… and how do you get started on one? We will give you clear answers to these questions, including links to concrete working documents, questionnaires and tools.
Pssst... We recently wrote a new article about a strategic marketing plan. You can find it here!
A great deal of nonsense is spoken about the usefulness of a marketing plan within a marketing organization. Non-believers say that a marketing plan has lost its value as a strategic document in these dynamic times. Believers adhere to the principle of "failing to plan is planning to fail" and see a marketing plan as a framework for all strategic and operational marketing decisions.
As a marketeer and hands-on expert in marketing planning, I am convinced that the truth is somewhere in between. A modern marketing plan is crucial, but it should be flexible enough that all operational planning data (e.g. campaigns, projects, channels, milestones, tasks, budgets, results, notes, etc.) can be consulted and adjusted easily. When supplemented with strategic medium-term data you will have a modern and workable marketing plan.
We assume, therefore, that a marketing plan is an indispensable part of modern marketing policy. But: what does a professional marketing plan look like and how do you get started on drafting one? We will give you clear answers to these questions, including links to concrete working documents, questionnaires and tools.
Allow me to start by asking the opposite question: "What does a bad marketing plan look like?". After all, I see many more of these in practice than good, professional marketing plans.
"A bad marketing plan is a collection of separate documents with partial strategic and/or operational marketing data that does not, at any moment, offer a complete overview to the marketeers involved."
There: based on this, we can now define what a good marketing plan is. A good marketing plan:
"A good marketing plan is, therefore, a central platform or document that makes available all of the strategic and operational marketing data, at every moment and to all marketeers involved in the campaign or project."
I have made a start on the content or structure of a marketing plan above. You must have noticed that a marketing plan contains quite a bit of data.
Perhaps you are now looking at your Excel file with the title "Marketing Plan", which contains, at most, projects (e.g. email marketing), channels (e.g. e-newsletter to architects) and milestones (e.g. e-newsletter dated 14 March) with a regretful sigh. This is fine as a basic document, but there are still plenty of marketing questions that your plan does not address, such as:
In practice, marketing plans do not contain enough information to be complete.
The operational marketing plan contains:
The strategic marketing plan contains:
Where an operational marketing plan focuses on the "here and now" (the next few weeks four months), a strategic marketing plan focuses primarily on the medium-term (the next few months up to the next two or three years, at maximum).
The strategic marketing plan is that part of the plan that is used least. It establishes guidelines in the medium term and will be updated no more than a few times per year (i.e. in the event of a changed price strategy or if a new target audience is defined).
Objectives are an important benchmark in a strategic marketing plan, because they indicate what we want to achieve with our brand or company. Objectives are usually financial (growth, turnover, returns, profit, etc.), commercial (product, market, added value, positioning, etc.), organizational (operation, sales channels, team, etc.) or personal.
The business model provides an answer to the general marketing questions with regard to a brand or company, such as: "Which products or services do we offer?", "Who are our target audiences?", "What is the price strategy?", "What are our USPs?" or "Who are our toughest competitors?". In practice, I translate these into 20 concrete questions for our clients. Below you will find a link to a PDF document in which I have described and detailed the most significant business model questions within a strategic marketing plan.
The communication strategy provides an answer to general communication-related questions with regard to a brand or company, such as: "What is our Google strategy?", "What is our strategy with regard to social media?", "How are we going to network?", "Where and how will we advertise?", or "How are we going to enhance customer experience?". In practice, I will also translate these into 20 concrete questions for our clients.
In conclusion, the strategic marketing plan can be enriched with workflows, processes or procedures. These are strategic guidelines for specific situations, such as: "How do we follow up a lead generated from the website?" or "Which actions should we take in the run-up to a trade fair, where we will have a stand?".
A good operational marketing plan is built up around projects or campaigns. Common projects within a marketing plan are:
A good marketing plan offers a perfect overview of your ongoing projects and campaigns at every moment and contains an archive of all completed project and campaigns. They are the backbone on which to attach all of the operational data listed below.
The most logical next step in building up an operational marketing plan is to draft the communication calendar showing the channels and milestones for each project. Once this is completed, the marketing plan will provide a perfect answer to the question "What are we communicating and when will we be communicating this?". The communication calendar is, without a doubt, one of the most important and frequently used modules within a marketing plan.
In practice, I see that communication calendars often also contain tasks. This is rather confusing, because communication milestones (when is this item of communication scheduled?) and tasks run run across each other in one and the same calendar. This makes it difficult for a marketer, who has to cross off a substantial checklist of tasks each day. Therefore, I recommend creating a separate to-do list or task checklist in the marketing plan. That is much more convenient, clear and motivating. After all: what is more satisfying than finishing a day at work with a completed checklist of tasks? Checking off tasks gives every manager or marketer a psychological kick. A good marketing plan provides a perfect overview of the active, completed and yet to be completed tasks within each project, for each individual marketeer, at every moment.
An overview of the planned, allocated and consumed budget should also be included in every marketing plan. I often see a lot of frustration among marketeers because they have no insight into their budgets (both allocated and consumed). A good marketing plan provides a perfect overview of the total marketing budget, all allocated costs and all costs incurred within each project, for each individual marketeer, at every moment.
These days, marketing activities can easily be measured, particularly in the world of digital marketing. But if you were to ask the average marketeer about the KPIs and results within the marketing plan, they will not be able to give you an answer immediately. This is a pity, because this part of the plan validates the effort that marketeers put into their projects and campaigns. It is also often the part of marketing plans that interests marketing directors, commercial directors or CEOs most. A good marketing plan provides a perfect overview of the most important marketing KPIs and the results achieved within each project, for each individual marketeer, at every moment. That way, you can immediately have a perfect dashboard at your fingertips for reporting to colleagues, management or key stakeholders.
The last module in the operational marketing plan is where you can keep your notes, attached documents or links. It is much better to update them inside the marketing plan instead of putting them away in minutes, emails or separate memos on servers, where nobody will ever be able to find them again. A good marketing plan provides a perfect overview of all the agreements, notes, attached documents and links within each project for each individual marketeer at any moment.
The most commonly used tool to create a marketing plan is, without a doubt, Excel. There are probably millions of Excel documents with marketing data worldwide. What about you? How many Excel documents are used by your marketing team or organization? Probably far too many! The benefits of Excel as a planning tool in marketing are free access, a low threshold and the speed at which you can draft a document, plus the fact that you can organize a plan in Excel exactly as you prefer.
However, Excel also has some disadvantages. Every planning document has to be designed from scratch (time-consuming). Also, the use of Excel promotes fragmentation, as before you know it dozens of Excel files will be circulating within the marketing department and nobody will have an overview of or insight into them. Lastly, many Excel files become unreadable over the course of time (for everyone except the author) because they have become too complex.
You read right: I'm really not an advocate of Excel as a tool for marketing planning. I only recommended it in the following situations:
In all other situations, you will – at a given point in time – run into the limits of Excel as a marketing planning tool. Yourself, your colleagues and/or your management will get frustrated because the diversity of planning documents no longer provides any overview of or insight into your marketing plan. This is when it is time to take the step towards digital tools that approach the benefits of Excel while neutralizing its disadvantages. Do these actually exist? Yes, they do! I will provide an outline of the most commonly used digital tools in the next chapter.
Additional tools for marketing planning can, generally speaking, be put into three categories:
So, what's next? Can you get started? I sincerely hope that this article has given you some insight into what a modern and professional marketing plan looks like and how you can start drafting one. And, with the link to the template and tools for marketing planning, you should be able to get started straight away. All the best!