Marketing Plan for beginners: how to start
Table of Contents
What is a Marketing Plan?
We already introduced the concept in the article of the Business Plan, when, speaking of the recommended structure of the Business Plan, we mentioned it as one of its essential parts. However, the Marketing Plan can also be a single document, even very substantial at times, that should be used as a guide to manage operational and digital marketing strategies and tactics over the life cycle of a business or a startup.
In this article, we talk more about it by analysing every single part of this very important document. Let’s start!
Structure of the Marketing Plan
The Marketing Plan is divided into sections and each section requires carrying out one or more analysis to be further developed.
We report below the recommended structure of the Marketing Plan:
- Vision and Mission
- Strategy, Goals and Tactics
- Analysis of the environment and SWOT analysis
- The 7 P of Marketing Mix
- Budget allocation
- KPI and Monitoring
Let’s go through it.
The first section of the Marketing Plan: Vision and mission
The Mission is what gave life to the company and the reason why it exists and remains on the market. It comes from the Vision and gives life to the objectives to be achieved, which will be highlighted in this section.
The second section of the Marketing Plan: Strategy, Goals and Tactics
When defining the marketing plan, there are three key concepts to consider:
Strategy means defining how to achieve goals. In this scenario, strategic marketing planning becomes the crucial point for implementing the actions described in the broader document of the Business Plan.
When we talk about goals, we should ensure their strategic consistency with those defined in the overall document of the Business Plan.
Creating SMART Goals, a method created by Peter Ducker and described in his book The Practice of Management (1954), offers a clear direction and a way to judge whether your marketing plan is successful. The goals should be:
The tactic defines all the details of the strategy of the Marketing Plan. The marketing mix, the communication mix and the channel mix are the tactical tools. The tactics must adapt to the different journeys of the buyer personas. What tactics to use and when should be highlighted on the plan’s timeline. The more detailed is the action plan, the more likely is the marketing plan to be successful. A good action plan must translate into “work instructions” for team members.
The third section of the Marketing Plan: Environmental analysis and SWOT analysis
The first step in developing an effective marketing plan is to identify the target market and get to know it in detail. Knowing the positioning of the company in the competitive arena, what kind of economic strength and resources it owns, the results of the marketing actions already undertaken, are essential information.
When defining the current situation of the company, external factors should be considered, such as
- the policies in the territory,
- the economic situation of the target and of the society in general,
- the level and type of culture (this is also called PEST Analysis).
In fact, market research of exogenous factors (political, economic, technological, and cultural environment) is fundamental. To analyse these factors, various sources are available to obtain precise statistics such as, for example, the website of the Institute of Statistics and the Consumer Barometer made available by Google to understand how consumers use the Internet. Another tool is Statista, which helps to understand and segment a target of consumers.
Analysing the competitors is a key activity for understanding the current state of the company. The analysis of competitors and the macro-environment let you understand what are the characteristics that distinguish the company from others. By establishing the competition data, such as the type and number of investments, the return on image and how many social actions they do, it is possible to obtain and define a competitive advantage.
One of the very useful tools for this analysis is quick sprout. You have to be familiar with the ecosystem in which you operate, you have to know the customers’ needs and how they are met. The analysis must be both qualitative and quantitative by examining components such as digital habits, intermediaries, influencers and more. In the corporate strategy, benchmarking techniques should be implemented to identify the best digital actions and success cases to apply and replicate them within the company.
In this part of the marketing plan, it is necessary to insert the SWOT analysis to understand the opportunities that the market offers, the possible threats to the success of the strategy, the advantages, and disadvantages to achieve the business goals.
You should consider:
- Strengths: the strengths of the company and the fields it excels over the others
- Weaknesses: any flaws in the company and where it could improve
- Opportunities: the opportunities offered by the reference market
- Threats: the possible threats from external factors.
To carry out the analysis of the market and competitors you can use the model of the five Porter forces.
It is a tool to better understand the structure of the sector in which you operate and its profitability and focus on the competitive advantage. This model identifies five factors which are inversely proportional to the profitability of the sector.
The five forces are:
- direct competition
- threat of new entrants
- threat of launching substitute products on the market
- increase in the bargaining power of suppliers
- increase in the bargaining power of buyers
A detailed analysis of competitors should be carried out with tools like:
- the Benchmarking table, and
- the cartesian Graph.
The Benchmarking table is a tool to graphically organise all the data collected on competitors to take a visual and immediate picture of the comparative characteristics of your product or service with those of competitors.
The Cartesian chart helps you get an overall picture of your positioning against the competition, using key drivers on the two axes.
A focus on the target audience
Before to continue let’s talk a little more on the target audience since a business does exists when there is a target interested and after defining the target audience, it is important to know whether this audience is big enough to generate a market demand for the product that is sufficient to guarantee a profit.
Knowing the typical customer well is essential, so you have to identify your buyer personas.
For this reason, you need to include all the key elements:
- Demographic characteristics: age group, gender, family situation, location, job, income
- What are the needs of these people that the product could satisfy?
- What are the most frequent shopping habits regarding products or services similar to your company’s ones: is it something that people are used to? Or at least may they find it easy to purchase it online?
- What are the barriers and doubts that could keep a person away from choosing the company’s offer?
This means putting together the information to define realistic portraits of potential buyers (prospects), with specific characteristics, habits and needs. At this point, the information collected regarding the offer, the target market and the buyer personas must be aggregated to make a complete map.
You should consider that it is strategic to contact people who are at different points in the purchase journey, which consists of different phases that are increasingly closer to the ultimate goals:
- awareness: the person discovers the product/service and the brand for the first time
- familiarity: the person becomes familiar with the product/service
- consideration: the person goes into the details of the offer, thinks about how it can be useful and compares it with competitors
- action: the person takes the decision to buy the product/service
You need to set a specific goal depending on the specific moment in which the potential customer is. For example, if the person is in the awareness stage, he probably isn’t ready to buy. It is better to direct him to a softer action, which helps to anchor the memory of who you are in his mind. For this purpose, you can offer interesting material, but with a light topic and non-commercial style, such as a video tutorial for example. Each stage of the purchase journey must be linked to a suitable and specific goal.
The fourth section of the Marketing Plan: Marketing Mix
Let’s now go to the Marketing Plan’s core and see here the 7 Ps of the Marketing Mix:
- 7.Physical Evidence
It is essential to analyse and describe the product or service and how it can address the customer’s needs. It is important to understand how each feature is linked to the benefit given to the customer.
Fundamental factors to be taken into consideration when determining the price are:
- the cost of research and development
- the cost of production
- the value that the customer attributes to the product
- the elasticity of demand for this type of product with respect to the price
- the pricing policies applied by competitors
Through the techniques of web scraping for example, you can understand the market prices of the product/service. From market research, you can find out how many users are willing to pay that good. A useful tool for this is Convextra.
You need to be present with the product, with its promotion and with the right message in the main online/offline places where the consumer goes through during his consumer journey, obviously adapting the message accordingly.
Here there are some questions to answer:
- where and how it is best to distribute the product
- which shops do your customers visit?
- how the customers carry out the search
- whether online or offline channels or both should be supervised
Once the channels and promotional tools to be used have been chosen, the creativity and messages must be shaped to arouse the interest of users.
At the same time, it is necessary to define the average cost of each type of action. Lighter actions (downloads, newsletter, subscription) should have a lower cost than the main ones (contact requests, sales).
In the communication plan, relations with customers but also with professionals must be analysed and monitored. It is necessary to establish the “tone of voice” for communications, how disputes must be moderated and the interactions with the audience on the different channels.
People, not simply intended as customers or consumers, but rather as human personnel who manage and work in a company. Each of them must be considered vital for the achievement of specific marketing objectives, regardless of its role or its place in the organization’s hierarchy. Without the right people, even the most famous brand will not be successful, and the reason is simple: humans are just as much a part of the brand as its products or services. Hence, in the current market, it is the internal competitive advantage represented by human capital that makes the difference.
Throughout the development of the plan, a continuous monitoring is required to verify whether:
- processes at all levels are optimized
- quality can still be improved
- costs can be further cut
Constant process improvement leads to increased profits as each process is better organized.
The perception of the customer for the service provided is crucial for a winning positioning in his/her mind:
- Check if it is possible to provide tangible evidence that can endorse and confirm the value of the product.
- You need to collect reviews from satisfied customers and show them online and offline.
Prospects ready to purchase will take these references into consideration and they will get proof that will increase the probability of purchase.
The fifth section of the Marketing Plan: Budget Allocation
Now the biggest part of the plan is defined. You know what to propose in each phase and to whom, through what channels and with what message.
It remains to decide how to split the investment between the various phases, i.e., the allocation of the budget that consists of distributing the available resources over all the actions that you have decided to undertake.
What should you do? This depends, for example, on the degree of awareness of the brand or product and on your goal:
- If awareness among the audience is high and you want to use it to sell, a larger share of the budget will go into the consideration and action phases.
- If the product is something new and you want to spread knowledge, you will unbalance the resources towards the stages of awareness and familiarity.
In the end, each phase that makes up the plan will have its own part of the budget, which will in turn be broken down into all the channels of that step.
So, once all the operations to be undertaken at a practical level have been clarified, it is possible to set a budget to cover the costs of the different activities (product creation, distribution, and promotion costs).
At this stage, it is important to estimate the revenues that should be obtained. When creating your marketing plan, you may realize that the various marketing activities require a greater budget than what is available to you. In this case, you just need to go back and review the previous steps and adapt the action plan until it works. Don’t worry about more expensive tactics until you can afford them, find alternatives, or reduce the scope of your plan.
The sixth section of the Plan: KPIs and monitoring
Establishing clear and measurable performance indicators (for example: increasing sales by 25%), will allow you to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken and possibly “adjust the shot” during the process.
Define the KPIs, the target to be achieved, the breakeven point (BEP) and the CPA (you will need it to understand how much to invest) and decide how to measure the results through the KPIs and create a fixed calendar for the analysis.
Identify what needs to be measured, when and what happens. The vetting phase of the plan ensures that you know whether you are successful and what changes you need to make before it is too late.
A marketing plan must always have a metric to measure the results to determine if the set goals have been achieved and if the actions taken are effective.
Establishing the right metrics also means interpreting them correctly. This will let you immediately understand what is working and what is not, to be able to fine tune and optimize the marketing plan.
Analysing analytics has become a fundamental pillar for successfully optimizing digital marketing performance and expenses. Each action must be measured using KPIs to understand if the expected ROI has been achieved.
Measuring the effectiveness of the strategies and activities that have been implemented is crucial to correct what is not working and to achieve the objectives set. KPIs allow to determine the success of a campaign and, in case of discrepancies, to modify or restructure the marketing plan. You should have an effective system for visualizing data in real time.
In the monitoring phase, it is possible to establish whether the plan yields its effects and brings the estimated results in terms of turnover, market share, costs, and profits, and it is also helpful to evaluate all those factors that have been established as KPIs for the plan.
In this regard, it is also appropriate to envisage an alternative action plan because, although the failure of the plan is unlikely if all the previous phases have been carried out in an effective manner, it is true that markets are variable, sometimes unpredictable, and could reserve surprises.
The review and correction of the action plan is an activity that should always be carried out continuously in a Marketing Plan. Measure and improve!
The marketing plan is a sort of a “living being”: if, on the one hand, it maps all the initiatives in a timely manner, on the other hand, it is key that it is open to changes while in progress. The best way to do this is to have a scientific approach. It is important to monitor the KPIs in progress, making use of the many analytics tools available on the market, but also creating ad hoc research to be able to focus on specific issues that cannot be investigated through standardized tools.
Make sure the plan is sustainable! Define a measurable and sustainable improvement of the performances expected from the marketing strategy. It is not advisable to plan lightly strategies that require large investments in terms of expenditure and time: speed and economic sustainability are fundamental requirements to make a marketing plan concrete and applicable, but also able to bring tangible results in the short and medium term.
Define the KPIs and the cost per goal! Identify the metrics to measure the effectiveness of each goal: downloads, video views, newsletter subscription, contact requests, sales, and so on.
The marketing plan is now complete! Are you ready to start?
Being a set of preliminary analysis and evaluations, it will have to be tested against the facts. The actual variables will come into play and will determine how close hypothesis and reality are.
The plan is not something immutable: it can be improved periodically depending on data, but it will be an irreplaceable map to guide the exploration of infinite opportunities.
After this detailed excursus on the elements that make up the market analysis, positioning, and marketing plan, both off-line and digitally, you just need to roll up your sleeves and begin to work on it. Good luck!