Marketing Plan: the Key to Successful Marketing Strategy

sustainable competitive advantage

We’ve all heard tales of businesses formed without a marketing plan or with one that fits on a cocktail napkin or the back of an envelope. Sure, you can do that, but your chances of success are slim and in today’s hyper-competitive environment you need every advantage you can get. The few successful companies able to do this are normally ones run by a small cohesive team with many years of experience. They may not write a full marketing plan but they certainly have a well-developed one in mind and the envelope just lists the basics of their discussion.

marketing mix
Copyright: Stuart photo / 123RF Stock Photo

Not having a marketing plan is like getting in your car and going wherever the whim takes you instead of planning a vacation. While the trip might be fun, it’s unlikely you’ll get somewhere that matches things you like to do (reach your goal) and likely you’ll run into all kinds of snags and inconveniences along the way, such as finding there’s no place to stay at the end of a long day.

Above, you see the major elements for planning marketing strategies for the coming year (although you likely want a 5-year plan in less detail to help with long-range planning). But, there’s more to building a strategic plan than just planning for the future. You must account for where the company is now relative to these 4 P’s, as well as the potential impact of external factors like the economy and competition on the success of future plans. Below, you’ll find an outline and guidance on how-to for developing a marketing plan for any business.

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan consists of everything in a business plan except the proforma financial statements. Lots of variation exists in constructing a marketing plan, but major elements of a marketing plan include (in order):

  1. Situation Analysis
  2. SWOT Analysis
  3. Goals and objectives
  4. Strategic Plan that covers all 4 P’s with 1 year of detailed planning
  5. Implementation
  6. Measurement and Control

Commonly, a marketing plan will comprise between 15 and 45 pages, not including figures, notes, and references. Although, companies seeking funding may find their marketing plan significantly longer. A marketing plan is normally developed projecting plans to five years in the future and is usually updated at least every year. The marketing plan forms the foundation of long-range planning for the firm as well as forming yearly tactical plans which detail the current year’s actions and expectations.

The situation analysis

Possibly the most critical element of the marketing plan, a situation analysis involves gathering information from various sources, including internal ones and references from newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and other reliable sources regarding both the internal and external environments. Basically, a situation analysis is a snapshot of where the firm is right now and what’s going on around it. It’s kind of like the “You’re Here” identifier on a map to show where you are and obstacles you face in getting to your end goal. Without knowing where you are, you don’t know what direction to head to reach your goals and you can’t plan for overcoming obstacles.

Internal elements you want to include are often called the 4 Ps. They include:

  • Product – what kinds of things do you sell
  • Price – what do you charge for various products and services
  • Promotion – what current methods do you use to communicate with buyers and motivate them to purchase your products
  • Place – or distribution; where are your products sold

In addition, your internal analysis should review performance in past years, especially the current year. Your internal analysis should also identify your target market or market personas, as well as the relative performance of each market.

Image courtesy of Buffer

Each persona should provide details about the persona such as age, income, gender, geographic location, and lifestyle. You should also identify messages likely to resonate with each persona based on past performance and which communication channels work best.

External elements of the situation analysis include:

  • Competition – based on Porter’s 5 forces model, competition is defined very broadly as any company whose products solve the same customer problem (remember, customers buy solutions, not products). The competition also looks at possible new competitors entering the marketplace
  • Consumers – their culture and social interactions, such as family composition, influences on behavior, norms, values, etc
  • Economy – things like GDP, consumer confidence, the balance of trade
  • Laws and regulations – both those passed by congress and those promulgated by regulatory agencies such as the EPA, OSHA, etc.
  • Technology – both new technologies involved in doing your business, such as technologies supporting e-commerce or social media, and new technologies suggesting new products for your firm

Now, to be effective, you need a situation analysis that’s detailed enough to guide decision-making (more like a bird’s eye view than a view from space), contains all elements likely to affect your business, and shows trends to suggest what the landscape might look like in the future.

The SWOT analysis

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats — with strengths and weaknesses reflecting an evaluation of internal elements and opportunities and threats reflecting an evaluation of those external ones.  SWOT analysis comes from mapping factors identified in the situation analysis on factors impacting strategy formation.

swot analysis
Image courtesy of Wordstream

As an example, a situation analysis might include statistics showing an increasing Hispanic population in the US and the impact of this fact on the firm might be an opportunity (since this is an external factor) to introduce products favored by and targeted at this population.

Setting objectives

Objectives or goals direct the actions of a firm and allow the firm to assess the extent of progress made through these actions.  Objectives must have the following characteristics to be effective:

  • They must be SPECIFIC, for instance, your goals might be to increase market share by 10%
  • They must be MEASURABLE so you can objectively determine whether the goal was reached or not.
  • They must be ATTAINABLE – goals should be a stretch, but not so much of a stretch that they’re almost impossible
  • They must be RELEVANT and fit with the organization’s mission
  • They must be TIME BASED with an established date of completion – such as 1 year.

The strategic marketing plan

The goals and objectives section is the dividing line between where you are right now, including the external factors you must consider, and the planning portion of the marketing plan.

Linking findings from the situation analysis to your strategic plan is critical. Developing plans without these insights or with incomplete or inaccurate insights means you’re missing some opportunities to make money and may even fail because what you’re doing isn’t the right thing. Opportunities and threats identified in your situation analysis can guide the development of new marketing strategies while you should develop plans to fix the weaknesses uncovered in the situation analysis to the extent possible in your strategic plan. For instance, a single company can do little to fix a poor economy but it can develop plans to thrive in one.

A strategic plan only contains elements of the 4P’s — or internal elements including Product, Price, Promotion, and Place (or Distribution).

Product strategies

Issues involved in managing existing products dictate some strategies likely offering greater opportunities for success. Among these issues are (we cover each of these topics in other posts, simply enter the term into the site search bar):

  • Product life cycle
  • Product class
  • Product form
  • Product positioning

A major focus of managing new products is the issue of branding. A brand is like a hologram — not real in a tangible sense but clearly “visible” to consumers. Another way of looking at branding is as a personality for the product.  Companies can about their brand because it is this personality, more than any other aspect of the product, that controls buying decisions. It’s just like with friends, you have many with different personalities, but all have something about their personality you find attractive.  When a brand appears to be “for me” I want the product and when brands are “not for me” I avoid them.

the right brand personality
Image courtesy of Sketch Corp

Brand image (or brand personality) comes from advertising and other promotional efforts, from where you see the brand sold and who you see using the product, and from what friends say about the product. In a world dominated by social media, increasingly it is these non-commercial communications that control the brand image.

Promotion strategies

Promotions include advertising, public relations, direct marketing (email and mail marketing, plus newsletters), and sales promotions (those hats, pens, calendars … plus coupons, rebates, sponsorships, and other elements).

The internet is increasingly crowded with promotions because of its reach and low cost. However many firms fail to recognize promotions in online environments, especially social spaces, which are fundamentally different than traditional media because they require customer engagement.

An important element of promotional strategies is the integration required to maximize effectiveness. Hence, rather than choosing a single medium for your message, a firm must use multiple outlets in a coordinated fashion. You might use cause marketing as a basic strategy to promote your business and get fans and followers on board to support the cause by retweeting your message, liking your fan page, or sharing your message with their social network. You reinforce the message using traditional advertising and evoke PR to tell everyone about the program and what a socially responsible company you are. You might offer premiums like t-shirts to consumers who promote your cause. Everything is integrated using the same message, similar graphics, and the overall strategy.

Price strategy

Many business people think consumers want the cheapest product available, but this is often wrong. What consumers really want is value — which is the difference between price and benefit. Price also tells us lots about the product, especially when it’s difficult to judge the quality objectively. For instance, we assume a diamond ring that is more expensive offers a better quality diamond. We figure the same about a physician or hospital — that’s part of the healthcare system that’s broken when we choose expensive physicians since we don’t pay for them ourselves.

Cialdini tells a story in his book on influence where a retailer couldn’t sell her jewelry so she DOUBLED the price and sold out — at the cheaper price it was considered junk.

Place strategy

Distribution is an important aspect of marketing as much of the cost of many products is tied up in distributing it to the ultimate consumer. Place also has meaning for consumers as store atmospherics provide clues about the products sold at the store. Issues such as stock-outs, merchandising, and store layout … are also considerations in developing your place strategy.

One of the most interesting opportunities in place marketing right now comes from the integration of social spaces and retail spaces. Facebook, especially Facebook Marketplace, is among those options linking these two domains. QR tags change the way retailers and other service businesses merge social media, geolocation, and marketing into one powerful tool.


I hope this post provides the guidance you can use in preparing a marketing plan for your business to help you gain success in the future. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your input on this post. Are there critical elements missing or elements that could do with some more detail? Simply enter your ideas in the comments section below.

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