There’s never a bad time to put together a marketing plan, especially if you don’t already have one. Sure, when building one from scratch it can be a lot of work, but having a marketing plan helps you stay two steps ahead with your outreach, even in those times when you need to adapt and change course (and trust us, at some point, that will happen).

A thorough marketing plan is like a helpful guide for your team, and it comes in handy in more ways than one. If you put your guide together appropriately, you can see invaluable benefits, including: 

  • Team alignment on smaller and bigger-picture initiatives.
  • Quick access to a blueprint for your specific marketing and sales goals.
  • Specific marketing metrics your team is using to measure the success of your efforts.
  • An outlined process for creating and distributing your content marketing and sales materials. 
  • Easier assessment of your small business marketing budget so you can prioritize your spending in the right areas. 

Need some help planning your marketing this year? Download our free Marketing Planner for that extra helping hand. 

More than anything, though, it gives you a clear picture of the path that you’re on, allowing you to see both the forest and the trees when it comes to your overarching marketing objectives. A great marketing plan is a major competitive advantage and is worth the time that it takes to put together. Here’s an in-depth guide for how to put one together.

1. Start With Market Research

You might have a general idea of where you want to go with your marketing, but you have to put that idea into the appropriate context of a customer persona – more on this later. This means performing market research to understand the scope of both your industry and your audience, with an eye out for nuances that could directly affect your plans.

To truly understand your market and what makes your audience tick, you need to ask yourself a series of questions that uncover the unknowns and the truths. 

  • What platforms does your audience utilize? 
  • What does a standard buyer’s journey look like in your field? 
  • What are your competitors doing with their emails, their social media, and their blogs? 

Finding the answers to questions like these will help you shape your marketing plan from the outside so that you target your efforts and don’t waste time on fruitless endeavors.

Make sure you also pay special attention to the key stages of market research. The last thing you want to do is breeze through your research and miss anything, or not give a certain stage the attention necessary. Doing so could make you miss out on something crucial, and if you miss the mark on knowing your audience, you won’t know the best way to speak to them. Here are the five crucial market research stages you need to know: 

  • Market Analysis
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Trends Analysis
  • Customer Analysis
  • SWOT Analysis

If you need to, or if you have the resources, outsource an agency that can help you dig into these areas. The more in-depth you’re able to get, the more you’re able to uncover that can service you later.

2. Analyze Your Product and Offerings

Along with your sales team, you need to be the leading expert on the product or service that you’re selling. While you obviously know a lot already, try to come at it from a new perspective. Again, here are some questions you should be asking at this step:

  • What kinds of product-related questions would somebody who knows nothing about your brand have? 
  • What are the stand-out features that separate your offerings from the competition? 
  • What about your competitors’ products gives them an edge? 
  • What are the most common issues your customers have with your product? 

Analyzing your product or service from all possible angles will help you hone in on knowledge gaps and educational opportunities, both of which will guide your plan. 

A great way to gain insight into this kind of information is to analyze your CRM data. Your CRM can be used for more than just sales. In fact, it can influence numerous areas within your business, including product lifecycle and development. Look into data on upsells to see what about your product is so impressive that it’s leading to more purchases from your clients. Or, look at why certain customers may be terminating the use of your product to determine what features just aren’t cutting it. Your CRM can also give you information on the original selling point of your product, so you know what not to change in the future.

3. Define Your Target Audience

You’d be amazed at how many small businesses haven’t officially outlined their ideal buyer or target audience. They may claim to know exactly who that person is, but the truth is, over time, the target audience changes and evolves. Just like businesses, things adjust as the market adjusts, and who you initially thought you’d be selling to may look a little different a few years in. 

That’s why it’s imperative that you periodically examine who your target audience is, but nail down exact characteristics and document them. This is all a part of having an effective marketing strategy, because after all, if you don’t know who you’re marketing to, then you won’t be able to sell your product. 

Know your target audience inside and out before embarking on your marketing plan. This includes diving into their wants, needs, pain points, and demographics. Segment your buyer personas in the same way you’ll segment your marketing efforts, creating robust profiles of your target customers at various stages of the funnel. From there, you can better define your goals, as well as how you hope to achieve them.

Again, a CRM can help you gain insights into who your ideal customers are by telling you common characteristics, like industry, company size, revenue, etc. You can also use an NPS (Net Promoter Score) to get even deeper into information around your most loyal customers. 

Here’s an example of a buyer persona, and the kinds of information you can access on that persona using an NPS: 

Maggie the Marketer

I want to:

  • Capture leads from free and paid marketing channels, like SEO, PPC, and social media.
  • Communicate with Prospects and Customers consistently through smart campaigns.
  • Track lead sources.
  • Integrate with marketing campaigns.
  • Tie marketing activity to ROI.
  • View website activity and take action.

 

You can ask your customers that fit this persona even more specific questions, like:

  • What features of your product do they use the most?
  • What parts of your product do they use the least?
  • What do they dislike the most about your software?
  • What do they wish your software provided them?

The more specific your questions, the more insights you’ll gain into what about your product pulls your target audience in, and what you can do to increase their attention over time.

4. List Your Goals

Speaking of specifics, get as specific as you can with what you want to achieve with your marketing plan. “More revenue” is an obvious objective, but it’s far more helpful to break it down into smaller, tangible goals. 

Making your goals real ideas instead of just something you know is necessary for your bottom line makes it easier for your team to figure out how to achieve them. Also, it helps identify the various ways you’ll measure the success of your efforts, ensuring you’re meeting, or getting close to meeting those goals. 

So instead of listing “more revenue” under your goal section, try these specific goals on for size:

  • Grow our email marketing list by two percent by the end of Q3.
  • Produce three pieces of blog content each week.
  • Get one piece of content published on a marketing site our audience reads a month.
  • Generate 100 leads from social media each month. 
  • Generate 200 inbound marketing leads each month.
  • Increase demo requests by two percent each quarter. 

Having too many goals isn’t a bad thing, so long as you have ideas for pushing them forward. Create a mind map of sorts, starting with your big goals (more revenue, more customers, etc.) and forming offshoots with the smaller goals that will help you get there.

5. Think Tactics and Strategy

Now you know your goals, so it’s time to talk strategy. For most marketing plans, your tactics will be divided into five core initiatives:

  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Paid advertising
  • SEO
  • Social media

Figure out how your goals fit into each of these tactics, as well as how they come together to form your bigger marketing strategy. For instance, if you know one of your goals is more lead generation, make sure you’re creating and publishing the right content to generate leads. Map out specifically what efforts you’ll be using and which goal they help achieve. Including this in your marketing plan will help you easily identify how you plan to track whether those efforts are successful.

Notice how well these things work on their own and together, and keep in mind there will likely be a lot of overlap. For example, any content you create could also be used as fuel for email marketing and drip campaigns, your social media strategy, and SEO. You’ll want to fit together each piece of the puzzle in a way that aligns with what you’ve learned through market research and building audience personas, as well as to lay out how you’re going to prioritize different tactics.

6. Include Your Budget

Nobody gets into marketing because they secretly love accounting. But regardless of how good you are with numbers, prioritizing your small business marketing budget is instrumental to your marketing plan. Not many of us have an unlimited marketing budget, so we can’t just be spending dollars without a care in the world. 

Determining first what your budget is will indicate what efforts are reasonable, and which need to be tabled for the time being. Once you know how much you’re able to spend, you should divvy up your budget by putting the most spend behind the effort you think will reap the most reward. You may be guessing on this at first, and that’s fine. Do some research to see what other small businesses and direct competitors are putting spend behind and why. Then, as time goes on, you can evaluate the ROI of your various efforts to determine if your spend is being used wisely. There’s always room to make adjustments and tweak your budget so you’re spending in the right areas. Just continue to put your money where it will go the furthest, and you’ll avoid wasting dollars on strategies that are underdelivering.

We know that putting together an official marketing plan can be intimidating. But every step outlined above will help you get closer to reaching your goals. And if you need to tweak it, these steps will provide you with a solid foundation of knowledge, so you aren’t navigating those changes in the dark. With the steps above, you’ll be well on the way to meeting your marketing goals and effectively tracking your progress.