Recently I was asked to identify the key components of a marketing plan. It’s a bit of a trick question.
In my marketing agency experience, each company had its own unique template for a marketing plan—each with numerous detailed components—and varying sections and sequences.
Online sources are also inconsistent. According to Inc, 7 components are essential to a marketing plan, while Forbes describes 15 key components of a marketing plan. That’s a pretty big discrepancy, and the two don’t align very well. When I was at DePaul’s graduate school, studying integrated marketing, the curriculum highlighted 6 components of a marketing plan.
What’s most important is that you HAVE a marketing plan. Here’s what I consider as key components of your plan with a brief description of each.
Executive Summary of Your Marketing Plan
Very few business owners or executives (virtually none) want to wade through all the details of your marketing plan. This section of the plan gives your bosses or clients an opportunity to review the plan at a high level.
Be sure to include information about budgets and forecasting. Owners and executives will want to see that information.
By the way, the executive summary will need to be written last. The details come together to form the overall big picture.
You can’t target every potential market. Time and budgets won’t allow it. Instead, identify the most important target segments. If you don’t know who your key audiences are, you may need to do a little formal or informal research before you answer this question. Keep in mind that one of your key audiences may be your existing (repeat) customers.
Review all your market data and your current situation. What quantitative and qualitative marketing research is available? What competitive intelligence can you gather? What makes your product or service unique? Most market plans include a SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis separately from the competitive analysis, but I would argue these go hand in hand. SWOT identifies internal strengths and weakness, as well as external opportunities and threats.
Positioning and Messaging
Once you understand the market situation and the target audience, you’ll be able to position your brand, product or service against the competitors. In other words, you’ll want to establish the identity of your brand or product so that your prospects and customers view you in a particular way. How are you different? How can you win against the main competition?
There are many templates available for positioning statements.
Here’s a positioning statement template from eCornell:
For (target market),
the (Brand) is the
(point of differentiation)
among all (frame of reference)
because (reason to believe).
Here’s another positioning statement example from Forma Life Sciences Marketing:
For (target audience)
Brand X is the only (market context)
that (unique benefit delivered)
because (reasons to believe).
Your positioning statement is used internally. Once you’ve developed it, you’ll want to write the core messages and story lines that you’ll share with your target audience.
Your market strategy outlines your objectives and how you’re going to get there. People often confuse strategy with tactics. Tactics are the things (nouns) that you’ll do to achieve your strategy. In its most basic form, the strategy involves determining where your target audience is, where you want them to be, and how you will get there. Good strategies start with verbs.
The marketing mix includes your tactics for the 4 P’s of marketing: product, place (distribution), pricing, and promotion (tactics). How will these tactics help you achieve your strategy and your objectives?
Some examples of tactics are blogs, ads, websites, brochures, email marketing…. The list is virtually limitless.
The list of tactics may be limitless, but (alas!) budgets never are. How much will each tactic cost? What is the impact on the business? You’ll want to choose those tactics that will make the biggest impact in both the short and long term.
Metrics and Evaluation
Finally, you’ll want to identify how you will measure the success of the plan and then evaluate your success regularly so that you know when to pivot.
Most important, HAVE a plan. This will make the best use of your resources and their impact on your business.