7 Key Elements of a Marketing Plan

I’m writing a lot about marketing plans these days. See my updated version of this post – Components of a Startup Marketing Plan,  along with 3 Reasons to Build a Startup Marketing Plan and my presentation on how to structure a marketing plan framework in Startup Marketing: A Systems Approach.

You have a product people love and you understand who the people are that love it.  Now would be a great time to build a marketing plan.  The plan will change and evolve over time but having a structure helps to make sure that your marketing spend is aligning with your goals without being completely ad-hoc, spray and pray, or flavor of the day.   The plan shouldn’t be a massive undertaking – it’s a rough guide that documents what you are planning on doing and why you are doing it.  Good plans should contain the following:

  1. Segmentation – At this stage you should understand what segments love you offering and why.  If you don’t, you probably aren’t ready to build a marketing plan yet and you should go back and focus on finding a fit between your offering and a set of markets.  This is where you document with as much detail as humanly possible the segments that you are going to target.  Who are the groups, what are their characteristics and how do you identify them.
  2. Competitive Alternatives – This is a documented list of what your customers would consider alternatives to your product or service.  Don’t go crazy on this documenting every little bit of functionality.  The purpose of this section is to help you articulate what really differentiates your offering from others in the space.  These are generally macro things and not niggly detailed nuances of features.
  3. Differentiated Points of Value (by segment) – For each segment, what are the top 3 or 4 differentiators that your offering has versus others.  Remember this isn’t just about technology or features.  It often includes things like pricing, delivery options, ease of use,  time to value, etc.
  4. Messaging and Positioning (by segment) – Working from the previous section create a set of messages for each segment.  This should be a succinct set of no more than 3/4 messages that get across your key points. (For more on this see my post on Crafting Simple Value Statements)
  5. Marketing Goals and Measures – What are the goals of your marketing plan and what metrics are you tracking that are associated with those goals? For example you might decide that increasing customer acquisition by x% is a key goal.  You can tie acquisition to site visits, product signups, email or blog signups, abandon rates, etc.
  6. Tactical Plan, Budget, Owners – Based on the above goals and measures this is the set of marketing plans you plan on executing to drive those results and the costs associated with each of those tactics.  The tactics are broken into discreet items of work (i.e for example a tactic such as a webinar will include creating the invite list, writing/designing the mailer, sending the invite, creating the webinar content, etc.) and assigned to an owner.
  7. Timeline– The tactics need to be broken into work items and plotted on a timeline so they can be tracked on a regular (for my teams it’s usually weekly) basis.

Remember that marketing plans change continuously so you need to make sure that the plan changes to reflect that.  Also I always have a set of test tactics running that are essentially trialling new things to see if they meet my ROI goals. If they do then they get worked into the plan, if they don’t I move on to testing other things.

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50 thoughts on “7 Key Elements of a Marketing Plan”

  1. April – Isn’t it amazing how companies let products “escape” or do a “soft launch.” (Both of those descriptions make my product marketing skin crawl.)

    Every company has to create a Product Marketing Roadmap that includes the essence of your post. If there’s no roadmap tied to the plan, how will you know when you’ve gotten there.

    Jim

    1. Hi Jim,
      Thanks for the comment. I think it’s always good to have a plan, even if it changes a lot. I worry a bit that companies who are doing agile development and following the whole lean startup thing are throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to doing things when they are beyond product/market fit. Good marketing plans have a lot of things happening at once with a lot of players and moving parts that depend on one another. Without a plan, tactics will slip or not get executed on and you’ll end up changing tracks more than you should (in my opinion).
      Even scarier are the companies I’m talking to lately that tell me their marketing plan consists of “going viral.” Like that’s some sort of magic thing that just happens.
      April

  2. Great list of basics that many companies ignore.

    I’d say the most important strategic driver in the list is positioning, though it should be informed by segmentation and competitive alternatives.

    Having different sets of messages for each segment dilutes the marketing message. One of my favorite positioning quotes from Ries & Trout’s The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing:

    “No matter how complicated the product, no matter how complicated the needs of the market, it’s always better to focus on one word or benefit rather than two or three or four.”

    1. Hi Roger,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m a big Ries and Trout fan so I’m not going to argue with them! I think context is important for that though. There’s a startup I’m working with right now that has two very different segments that they target. When you come to the home page there is a focus on one overall value proposition that works for both of them but when we are running campaigns, the messaging we are using for the two segments diverges quite a bit.
      I totally agree with the concept of keeping it simple though. Too often I see companies trying to communicate every tiny bit of value they offer and in doing so, customers miss the key point of why they should consider buying.
      April

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