8 Things You Need in Your Marketing Plan

Everything you need to know to start writing a marketing plan.

You’ve put off creating a marketing plan for years. Now you’re noticing competitors becoming more discoverable online. You’re noticing your peers generating leads via LinkedIn. You’re noticing trade show ROI isn’t what it used to be. It’s time to make a plan. But how do you build one?

The following 8 components will get you started. This is the structure for a one-year plan for any sized business. There’s no ideal plan length — your plan may be 10 pages or 100 pages. Give yourself at least two months to develop your plan and be prepared to involve people from all aspects of your business: finance, marketing, sales, product management, manufacturing, etc.

Though all company players provide feedback, it’s best to assign one person as the project lead. That person should be responsible for gathering input from other team members, scheduling meetings, assigning research roles to internal team members or external research specialists, and then compiling the responses and research into an actionable plan for the team to review. Designing plans by committee generally ends in frustration.

1. Situation Analysis

Before you know where you’re going, you need to know where you are. A situation analysis is an honest assessment of your company, its capabilities, and any internal and external factors that could influence your marketing. There are multiple formats for a situation analysis but you’re going to use the best one — the 5C analysis:

  1. Write down your customers’ needs, how much they are willing to spend, how often they purchase, who makes the purchasing decision, what segment they’re in, and estimated market size.
  2. Now that you know your customers’ needs, you should document how your products/services address those needs. Include any experience or technology advantages/disadvantages you have versus competitors, how customers perceive you in the market, and ultimately how you want to be perceived.
  3. These are people who can amplify your marketing: distributors, suppliers, and other allies. Maybe your distributor sends a monthly email to their customers — you should find a way to be featured in that email. Maybe you know a manufacturer that sells to the same market but doesn’t compete with your products/services­ — you could use a co-op marketing strategy where each of you promotes the other’s products.
  4. Who else is trying to meet your customers’ needs and how are they marketing? Spy on them. Visit their website. Follow them on social media. See who comes up when you search for keywords related to your business using Google, Bing, or Yahoo! Find out what your competitors are doing and determine how to counter their efforts.
  5. Document any regulations or government policies that could affect marketing, any social or cultural opportunities/concerns (e.g., an increase in the demand of U.S.-made or environmental products), and any changes in industry technology that could affect customer expectations (e.g., the rise of 3-D printing).

SWOT analysis diagram.


A SWOT analysis is an exercise that determines your strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats in the marketplace. Strengths are what you do better than others (e.g., better products, better customer service). Weaknesses are what others do better than you or areas where you need improvement. Opportunities are things like a long-time competitor going out of business. Threats can include an increase in raw material prices or a high turnover rate.

3. Goals/Objectives

Now that you know what you’re up against, it’s time to determine what you want to accomplish. You likely had goals in mind before you started planning, but the information you uncovered during your 5C and SWOT will help you create more accurate and attainable goals.

Write a statement about each goal (e.g., increase recruiting by 30%, reduce trade show spend by 50% without compromising sales, or launch a new product). It’s tempting to write more — you’ll have an opportunity to go into more detail in the next section.

4. Action Plan

These are the strategies and tactics you’ll execute to achieve your goals. People often use the terms “strategies” and “tactics” interchangeably. They’re slightly different. Strategies are plans to achieve a goal and tactics are the actions. For example:

Goal: Increase recruiting by 30%.

Strategy: Introduce a user-friendly way for people to apply for jobs.

Tactics: Create a contact form that allows users to send resumes via their LinkedIn or Facebook accounts

Goal: Reduce trade show spend by 50% without compromising sales.

Strategy: Generate more sales through cost-effective, digital marketing techniques.

Tactics: Send past customers a monthly e-newsletter that educates them about products or services they may not have known you offered.

Goal: Launch a new product.

Strategy: Increase product visibility by collaborating with industry publications.

Tactics: Send editors product samples and invite them to author an exclusive feature article in their publication.

It’s easy to get overzealous with the action plan and go over budget. Score each tactic on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being a low priority and 5 being high. This will help you narrow down tactics later if you encounter budget limitations.

KPI Scorecard

An example of a KPI scorecard from “Score More: How to Create a Winning Marketing Game Plan.”

5. KPI Scorecard

A KPI is a key performance indicator, i.e., measurable data that tracks the performance of your marketing efforts. You can assign a KPI to anything measurable — website visits, email open rates, contact form conversions, etc. It’s important to identify which KPIs you want to track, measure, and assign a performance goal. Throughout the year, refer to these KPIs and see if you’re trending in the right direction. If you are, great. If you’re not, you may need to reevaluate parts of your action plan.



An example of a marketing plan timeline from an ISM Marketstrong agency plan.

6. Timeline

Look at your action plan and decide the best time to execute strategies. Maybe there’s a trade show coming up in October and you want a product launch to coincide with it. Maybe plant shutdown season is in March so you want your website updated three months before. Whatever you decide, make sure you have a timeline that everyone can review and agree on.

7. Budget

Overspending happens if you don’t create a budget. Assign an hourly estimate to the tactics in your plan, determine which tactics are best done in-house and which would be better handled by external resources, and identify anythird-party costs such as photography or advertising. Remember, marketing relies on estimates. It’s often safer to err on the high end when budgeting.

8. Executive Summary

The executive summary should be the first thing in your plan. It’s a one-page summary of the entire plan that can be easily scanned by a high-level executive such as a CEO or CFO. We included it last because you can’t write it until you’ve completed the previous sections.

See, that wasn’t so bad. You now have a basic outline for your marketing plan. Again, format and length are not important. Your plan doesn’t have to be pretty. It has to be actionable, measureable, and tailored to your company’s unique situation.

If you’re really ready to dig in, download our marketing planning playbook, “Score More: How to Create a Winning Marketing Game Plan.” Or, ask us any questions about the marketing planning process in the comments.


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