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Elements of a Marketing Plan
Whether you’re marketing for a huge corporation or a local coffee shop, if you do not have a marketing plan in place, make it your first priority. Just as you wouldn’t start building a house without a blueprint, you shouldn’t be marketing if there is no plan behind it. If you do already have a business marketing plan, when was the last time you actually looked at it? Are you using the elements of your marketing plan in your day-to-day tactics? Have you analyzed your current situation to make adjustments to your marketing plan?
Your marketing plan should not be written in stone. Your business will, and should, continue to evolve over time… and so should your marketing plan. The basic elements that make up your marketing plan may remain fairly consistent, but you need to be open-minded and flexible. Re-visit your plan to incorporate new ideas, and be willing to ditch the tactics that are not performing in order to make more room for new tactics that can better achieve your business goals.
A good marketing plan should be an easy-to-understand and straightforward guide for your company and/or marketing partners. If you end up deciding to do all of your marketing in-house, this post can help get you well on your way. If you choose to partner up with an awesome marketing team (hint, hint) they should do the bulk of the work, but you should remain heavily involved. After all, you understand your business better than anyone.
Prepare to Plan
Before you jump right in and start writing a marketing plan, there are some key things you will want to have at your disposal. Check out this article on questions to ask yourself before you start marketing. Here are some additional key things you take into consideration before you start your plan:
- Your current financial situation. Check you financial reports and get a good understanding of your profits, expenses, debt, budget, and so forth. Figure out a realistic budget that you have to work with for marketing your business. That budget should cover costs you are able and willing to pay for an agency or in-house employees, paid advertising, digital asset creation, etc.
- Your staff. Your employees are a valuable asset to your company (if they aren’t… you should get rid of them now and find the right employees). Talk to them about their ideas and find out what they think should be included.
- Understand your marketplace and target audience. At this point, you should already have a good take on where you currently stand in the marketplace, who your current customers are, what current mediums you are using, and the latest trends in your market.
- Products and services. If you have multiple product and service offerings, identify them each individually. Do they all fit the same target audience or do they have a unique customer base?
- Branding guidelines. You should have well-defined branding guidelines in place before you start marketing. You want to make sure your branding and messaging remains consistent across all mediums.
The Core Elements of a Marketing Plan
Different marketing agencies will do things in their own way, and the elements could differ based on your specific situation. Since I work for a company that focuses primarily on digital marketing, the elements below are tailored towards an online marketing strategy.
The executive summary should introduce your market situation, briefly describe your company and include any key differentiators. Many people also include some sort of situational analysis or “S.W.O.T.” analysis in their plans. I really only do this on a case-by-case basis as I feel it is a dated method that people just include because they were taught to include in their college marketing 101 course.
For our clients, we also summarize the proposal agreement in this section.
In this section, list out the overarching business goals that you wish to achieve. I like to break these out into primary goals and secondary goals. Specific measurable goals will go under the objectives section. These business goals should be overarching general goals. For example: drive more quality traffic to the website… Increase brand awareness… Improve customer retention.
Target Audience Groups
Here is where you will define your target audience(s) in detail. Remember what I said before about figuring out who your current customers are, but also think about who you want your customers to be. You could have one focus target audience or it could be segmented into 4 or 5 different target audience groups. If you have different products or services that tie into different target audience groups, be sure to include them in the target audience descriptions as well. Some key elements you should try to define for your audiences include; demographics (such as age, race, gender, education level, income level, marital status, etc.) geographic location, and interests. If you want to take it even further and have a little fun with it, you could create a false persona to represent a target audience group.
Online Marketing – Current Standings
If your main focus is (and in my opinion should be) digital, I recommend adding a summarized section of your current online standings. You don’t need to go too far in depth here, but this is a good way to see where you currently stand at a glance. I always include the following at a minimum (when available):
- Basic Google Analytics overview from the past year
- Competitive Analysis
- Try to determine your top 3 or 4 competitors in the marketplace. Make sure they are similar to your business in size and the services/products offered. For a local business, you should try to focus on local competitors.
- Include a comparison chart of your domain metrics vs. your competitors’ domain metrics
- Include a comparison chart of all Social Media accounts (as relevant for your business) and compare numbers such as Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers, YouTube subscribers, YouTube video views, LinkedIn Company Followers.
- It is good to go more in depth and do a more comprehensive analysis of your competitors, but I do not typically include that in digital marketing plans in order to keep the document as simplified and to the point as possible.
Online Marketing Objectives
This is where we get into what I think is one of the most important factors with digital marketing: Setting (and later measuring) online marketing objectives. These objectives should be measurable and realistic. Check out my other post on business objective and marketing goals for more details.
The tactics section should outline the specific tactics you plan to implement in order to reach your objectives. These will vary based on what your measurable goals are, but to help get you started, I have listed some examples below that I tend to use most frequently. This list is not inclusive, and each tactic should have its own section in your strategy to go into more specific detail that aligns with the specific measurable goals you are targeting.
- On-site Changes / Multi-variant testing
- A key aspect of any campaign should be making on-site improvements and changes over time to increase the overall user experience and interface of the business website. Test out different call-to-action elements, different imagery, and page layouts to see what helps drive the most conversions through your website.
- Content Marketing
- Producing on-going, relevant content is one of the best ways to engage with your target audience and get additional quality organic search traffic. This includes content both onsite and offsite. Create an editorial calendar to help keep your content writer on task and map out topics in advance.
- Some content writing tips/suggestions to keep in mind:
- Keep the word count varying from page to page. Try not to have the exact same non-linked word count from page to page. This will make your content look more natural.
- Make sure that there is a good saturation of synonymous phrases: Google is getting very good at understanding synonymy and they’re working hard to decipher language meaning. Inclusion of secondary phrases is an important part of any keyword strategy.
- Add value on your pages: See if there is anything that you can add to your pages to make them more interesting. Consider adding widgets to pages or looking at competitors to see how you can improve the value of individual pages or templates on your site.
- Leverage the power of interviews: There are likely a ton of experts in your industry that would be willing to give you some of their time to be interviewed. This is a great way to get some quality content onto the website and help give some free publicity to the interviewees. Video interviews would be great as well to add to the website and YouTube channel.
- Use Calls To Action: Use a contextually relevant call to action to nudge your target audience to take the next step. Make it easy and apparent what you are taking the user to.
- Create content that is desirable by your target audience: Sounds obvious, but generating a need and use for all the content you write will help to improve results. Speak in language they will understand, use your experience and knowledge to address common questions or curiosities within the industry.
- Don’t be “spammy”: providing useful links in an article or blog post is great, but don’t go overboard to where it distracts from the message of the content.
- SEO / SEM
- On-page SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) are important factors in capturing your target audience through specific keyword searches. You will want to perform in-depth keyword research to identify which keywords you should optimize your website pages for.
- Social Media
- Social media plays a vital role in ongoing communication and interaction within your target audiences. This is also a great way to get social media followers to share great content that they feel may be helpful to their friends and family. List the Social Media platforms that you plan to use (note: not all business should use all forms of Social Media. Pick only the ones that make sense for your business). List our specific tactics you will implement for each platform.
- Link Building & Cross Promotion
- Link building can sometimes be a difficult task to tackle, but it is important for a number of different reasons including: increasing brand penetration and visibility, improving page rank, SEO, and reaching a larger target audience. You should also consider opportunities in cross-promoting with other businesses. Finding relevant blogs that are willing to write about your business and link back to your website holds a lot of value if done correctly.
- Email Marketing
- Email marketing is a great way to provide each target audience with information about app updates, news alerts, blog content, and more. Email marketing is NOT dead. You just need to know the right way to use it. Check out these tips for good Email marketing.
- Online Paid Advertising
- Online paid advertising can be very effective when managed properly. Consider budgeting for paid advertising on platforms such as AdWords/YouTube, Social Media, and other relevant websites. Whatever you do… do not just set it up and let it ride. It is important to continuously test and make updates to your paid campaigns in order to improve their performance and increase your ROI. Check out these tips for successful online advertising.
- If you get into paid advertising (online or offline) you will also need to build budget allocation into your plan. When I manage online paid advertising for clients, I usually create an entirely separate strategy document specifically for the ads buys.
Execute and Adjust as Needed
No matter what elements you choose to include in your marketing plan, the most important factor is that you execute the tactics and then measure to see which tactics are working and which ones need adjustment. Produce regular (at least monthly) reports to see if you are on the right path to reaching your measurable goals for the year. Your strategy should be a living breating document that is able evolve over time in order to produce the best results.
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