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Building a marketing plan

Updated: Jan 7



Do you need to build a marketing plan? From objectives to measurement, this post describes seven things you need in a marketing plan. You can apply this seven point structure to almost any marketing project.


Love it or hate it, marketing drives our economy. But (like so many things) advertising only works if you work it. Small businesses stay small because they (think they) cannot afford marketing. And that lack of marketing means they have no hope of breaking out.


To break out. That’s a useful way to think about the purpose of marketing, which is to stand out, not fit in, with your competition. You want to create excitement and awareness, so people recognize your brand, and happily pay a premium for it.


It all starts with a plan. You need to take stock, analyze the situation, consider your options, then spell out your approach. After 20+ years in marketing, I can promise you that if you take the time to cover off these seven things, you can build a solid plan:

1. Objectives

2. Audiences

3. Competitors

4. Opportunity

5. Strategy

6. Tactics

7. Measurement


1. Objectives

First of all, great marketing plans must clearly identify objectives. If you lack consensus on your objectives, you cannot achieve results. Start at the beginning. Answer this question: why are we doing this? And try to consider both your business and communication objectives:

  • Business objectives include everything from trying to achieve revenue targets, to improving employee morale

  • Communication objectives usually involve things like driving sales, launching a brand, and raising awareness

2. Audiences

Now, with your objectives in mind, consider who you need to reach. Communication audiences include consumers (i.e. everyday shoppers); customers/clients (i.e. organizations); employees; investors; the media (online and off); and so on.


When you think about your audience, it helps to get specific. Do you need to market to moms? IT managers? Empty-nesters? Chief executive officers? Build an “FBI profile” of your audience, complete with psychographic, demographic, and geographic data.


You can use this info to glean insights, make tactical decisions, and prioritize your audiences. If you run a high-end retail clothing store, for example, your #1 most relevant audience might be bank employees who work in the skyscrapers nearby. Market to them.


3. Competitors

Visit 10 of your direct competitors’ websites. Take screen grabs and notes on what you see. Point out the similarities between the messaging and look and feel of your competitors. Do they all say the same thing? Do they all make the same promises?


4. Opportunity

Given the competitive landscape, what unique promise can you make that no one else makes? What creative opportunity do you have to stand apart from everyone else? Can you disrupt the status quo? Offer your audiences something new & unexpected!


5. Strategy

Time to bring it all together. In one statement, try to describe how you will achieve your objectives by reaching your audience(s) with a truly unique promise. Creating a single statement that distills your thinking isn’t easy. Take your time.


Just for fun, here’s an example of a strategy that marketers at a supermarket chain might come up with: “To drive membership in our customer loyalty program and demonstrate our unique personality by surprising and delighting shoppers.”


6. Tactics

Surprise them how? Well, that’s a tactical decision. A communication tactic or channel is an activity that you might use to reach your audience. Typical marketing tactics include:

  • TV & radio advertising (like commercials and jingles)

  • Digital advertising (like web banners and search engine ads)

  • Outdoor (like billboards and transit shelters)

  • Direct mail/email (like postcards and newsletters)

  • Events & promotions (like trade shows and sales events)

  • Public relations (getting publicity in the media and blogs)

Good marketing plans identify which tactics you intend to pursue to achieve your objectives—and fit in your budget. There’s almost never enough budget. So, you need to prioritize the tactics you propose based on your research and the advice you get.


Advice from who? Well, if you’re lucky and have the budget to do so, you can work with a marketing agency. In Canada, most agencies can do everything from creating new ad campaigns to media planning (i.e. recommending and buying ad space for you).

7. Measurement

How will you measure success? Your marketing plan should try to identify how you plan to measure your tactical activity and determine your ROI. Marketers spend lots of time analyzing these metrics (stuff like email click-through rates) to improve.


You may also want to identify a KPI—key performance indicator. A KPI singles out one activity/metric/measure above all others. Marketing KPIs get attached to sales revenue or brand awareness.


What about branding?

All this talk about marketing, and we have not yet even touched on brand! That’s because branding is a big subject. And brand work—if done properly—is a major undertaking. Whether your plan calls for a brand launch, building brand awareness, or changing brand perceptions—marketing is all about supporting brands. Therefore, make sure your marketing plan “connects the dots” to your brand(s).


Bonus stuff

Finally, we offer three last pieces of advice for anyone taking a stab at a marketing plan:

  • Don’t confuse strategy and tactics. Building a new website is a tactic, not a strategy. Strategy is your plan. Tactics are the activities you do to execute that plan.

  • Keep your audience top of mind. If you’re not sure what tactics you should pursue, analyze your audience’s demographics and media consumption habits.

  • Write great creative briefs. If you do work with any kind of marketing agency, take the time to write an informative creative brief that sums up your strategy.

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