial section outlining sales forecasts and budget for the period it covers.

Brian Peters, director of the marketing practice at management consulting firm ARRYVE, favors creating a plan that outlines each potential channel and tactic a business could use throughout the year and aligning it to an editorial calendar. “This sets up an assessment of what types of marketing capabilities and efforts the company really has at its disposal,” he says.

Next, decisions should be made about why each tactic is being used or purposely left out of the rotation for that plan period, which “forces the marketer to be intentional and proactive about which messages and approaches will be used,” he says. “It’s easy to fall into a mode of doing business-as-usual marketing or becoming reactive to economic or competitive pressures. But it only takes a little time and planning effort to get out ahead and have your vision in place via a solid plan.”

No matter what approach you take, it’s important to monitor your marketing plan’s results (link to How Marketing Pays You Back) and make adjustments accordingly. “Developing a plan that leads to success entails focus, diligence, strategic thinking ability, endurance, and patience,” Corbett stresses. “It is not rocket science, but it also is not a slam dunk. It takes work and dedication.”

Learn more: