Marketing plan development best practices

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Growing your business requires a systematic, repeatable and measurable road map for success and continual improvement. Ask any business that's made the leap from start-up to established viability.

If you've been successful without a formal marketing planning process, it's likely due to strong word-of-mouth and a deep spring of referrals. And that's terrific. These are always drivers of initial success and should remain a relaible source of leads and sales.

However, there always comes a time in a organization's lifecycle when a systematic strategic marketing approach--along with its meetings, bottlenecks, strained budgets and a slew of other moving parts--becomes critical to the health of your enterprise.

In that spirit, we offer up some useful marketing plan development best practices to help you plant hearty seeds for future growth.

One Step at a Time...But Take A Step!

If you've recognized the need for marketing plan development that's a great first step. The next step is having the self-awareness to determine what kind of plan to develop. In other words, you need to have a sense of what your team can handle and what kind of plan best suits your current capabilities.

There are a few different types of marketing plans.

  • For the most part plans fall into one of two categories: tactical and strategic.
  • Both types will start you down the right path by providing a structure, a cadence and a measurable record of activity. The question you need to confront is one of scope.
  • A strategic marketing plan has a much larger scope than a tactical plan, as it invovles marketing research, customer profile development and potentially positioning strategy, in addition to what's included in your more limited tactical plan.
  • A more realistic interim step might be to create a tactical marketing plan, which typically includes a tactical calendar and a budget.

In each case, a SWOT analysis and SMART goals are essential elements to a strategic or a tactical marketing plan.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunties and Threats. SWOT?

Welcome to the world of critical self-assessments. Get your team together and compile a list of what your organization does well, what it's not so good at (these are largely internal observations), where it can "make hay" and what could hurt you (these are external observations). Come to a consensus and document it. These assertions should help guide your marketing planning process.


After you develop your SWOT analysis, turn your working group's attention to mapping out what you want to achieve during the year. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable and Realistic) goals crystallize what you want to achieve, and how you'll get there. It also provides acccountability as you track performance against the SMART goals you laid out at the start of the year.

Stick to Your Calendar

Create a detailed tactical calendar and committ to it. Regardless of the campaign, type of activity or internal assignments, map out project and launch timelines so you set clear expectations.

  • Since every element of your plan is interrelated, allowing deadlines to lapse and your calendar to slide is a sure fire way to reduce the effectiveness of your plan.
  • Control what you can. Task key team members with holiding people accountable.
  • There will always be unknowns that disrupt your timelines; don't compound these disruptions with unforced errors.

Break It Up Into More Digestible Bits

Now that you have your BIG marketing plan developed and approved, break it up into more palatable chunks.

  • Divide the plan into quarterly segments and then monthly reports. Your internal meetings and progress tracking should be either on a quarterly or monthly basis or both, and then these results should roll up into reports tied to your annual marketing plan.
  • Large, annual marketing documents can be overwhelming, particularly if they are of the more expansive strategic type. You'll get more done by breaking it up into smaller parts.

Track Everything

Your plan won't amount to a hill of beans if you fail to measure results. During the marketing planning process create a separate "think tank" to develop a suite of tracking tools. In most cases, this will just be a series of excel workbooks directly linked to the tactical calendar.

  • Tracking effectively is not just about awesomely powerful spreadsheets or investing in new management/workflow software, though. It requires the diligence and commitment of your entire staff from coordinators all the way up through managers and department heads.
  • Measurement requires both tools and, maybe more importantly, training and buy-in so that you capture the right information accurately and you can be create benchmarks to measure future success.

These are the basics. It takes years to get the marketing plan development, implementation and measurements processes right. But you'll never get there unless you take the first step.

Use these best practices as general guidelines to get started, and if you need some advice along the way, get in touch. We'd love to lend a hand.

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