How to Create a Marketing Plan
Part 1 - Introduction
Firms that are successful in marketing invariably start with a marketing plan. Large
companies have plans with hundreds of pages; small companies can get by with a half-
dozen sheets. Put your marketing plan in a three-ring binder. Refer to it at least quarterly,
but better yet monthly. Leave a tab for putting in monthly reports on sales/manufacturing;
this will allow you to track performance as you follow the plan.
The plan should cover one year. For small companies, this is often the best way to think
about marketing. Things change, people leave, markets evolve, and customers come and
go. Later on we suggest creating a section of your plan that addresses the medium- term
futuretwo to four years down the road. But the bulk of your plan should focus on the
You should allow yourself a couple of months to write the plan, even if it's only a few
pages long. Developing the plan is the "heavy lifting" of marketing. While executing the
plan has its challenges, deciding what to do and how to do it is marketing's greatest
challenge. Most marketing plans kick off with the first of the year or with the opening of
your fiscal year if it's different.
Who should see your plan? All the players in the company. Firms typically keep their
marketing plans very, very private for one of two very different reasons: Either they're
too skimpy and management would be embarrassed to have them see the light of day, or
they're solid and packed with information . . . which would make them extremely
valuable to the competition.
You can't do a marketing plan without getting many people involved. No matter what
your size, get feedback from all parts of your company: finance, manufacturing,
personnel, supply and so onԢin addition to marketing itself. This is especially important
because it will take all aspects of your company to make your marketing plan work. Your
key people can provide realistic input on what’s achievable and how your goals can be
reached, and they can share any insights they have on any potential, as-yet-unrealized
marketing opportunities, adding another dimension to your plan. If you're essentially a
one-person management operation, you'll have to wear all your hats at one time—but at
least the meetings will be short!
What's the relationship between your marketing plan and your business plan or vision
statement? Your business plan spells out what your business is about—what you do and
don't do, and what your ultimate goals are. It encompasses more than marketing; it can
include discussions of locations, staffing, financing, strategic alliances and so on. It
includes "the vision thing," the resounding words that spell out the glorious purpose of
your company in stirring language. Your business plan is the U.S. Constitution of your
business: If you want to do something that's outside the business plan, you need to either
change your mind or change the plan. Your company's business plan provides the
environment in which your marketing plan must flourish. The two documents must be
Part 2 - Researching Your Market
The purpose of market research is to provide relevant data that will help solve marketing
problems a business will encounter. This is absolutely necessary in the start-up phase.
Conducting thorough market surveys is the foundation of any successful business. In fact,
strategies such as market segmentation (identifying specific segments within a market)
and product differentiation (creating an identity for your product or service that separates
it from your competitors') would be impossible to develop without market research.
Whether you're conducting market research using the historical, experimental,
observational or survey method, you'll be gathering two types of data. The first will be
"primary" information that you will compile yourself or hire someone to gather. Most
information, however, will be "secondary," or already compiled and organized for you.
Reports and studies done by government agencies, trade associations, or other businesses
within your industry are examples of the latter. Search for them, and take advantage of
When conducting primary research using your own resources, there are basically two
types of information that can be gathered: exploratory and specific. Exploratory research
is open-ended in nature; helps you define a specific problem; and usually involves
detailed, unstructured interviews in which lengthy answers are solicited from a small
group of respondents. Specific research is broader in scope and is used to solve a problem
that exploratory research has identified. Interviews are structured and formal in approach.
Of the two, specific research is more expensive.
When conducting primary research using yo ur own resources, you must first decide how
you will question your target group of individuals. There are basically three avenues you
can take: direct mail, telemarketing or personal interviews.
If you choose a direct-mail questionnaire, be sure to do the following in order to increase
your response rate:
• Make sure your questions are short and to the point.
• Make sure questionnaires are addressed to specific individuals and they're of
interest to the respondent.
• Limit the questionnaire's length to two pages.
• Enclose a professionally prepared cover letter that adequately explains what you
• Send a reminder about two weeks after the initial mailing. Include a postage-paid
Unfortunately, even if you employ the above tactics, response to direct mail is always
low, and is sometimes less than five percent.
Phone surveys are generally the most cost-effective, considering overall response rates;
they cost about one-third as much as personal interviews, which have, on average, a
response rate which is only 10 percent. Following are some phone survey guidelines:
• At the beginning of the conversation, your interviewer should confirm the name
of the respondent if calling a home, or give the appropriate name to the
switchboard operator if calling a business.
• Pauses should be avoided, as respondent interest can quickly drop.
• Make sure that a follow-up call is possible if additional information is required.
• Make sure that interviewers don't divulge details about the poll until the
respondent is reached.
As mentioned phone interviews are cost-effective but speed is another big advantage.
Some of the more experienced interviewers can get through up to 10 interviewers an hour
(however, speed for speed's sake is not the goal of any of these surveys), but five to six
per hour is more typical. Phone interviews also allow you to cover a wide geographical
range relatively inexpensively. Phone costs can be reduced by taking advantage of
cheaper rates during certain hours.
There are two main types of personal interviews:
1. The group survey. Used mostly by big business, group interviews can be useful
as brainstorming tools resulting in product modifications and new product ideas.
They also give you insight into buying preferences and purchasing decisions
among certain populations.
2. The depth interview. One-on-one interviews where the interviewer is guided by
a small checklist and basic common sense. Depth interviews are either focused or
non-directive. Non-directive interviews encourage respondents to address certain
topics with minimal questioning. The respondent, in essence, leads the interview.
The focused interview, on the other hand, is based on a pre-set checklist. The
choice and timing of questions, however, is left to the interviewer, depending on
how the interview goes.
When considering which type of survey to use, keep the following cost factors in mind:
• Mail. Most of the costs here concern the printing of questionnaires, envelopes,
postage, the cover letter, time taken in the analysis and presentation, the cost of
researcher time, and any incentives used.
• Telephone. The main costs here are the interviewer's fee, phone charges,
preparation of the questionnaire, cost of researcher time, and the analysis and
presentation of the results of the questioning.
• Personal interviews. Costs include the printing of questionnaires and prompt
cards if needed, the incentives used, the interviewer's fee and expenses, cost of
researcher time, and analysis and presentation.
• Group discussions. Your main costs here are the interviewer's fees and expenses
in recruiting and assembling the groups, renting the conference room or other
facility, researcher time, any incentives used, analysis and presentation, and the
cost of recording media such as tapes, if any are used.
Part 3 - The Ingredients of a Marketing Plan
Every how-to book on the market has a different take on the essential elements of a
marketing plan. Those geared toward the big corporate crowd communicate in a language
few human beings understand. However, the words you use are much less important than
how seriously you approach the task.
This section outlines the key elements you need to include in your marketing plan. No
matter how it's ultimately organized, your marketing plan should be a straightforward,
easily understood company document. It should provide you with a clear direction for
your marketing efforts for the coming year, and it should give an incisive look into your
company for all readers.
Preparing to Write
Before you begin to write, pull together some information you'll need. Getting the
information first avoids interruptions in the thinking and writing process. Have on hand:
• Your company's latest financial reports (profit and loss, operating budgets and so
on) and latest sales figures by product and region for the current and the past three
years or, if less, for however long you've been in business.
• A listing of each product or service in the current line, along with target markets
• An organization table (If you can count your employees on one hand, you can
probably omit this.)
• Your understanding of your marketplace: your competitors, geographical
boundaries, types of customers you sell to, existing distribution channels, latest
and most useful demographic data, any information on trends in your markets
(both demographic and product-related)
• Ask each of your salespeople and/or customer-relations people to list the most
crucial points, in their opinion, that need to be included in the coming year's
marketing plan. You don't have to include all of them, but you do have to take
them into account.
The "market situation" section should contain your best and most clear- headed
description of the current state of the marketplace (this is no place for hunches).
• What are your products/services or product/service lines?
• What is the dollar size of your markets?
• What is your sales and distribution setup?
• What geographic area do you sell to?
• Describe your audience in terms of population, demographics, income levels and
• What competitors exist in this marketplace?
• Historically, how well have your products sold?
Your market situation section might read like this:
Sumners and Associates is a bookkeeping and accounting firm started in
1981. We provide tax services to individuals and to businesses under
$500,000 in annual sales. We provide bookkeeping and payroll support to
those same businesses. Our market area is Boulder, Colorado, and its
For the personal market, our clients typically are in the $75,000 and
higher income range, or they are retired with assets of $200,000 or more.
For the business market, most of our work is for restaurants, service
stations, independent convenience stores and a large courier service.
With the exception of a slump from 1988 through 1991, Sumners and
Associates has grown steadily from its inception. Gross sales in 1997 were
Competition for our immediate market is a group of eight firms roughly
comparable to our company. Only one of these firms, Acme Bookkeeping,
has an interest in marketing itself. We believe we rank second in the group
of competitors, behind Acme.
We have a strong position in the restaurant portion of our business.
Much of this information exists in the heads of the management team, the way it is at
many companies. But now is when you write it down. For example, how much
information do you have in your office—right now—on your competition? A marketing
plan gives you a chance to pull all this relevant information together in one place, to spur
ideas and justify actions.
Consider each of your products or services up against the matching products or services
of your competitors. How well do you stack up? Is there any significant market
opportunity for you that neither you nor your competitors are currently exploiting?
You'll also find that the best thinkers in your company may well have different ideas
about elements of the current situation. Your marketing plan will provide a good arena to
test different snapshots of the market against each other.
Threats and Opportunities
This section is an extension of the "market situation" section, and it should focus on the
bad and good implications of the current market:
• What trends in the marketplace are against you?
• Are there competitive trends that are ominous?
• Are your current products poised to succeed in the market as it now exists?
• What trends in the marketplace favor you?
• Are there competitive trends working to your benefit?
• Are the demographics of your market in your favor? Against you?
There are lots of places to go to get information on the trends in your market. City and
state business publications frequently publish overview issues; you can talk to local
business reporters; and local chambers of commerce publish projections, as do
associations of manufacturers (the names are different in various parts of the country).
Talk to your professional association and read your trade journals.
Here's an example of what a threats and opportunities section wo uld look like for the
Sumners and Associates firm:
The company faces four identifiable threats in the coming year:
1. Our computer system needs upgrading to the latest version of our
accounting and tax software. To do this with all of our machines will be
too costly. We'll need to work with the existing version of our software for
another 10 months. This may put us at a service disadvantage with some
2. Two of our clients, Porkie's Carryout and the Magnus Group, are
facing difficult business prospects in the short term. We will likely need to
replace this business before the end of the year.
3. Acme Bookkeeping, our major competitor, has hired one of our staff
members. We have to assume they now have our current client list and will
make solicitations based on their greater size and service capabilities.
4. Growth on the south side of town is outstripping growth on the north
side. We'll need to consider opening a south-side office or look into ways
to use couriers or electronic communications to make ourselves fully
competitive in providing our services.
1. Morrissey's Inc., a long-time client, has purchased three significant
restaurants in the adjoining county and has expressed an interest in
having us take over the accounting work for these operations. This should
provide us a great chance to hire one and perhaps two additional people.
2. Changes in the tax laws have made many small businesses uneasy with
handling the bookkeeping by themselves or through a one-person
bookkeeping service. As the details of these revisions become more public,
we anticipate increasing calls for help.
3. We have been asked to participate in several educational venues in the
coming year, which include three presentations at a small-business forum,
an evening class at the university on starting a small business, and a role
in the Boulder Entrepreneur Club. These will provide us good exposure
and strong business prospects.
4. The local economy continues to be strong, and we believe our typical
clients will continue to flourish in this growth cycle.
In the "marketing objectives" section, you paint your picture of the future: What
marketing objectives do you want to achieve over the course of the plan? Each of your
marketing objectives should include both a narrative description of what you intend to
accomplish along with numbers to give you something concrete to aim for. Just to say
you want to make a first entry into the Swiss screw machine marketplace isn’t providing
much guidance. Saying you want to go from 0 percent to 8 percent of the local market in
two years is easier to understand—and verifiable. If you're not sure of the size of the local
market, then aim at a dollar figure in sales. Your accountant will let you know whether
you've succeeded or not.
Goal for It
If you're new to the marketing plan racket, how do you set a quantifiable goal? Start with
your past. Review your past sales numbers, your growth over the years in different
markets, the size of typical new customers, and how new product introductions have
fared. If over the last five years you've grown a cumulative 80 percent in gross revenues,
projecting a 20 percent to 25 percent increase in the next year is reasonable; 45 percent is
not. Make a low but reasonable projection for what you’ll be able to accomplish with
marketing support toward your new marketing objectives. Set modest goals to start, until
you get a feel for the terrain.
You should make it a point to limit the number of marketing objectives you take on in a
given year. Let's face it, change can bring stress, disorient staff and sometimes even
confuse your target market. Keep your objectives challenging but achievable. Better to
motivate yourself with ambitious but worthy targets than to depress yourself by failing at
too many enthusiastic goals.
Here are some typical marketing objective categories:
• Introduce new products
• Extend or regain market for existing product
• Enter new territories for the company
• Boost sales in a particular product, market or price range. Where will this
business come from? Be specific.
• Cross-sell (or bundle) one product with another
• Enter into long-term contracts with desirable clients
• Raise prices without cutting into sales figures
• Refine a product
• Enhance manufacturing/product delivery
This third section of your plan should include perhaps a half dozen such objectives,
spelled out with specific goals. Some examples:
• Objective: Introduce our accounting and audit services to Blankville. By the end
of the first year, we want to have six clients of significance and billed time of
• Objective: Reverse the decline in our package Caribbean winter tour sales in
Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis. Sales over the past three years have declined
11 percent. We intend to increase sales 4 percent this year and 8 percent next
• Objective: Introduce lunch fax business at the west side restaurant and deliver
420 lunches per week by June 1.
• Objective: Demo updated X-ray crystallography at selected trade exhibitions in
the summer of 1999. Capture 250 leads per show and secure 75 on-site demos.
To repeat, make your objectives simple, concrete, countable, ambitious and achievable.
Marketing Goals: Where the Details Start
Here's where you come down out of the clouds and spell out how you're going to make
things happen. While your spreadsheet has shown increasingly stunning profits each time
you bump up the market gains, now you're in the real world. Gains must be earned by
marketing brains and brawn.
Each marketing objective should have several goals (subsets of objectives) and tactics for
achieving those goals. In the objectives section of your marketing plan, you focus on the
"what" and the "why" of the marketing tasks for the year ahead. In the implementation
section, you focus on the practical, sweat-and-calluses areas of who, where, when and
how. This is life in the marketing trenches.
When Eisenhower and the Allies decided to invade Normandy in 1944 to open up a
mainland Europe offensive against the Axis powers, they developed detailed plans for
victory. While successfully landing in Normandy and holding it were the overall
objectives, many intermediate goals were set to make this possible: lining up the needed
boats, air cover, behind-the-lines paratrooper drops to cut off communications, feints at a
Calais landing to fool the enemy and so on. And, of course, each of those steps had its
own list of details.
The key task is to take each objective and lay out the steps you intend to take to reach it.
As an example, let's take the first marketing objective mentioned
Objective: Introduce our accounting and audit services to Blankville. By the end of the
first year, we want to have six clients of significance and billed time of $75,000.
How can you make this happen?
Let's suppose you've assigned this objective to a group of people, and they've worked up
some plans on moving into Blankville. Here are what some of their goals might look like:
1. Since accounting and auditing services don't work well at a remote site
(except for the very largest companies), we'll probably need a local office
in Blankville. We should open this new office by July 2001. (Always
include target dates when possible.)
2. If we're going to talk about our expertise, we need some of our
professional staff there. We'll probably want to detail two or three of our
experienced people in that new office, as well as hire local support staff.
3. We may want to do some direct-mail advertising to companies in
Blankville. Our message might talk about special expertise in certain
areas of business. We'll target those types of businesses in Blankville.
4. We'll talk to the business editor of the local paper and let him or her
know we're coming to town. We might contribute a "tax tips" article or
two for the exposure.
5. We'll approach several business associations in town and offer to give a
talk on some specialized topic in which we can offer some expertise.
6. We'll ask our clients in other cities if they'd be willing to give us some
referrals in Blankville.
7. We may run some modest advertising in the Blankville Bugle (a fine and
respected newspaper) announcing our arrival and explaining our special
8. We'll have an open house and invite a number of local business
celebrities, political people, potential clients and media.
9. We might look to get our Blankville office involved in some high-profile
charity or public service work.
You get the idea. If your objective is to build a business in Blankville, you have to put
together concrete goals to make it happen. Each of these actions makes sense. You might
come up with others (there's no limit to human creativity, after all—especially in
marketing). The point is that each goal should consist of concrete actions.
Each of these goals needs to have its own series of steps formalized. Who's going to
check on the advertising rates for the Blankville Bugle? And when should those ads run?
Which professionals are moving to Blankville and how do they feel about it? How do we
get a list of companies in Blankville? Lots of work to do.
One of the best ways to handle such details is through an activity matrix. A matrix is a
grid table that lets you plot actions across time. When you're developing a marketing
plan, you'll soon reach the point where you have to turn to your calendar and see when
things should happen. A matrix provides you with a clear and very usable framework for
such timeline plotting.
You can make the matrix as detailed or as big picture as you want. It should, however,
include everything that's scheduled, when it's scheduled and who the responsible party is.
Don't forget to delegate responsibility as you go.
One of the best things about working with a matrix is its adaptability. Each block on the
matrix above lends itself to another chart, providing more detail. For example, in March
2001, Marge Turner (MT) will train staff at the home office. Marge, dutiful planner that
she is, constructs her own matrix to help her stay on track. However, her itemized matrix
wouldn't appear in the marketing plan. That level of operational detail would gum up the
"big picture" overview the marketing plan is meant to provide.
Whether done well or poorly, business activity always costs money. Your marketing plan
needs to have a section in which you allocate budgets for each activity planned. This
information shouldn't appear on the activity matrix since there's enough detail there
already. But it should be in writing with the individual carrying overall program
responsibility. People responsible for portions of the marketing activity should know
exactly what funds are available to them. In fact, you would be wise to involve them in
planning those budgets.
Be as objective as you can about those costs you can anticipate. For things with which
you have no budget experience, add 25 percent to your best estimate. Your budget should
allocate separate accounting for internal hours (staff time) and external costs (out-of-
pocket expenses). Make sure to enter the budget on a Lotus or Excel spreadsheet so you
can manipulate it during construction to see which variant works best.
For help devising your budget, get a copy of The Almanac of Business and Financial
Ratios (Prentice Hall) by Leo Troy. This useful volume gives you representative ratios
for marketing and advertising spending (along with many other general business
categories) for hundreds of industries. This will give you a benchmark to factor into your
Your budget section might look like this:
Budget for annual marketing efforts
Sales letter mailing to prospects
Clerical help on mailing list
Advertising in local business magazine
Advertising in newspaper business section
Brochure design and copywriting