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How to create a marketing plan

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We hate creating marketing plans. It’s boring and requires concentration spans extending into the several-minutes-long category.

developing a small business marketing plan

Is there a marketing plan to rule them all?

However creating a marketing plan avoids constant second-guessing, reduces unexpected spikes in workload and can ensure that what needs the most marketing gets the most investment. So stop complaining and get on with it.

A good marketing plan should encapsulate everything that markets you or communicates about you to the world. This ranges from the obvious – direct mail, websites, email and social media – to the less obvious options including: events, webinars, eBooks, award ceremonies, lectures that you stage, expos at which you exhibit, conferences at which you present, media coverage you may seek, letterboxing and face-to-face marketing.

Your marketing plan might detail the 12 attention-grabbing email signatures that your staff will roll out across the year, how you’ll promote events via signage on your building and the themes of your constantly evolving messages-on-hold.

It’s all marketing. get it right and you’ll have bottoms on seats, gold in your coffers and a place in people’s hearts.

Before you open up that Excel spreadsheet and start developing your marketing plan consider that this is your opportunity to:

  • review and prioritise your audiences;
  • review and prioritise your offerings / campaigns / initiatives;
  • review the effectiveness of each aspect of your marketing;
  • create new marketing initiatives and kill the duds.

1. Reviewing and prioritising your audiences

Some marketers want to reach everybody. This is impossible. Be ruthless – if parents can have favourite children, marketers can favour certain audiences.

It’s too easy to keep aiming for the same people year in, year out. Savvy marketers separate audiences and create specific marketing initiatives for valuable audiences, even if they are small in number.

Take this typical audience: lapsed or former clients / donors / students / members.

A savvy marketer investigates this audience and reviews her marketing plan with the question: “Do we have anything that will connect to this audience?”

If not, she must create a piece of marketing to do just that. That might be a piece of direct mail, be a free webinar, a business breakfast, phone calls from her CEO to the individuals. The choice is up to her but she must be sure that the initiative is shamelessly tailored to that audience as one size rarely fits all.

volunteer recruitment marketing

Target thy audience with new, tailored marketing initiatives.

We ran a marketing workshop for a large division of the Country Fire Authority which is Australia’s largest volunteer-based organisation. The CFA division was keen to recruit more women but we soon realised that there were few, if any, effective marketing options aimed at the target group.

We advised that a series of face-to-face events would be wise, featuring women volunteers as speakers. A public event would also immediately enable prospective volunteers to meet other women in a similar situation, creating a peer group.

The timing of the event was important as was the provision of childcare. And yes, there should be some champagne served. Sexist maybe – but effective.

We recommended reaching women en masse via female-only gyms and schools. It’s all seemingly simple but has to be thought through and cleverly executed.

At a recent Sports Without Borders conference representatives of Cricket Victoria advised us that they were missing out on the massive influx of cricket-loving Indian and Sri Lankans.

These prospective club cricketers preferred their own company and casual matches in public ovals as opposed to the regimen of club cricket.

Our advice – hit the parks whenever and wherever the prospects gather with a sub-continental-savvy promotional person who is ready to address the concerns of this audience.

We also suggested that they create a special event for this audience and work with clubs to make them more welcoming of this stream of talent when they show up for the all-important first training session. Clubs would be well served to read this blog post as they have some well-founded anxieties to address.

Finally – find this audience where they gather. In the case of newly arrived Indians and Sri Lankans that may be care of certain RTOs, workplaces and professional organisations.

2. Review and prioritise your offerings / campaigns / initiatives

As with audiences, not all your services, products, campaigns, initiatives are created equal. We regularly see some marketing initiatives (AGMs, annual reports) receive a far greater share of marketing resources than is justified.

When allocating precious resources to market certain activities ask:

  • can marketing make this activity significantly more successful or is its likely success beyond the influence of marketing due to factors such as cost, location or market demand?
  • can marketing help us make a lot more money than we might otherwise make?
  • does this activity hold special significance?

When the answer is yes, go crazy. If not, consider a minimal effort.

building a marketing plan

We’ve downgraded priority on Facebook and upped investment into LinkedIn.

3. Review the effectiveness of each marketing initiative

Few of us have time to pursue all the marketing channels open to us so we’ve created this table to help you choose more objectively. Too often marketers waste time and money on channels that don’t really create an impact. “We’ve always done it that way,” is not a marketing mantra.

Start by listing your marketing options across the top. Then work through the criteria giving a rating from very negative (—) to very positive (+++).

Hopefully you’ll compare a dozen or more channels rating each as appropriate. We explain each criterion and more below.

Media Website Events Awards Paid advertising
Cost / value +++
Existing / learnable skills =
Ongoing growth
Appropriate to audience +
Time & effort / reward ratio ++
Control / guarantee of delivery +
Ability to time the marketing to suit you. =
Speedy communications option? =
Saves us money +
Kudos / influence ++
Ongoing commitment required

Cost / value – quite simply is it worth the money? Is it worth the time? Have you ever estimated how much each marketing option is costing you? Do it.
Data – online communications let you know if they are effective, print publications do not. Generally speaking we prefer to know if what we are doing works.

Existing / learnable skills – can you internally develop the right skills to execute the option well? Can you afford to outsource them?

Ongoing  growth – some channels such as eMarketing and websites can continue to grow in power if executed properly. Brochures don’t.

Appropriate to audience – will the channel work for your particular audiences. Perhaps you’ll adopt one option for just one particular audience.

Control / guarantee of delivery – media coverage is never guaranteed. A brochure is. Events can be rained out, your website remains entirely within your control.

Complexity – some options such as events are more complicated than other options. Is it worth it?

Ability to time the marketing to suit you – direct mail can be timed, media coverage less so.

Speedy communications option? It is great to have some quick options in your arsenal. eMarketing scores well in this regard.

Risk – staging events is risky as you may not be able to guarantee bums on seats.

Longevity – a brochure can serve you for years. Tweets disappear into cyberspace. An eBook could gain you credibility and emails for years.

Saves us money – don’t forget that some channels in which you initially invest money (websites, eNewsletters) can save you money longer term.

Kudos / influence – media coverage makes you important and creates influence, library displays don’t.

Ongoing commitment – some channels such as social media need repeated investment of time.

Geographic specificity – you might have a very specific location to which you market. Letterboxing, street signage or face-to-face marketing might target your locality very well.

small business marketing plan

Some new initiatives – such as eBooks – will provide a long term ROI.

4. Create new marketing initiatives and kill the duds

Having considered your audiences and your marketing options you have some decisions to make. Are you going to jettison some marketing options that you are currently using? We hope so. Similarly, we hope you will take up some new options and target some new audiences.





Features of a good marketing plan:

  • schedules in the little stuff
  • flexibility
  • hits all priority audiences and initiatives
  • guides editorial content for the year


how to create a marketing plan

The little stuff matters, if only to maximise the benefit of the big stuff.

Scheduling in the little stuff: it’s tempting to just detail the big stuff – blog posts, email updates, twice yearly direct mail to solicit donations etc – but you need to budget in the time to attend to the small stuff too.

The small stuff might include: quarterly keyword research to help get better Google results, a cleaning out of dead email addresses, reporting, a blitz on updating the website, hiring a photographer, market research, planning editorial content etc.

This will help you (and the boss) understand the workload you have in front of you. It also makes ongoing improvement more likely.

creating a marketing plan

Flexibility is more than just cute, it’s vital in a marketing plan.

Flexibility: if your marketing plan requires 100% of your time and energy you won’t have room to deal with unexpected opportunities or dramas. You also won’t get a break.

Hits all priority audiences and initiatives: when your plan is complete you should be comforted to see that everything will be covered in accordance to its priority. If in doubt look at your plan (which will likely be a spreadsheet) and ask: “Does this marketing plan sufficiently target audience A?” “Are we marketing enough to support initiative B?” You should also be able to look at the plan and answer the question: “Are we utilising channel X well enough?”

Guides editorial content for the year: Editorial content should be guided by and support your marketing goals.  A good clear marketing plan can help instruct your content creator. For instance if July is your big membership renewal period you need to create suitable content across various channels in the lead up. You might instruct your copywriter to create a series of 12 posts about the benefits of membership to be rolled out via LinkedIn. If your annual lecture is in September you might tweet out 10 factoids about the speaker in the lead up. You get the idea.

marketing plan sample

Looks like someone has a lot of work to do.

OK – so start creating your marketing plan spreadsheet. Place months or weeks along the vertical axis, marketing options across the top. Use the first column to list the activity / product / campaign you are trying to promote.

Add all the small, supporting activity around the big stuff. Estmate time required. It might take six hours to write a brief and meet with three photographers. That one full working day! Always remember that everything takes longer than you’d reasonably expect so start activities early.

Hope this helps. Goodluck with your marketing plan.

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