The Essential Elements of a Marketing Plan

Kevin Peterson
By: Kevin Peterson
Reading Time: 12 minutes

6 Essential Elements of an Effective Marketing Plan

  1. Define you Target
  2. Craft your Talking Points
  3. Outline you Tactics
  4. Choose you Tools
  5. Set your Timeline
  6. Select your Team

If you’re going on a journey, you need to be sure you’ve packed everything you need or have a plan to get what you need somewhere along the way. The same is true of your marketing. You need a marketing plan. You can’t simply set out someday to decide you’re going to take your business to the heights of success without some idea of what you’ll need to take you there. You have to have a plan for your journey otherwise, you’ll run out of steam or run off course and end up nowhere near your intended destination.

Here at The Marketing Squad, we believe that your marketing is a journey. If you want your journey to be exciting and adventurous in a non-Clark Griswold/Frodo Baggins/King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table Monty Python-style kind of way, then you’ll need to pack a bag that includes the six critical elements of a marketing plan.

I believe that every good marketing plan includes these six elements that answer the following questions:

  1. Target – What is the primary objective, and who is your target audience?
  2. Talking Points – What will you say to move your audience to action?
  3. Tactics – What strategy will you employ to reach your desired outcomes?
  4. Tools – What tools will help you save time and maximize your efforts?
  5. Timeline – What is a reasonable timeline to execute tactics and see results?
  6. Team – Who do you trust to carry out the work?

(No apologies for the alliteration. I’m a preacher’s kid. I come by it honestly.)

All of these elements should be outlined in a single document you can present to the powers that be. With enough detail organized in a logical format, you should be able to achieve buy-in and confidently lead your marketing toward the proverbial summit. 

But first things first…

marketers on a journey

First and foremost, you must know where you’re going. What’s the old saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?” Let’s take that first step in the right direction, but knowing where we’re going is vital.

Your target consists of two elements:

  1. Objective
  2. Target Market

Objective

What is this marketing plan hoping to accomplish? Do you have a clearly defined goal for your efforts? This is where you lean on your abilities to create a SMART goal. Take the time to include language from the company's guiding vision. Include something measurable and time-bound to show that you’re willing to be held accountable for the success (or failure) of this strategy you’re about to outline.

Examples

  • To increase traffic to your website by 20% in 6 months.
  • To generate 1,000 new marketing-qualified leads before your new location opens.
  • To sell half a million brake pads before the company folds and the entire town is shuttered. (Okay, this might be more of a sales goal and an outdated movie reference, but it’s a good example of a SMART goal.)

Target Market

Who are you trying to reach? What does the audience for your message look like? What do they care about? It’s worth taking some time to develop a few personas here. Outline your target market by some common denominators of the people you’d like to do business with. Where do they live? How old are they? Where do they shop? What do they spend their time and money on? 

But take it a step further and outline what motivates them. Really get into the headspace of your target audience. Then, take some time to outline what they need. (Hint: What they need are the products or services that your organization provides, so outline them in a way that matches up with the things that motivate them.)

Example

If you’re an accounting consultant for government contractors, your motivations/needs outline might look like this:

  • Motivations: A long-term relationship serving a government agency and maximizing their profit and growth by keeping their business organized and avoiding paybacks and penalties to their contract holder.
  • Needs: An experienced team of accountants who can guide them through the often complex and tedious process of audit processes, including reviewing accounting systems, internal controls, and segregation of duties, as well as developing an indirect rate structure, drafting incurred cost submissions, and maintaining flexible price contracts year over year.

Your well-developed Target accomplishes one vital step of your journey – getting buy-in from the people who hope to come along with you. It’s likely you’re serving someone else in your marketing planning and preparations. Call them stakeholders, your boss, the board of directors, or your business partner, whoever it is that will be contributing to the success of the marketing efforts you’re about to outline, better be on the same page with you. 

If you’ve started with a target that’s too lofty or simply off track from the greater company objective, or if your target market doesn’t describe the kind of people your company wants to attract, then stakeholders will know that the rest of the marketing strategy can be cast aside as misguided or uninformed. Beginning your marketing plan pitch with a clearly stated objective and detailed target market will ensure you have buy-in before you take another step.

marketer giving a presentation

I’m a firm believer that people are moved to act by the words they hear and read. Don’t believe me? Think about those sad puppy faces you see on TV whenever Sarah McLachlan starts singing. Without a plea for viewers to call and start their monthly donations, you’d be left wondering what could possibly be done to prevent the inhumane treatment of animals. It’s a cliché example, but it’s clear. You might be moved by what you see, but you won’t act unless instructed how to do so.

This section of your marketing strategy could include the following components:

  • Positioning statement
  • Tagline
  • Key Messages

Positioning Statement

Can you craft a single sentence that could only be true of your company or organization? This helps to quickly distinguish what is unique about your mission and what makes your marketing efforts worthwhile. This sentence isn’t something your audience may ever hear or read, but they’ll catch pieces of it if you’re committed to developing your messaging.

I use this template when crafting a positioning statement

  • What: The only [category]
  • How: that [differentiation characteristic]
  • Who: for [customer]
  • Where: in [geographic location]
  • Why: who [need state]
  • When: during [underlying trend]

A positioning statement could end up sounding something like this:

The only primary care provider who offers healthcare outside of the traditional “fee-for-service” model insurance companies thrive on for cost-conscious employers and relationship-minded consumers in Anytown, USA, who want to have an enduring relationship with their healthcare provider in a time when provider-patient interaction is decreasing and costs are increasing.

There’s a lot going on in that statement, but if you break it down, it answers all the questions about what makes your organization unique.

Tagline

Just do it. 

You can do it. We can help.

Every kiss begins with Kay.

What marketer doesn’t love a clever or compelling tagline? If you’ve taken the time to craft one for your company or for a campaign, you’d better take the time to record it on your marketing strategy. We need to keep everyone on the same page with this document, so it doesn’t hurt to restate what might seem obvious.

Key messages

What are the main points you want your audience to walk away with? Is it a surprising stat? Do you have a benefit statement that cuts to the heart of the need for your product or service? Is there a differentiator from your positioning statement that would resonate particularly well with your audience? Make a list of 3-5 sentences that capture the main message you want to shine through in your marketing, and record them here.

Other elements

Other elements to consider including, would be the plan you want to give your audience. Have you articulated how you hope to guide them from their current situation towards the life they want? What about your call to action? Do you want them to call, visit your website, or walk into your storefront? Again, the goal of putting all of this onto a single document is to get buy-in from the stakeholders within your organization.

marketers working together

This is where the ideas start flowing and will likely be the bulk of your strategy document. 

The tactics portion of your strategy document should include: 

  • Guiding Strategy
  • Tactics

Guiding Strategy

Start with a paragraph that outlines the guiding strategy at the highest level. This is your executive summary for the lengthy section of your strategy document.  

At The Marketing Squad, we are an inbound (content) marketing agency at our core, so our guiding strategy statements usually incorporate that language somehow. 

Example

If you’re an online influencer looking to get your subscription box service up and running, your guiding strategy might sound something like this:

  • To accomplish the stated objective, we recommend (online influencer) implementing a comprehensive content marketing strategy aligned with strategic one-to-one and one-to-many networking activity and targeted affiliate network building.

In a single statement, your stakeholders will know how you plan to achieve your objective. If you’ve built enough trust with them, they could choose to skip the rest of the tactics section. 

Tactics

It’s time to deliver. You’re the marketing leader/expert, and all eyes are on you to have the creative and strategic ideas to launch your company into the stratosphere, right? Feels that way sometimes. 

In this section, you’ll line out all the ideas you have for moving the needle toward the objective you articulated earlier. It’s helpful to categorize your ideas in a logical way. General categories like content marketing, email marketing, social media, digital ads, sales support, etc might be all that you need. Again, the goal with this document is to get buy-in, but it’s also to direct the efforts of the marketing team you lead. So, put enough detail to demonstrate each idea's relevance but not so much to overwhelm your audience.

When I’m putting a marketing plan together, I like to give a bit of direction on how to carry out the step. For example, if you’re advocating for a drip campaign to accompany a content offer, give a list of two or three content offer ideas and list the topics of the 3-to 4 emails that could follow after your new marketing-qualified lead has been generated. If you’re suggesting your organization participate in trade shows, list a few along with relevant details like expected attendance, hosting organization, etc. If you think a website overhaul including new content is needed, add a bit of keyword research to direct your copywriting efforts. Just give a taste to show the powers that be, the direction you want to go. Again, you’re looking for buy-in. (Did I mention that?)

toolbox representing the tools you need to account for in your marketing plan

Look, Batman doesn’t have superpowers. He’s just a resourceful guy with the determination to do the right thing (and a lot of money to pay for gadgets and git-ups, but that’s beside the point). You don’t have to have superpowers either. You just need the right tools.

So, it’s one thing to know what you’re going to do. It’s an entirely different thing to know how you’re going to do it. As a digital marketer, you likely have numerous tools in your digital toolbox. If you’re introducing new tactics with this marketing strategy (and it’s likely you are, otherwise you won’t be going through this exercise) you’re going to need to account for how you’ll get the work done.

Step back and think about your full landscape of marketing. What platform is your website built upon? What functionality does your website need to support your new marketing endeavors? Does your strategy call for email tactics that your current tools don’t support? If so, what will you need from a new email marketing tool? Do you need a CRM to better organize your database of contacts, categorize leads, and track deals in a pipeline? Will you begin engaging on a new social media platform or utilizing a social scheduling tool? Do you need new hardware to be able to produce podcasts or video content? Will you need sales collateral in the form of sales kits or trade show displays?

Take the time to scan through your entire list of tactics to ensure you have a plan for implementing them with the proper tools. Give notes about the functionality you need from each new tool or your vision for how they’ll be utilized.

points on a path representing your marketing plan timeline

You’re in the home stretch now. You know what you’re trying to accomplish, who you are trying to reach, and how you plan to reach them. Now, you need to set expectations for when you’ll be able to reach your milestones. 

No one simply hops in their car and decides to head to Nepal for their epic Mt. Everest summit the next day. The journey will happen in phases. It’s going to require more than one mode of transportation, and your body will take time to adjust to the conditions. Plus, you can’t possibly scale the world’s tallest mountain peak in one day. 

Slow down here. Think about what you can realistically achieve with the resources you have now and outline a plan to utilize the new resources you’ll pick up along the way.

Think in Phases

When I’m creating a marketing plan, I’m thinking about the next 6 to 12, maybe 18, months. I consider what the quick wins are and how we can get some momentum early in the process. What can we accomplish in the next 90 days? 

Then, I think about how to build on that momentum and strategically introduce new tactics. Your marketing team is going to need time to come up with new sales collateral, so you probably shouldn’t plan to have a trade show booth in the first phase of your plan. You can’t begin blogging if you haven’t done your keyword research or enhanced your website with the proper functionality. Think about how your efforts scale. In each phase of your strategy, you should be introducing a new tactic or going deeper into one you’ve already implemented. 

Take a minute to name or label each phase to help your stakeholders quickly understand what you’re trying to accomplish in each phase. 

Example

If you’re trying to introduce a new service to your well-established professional services B2B brand, your phases could look like this:

  • Q1 – Launch Phase
  • Q2-Q3 – Engage Your Target Audience
  • Q4-Q1 Next Year – Establish Your Customer Base
  • Q2 Next Year and Beyond – Grow Your Customer Base

The goal in fleshing out the timeline portion of your marketing plan is to both set expectations and invite accountability. You want to win for your organization, but you also want to have balance. Getting agreement on the timeline will be critical to your long-term success.

a marketing team working together

The plan is in place! You’ve set your sights on a target, and you know how you’re going to get there.

Well, almost. Another old adage comes to mind here. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” You’re going to need a team around you. I’m not advocating for a Jerry Maguire-style “Who’s coming with me?” scene, but you will want to know who’s going to be by your side for the journey.

Now, maybe you are the marketing department. If so, great! You’ve got the trust of your team to carry out the plan, but it’s likely you don’t have all the skills needed to execute on each tactic. If so, do you need to outsource some of the deliverables? Will you hire a contractor or an agency? Present your plan on this document. 

Maybe you’re ready to hire fresh talent. What will their title and roles be? Spell that out here. To whom will they report? Will they be full-time, part-time, contractor, etc? Make your pitch for how a new team member will help you reach your goals and ultimately support the company’s greater vision.

Maybe you could accomplish what you need by outsourcing or hiring in-house. Present the pros and cons of each path. Many roads may lead to the same destination. Help your stakeholders see the best path.

While the six elements detailed above are critical to developing an effective marketing plan and to getting buy-in from decision-makers, you could consider some additional components to help expedite the approval process.

I like to include an executive summary at the beginning of any marketing plan. This hits the highlights of each part of the plan and gives decision-makers a chance to see what they’re getting into before taking a deep dive. Keep this section to one-page max. Highlight some points. Make it skimmable. Your superiors will thank you.

Create a go-to-market checklist that helps you and your team think about all the elements they need to have in place before you roll out your campaign. Categorize different points if it’s helpful. While you’re still in the strategizing headspace, take advantage of the time to think about everything you need before you begin your journey, because once you walk out that front door, the world is going to come at you fast, and you’ll be in react-respond mode. You’ll thank your past self for sharing their clear-headed thoughts.

If it helps to make your case, show what your competition is doing and how your strategy aligns with successful trends in the marketplace. This could look like screenshots of websites, social media, and emails, or it could be facts and stats demonstrating the proven effectiveness of the strategy you want to employ.

Now, at this point, you might be thinking I’m missing the seventh “T” in my list of essential elements of a marketing plan – T’budget. Well, you make a great point. Money is tricky. Often you know how much you have to work with before setting out to create a plan. Other times, as is often the case for us on a consulting basis, your business leaders just want to know what they should be doing to get ahead and will work to figure out the costs based on their predetermined, albeit loose, budget later. Each portion of your marketing plan is going to need finer points. Again, if the goal is to get buy-in, following the six T’s should get you where you need to be.

No one wants to go through life on autopilot. We all want to be going somewhere exciting and living a great adventure. It’s true in our personal lives as well as our professional pursuits. The key is to know how you’re going to get there. 

With a well-crafted plan, you can go places, but it’s going to take buy-in. So commit to making the effort to fleshing out a marketing strategy that helps your organization, and you get to where you want to go. Include the elements I’ve shared and pitch your plan with confidence, knowing that you’ve accounted for the challenges that you’ll inevitably face on the road ahead.

If you’d like help developing a marketing plan for your business, we’re here to help. We’ve been guiding businesses towards sustained growth for more than 16 years and have seen what works and doesn’t. 

Ready to talk? Let’s connect.

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