How to Write a Marketing Plan – Direct Development


So you’ve been tasked with creating a marketing plan. How hard can it be? Well, if you’re as cunning as me, it’s incredibly easy and requires little-to-no thought whatsoever – until the moment you sit down to do it. 

Marketing plans are similar to business plans; a proactive strategy to grow and expand your existing marketing efforts. Also similar to business plans, they should be looked at annually and revised accordingly. 

A marketing plan should consist of multiple outreach, design, and communication elements working simultaneously to create an “identity” for your organization. That identity doesn’t need to be so complex or nuanced as a major corporation or online influencer; thanks to the Internet, corporate identity can be as broad or as focused as you’d like while still being successful.

For example, let’s say your organization is a town with a rich history, growing cultural diversity, and a popular downtown area. Once upon a time, you may have had to build a brand identity from scratch based on what you want others to know about your town. 

But today, the influence of social media can take some of that burden off your shoulders; with social apps like Instagram and Periscope, food delivery apps like DoorDash and Seamless, and ride-share apps like Uber – not to mention the latest trend of randonauting (because if there’s one thing Zoomers learned from Millennials, it’s word-mashing) – if you’re a town with a popular downtown and diverse community, these apps are already telling your story for you. Users are sharing photos of your historic town, live streaming events, and ordering delivery from one of the dozens of cuisines at 12am after their Uber dropped them off from a night bar hopping around your downtown. 

Your story is being told and you may be completely unaware.

What’s been working? 

The first questions to ask in developing a marketing strategy are, “What have we done successfully?”, and “What is our year-over-year data telling us?” These answers will inform you of your client or organization’s current situation; Is your audience aware of your organization? Have you seen success in the last year of efforts (‘success’ meaning engagement with your organization, social media impact, increases in revenue or online exposure, etc.)?

Answering these questions will guide you through the rest of the planning process. They’ll also be honest with you; if your efforts aren’t working, the proof will be painfully obvious.

What hasn’t been working?

Which brings us to the next question to ask of your existing marketing plan; what isn’t working? This one is pretty clear-cut – if your organization’s Facebook page only engages with 20 followers, there could be a problem. I’m not saying you need 40,000. I am saying if you’re only reaching 20 followers as a town, restaurant, deli, law firm, etc. then you need to take a hard look at why you haven’t been able to expand your follower-base or your engagement rates (interactions on your site and the quality of those interactions). 

If you’re printing ads in local newspapers or magazines, but ROI is less than the amount you’ve spent on that advertising, you don’t need me to tell you there’s a problem. 

If you have a website that doesn’t receive much traffic, or is a little outdated as compared to your competitors (or even the websites of other organizations in your area), your outreach efforts are only hurting yourself.

Why or why not? 

Once you’ve answered the questions of what is and is not working, it’s time to ask yourself, “Why? Why am I seeing success in certain efforts but not in others?” 

The answer to “Why not?” can come in many different forms; it can mean that your social media content is not interactive enough – or, creating “shareable” content. It can mean your photos, videos, or profile picture are not appealing enough. The information you share is not digestible, or engaging enough. Your profile does not interact with followers enough. 

I’m going to spoil the punchline here. Ultimately, the answer is this: you are not producing the content your audience wants from you.

And the answer to “Why?” is just as clear: you may have a great reputation and, despite online shortcomings, or lackluster website or what-have-you, your outreach efforts are succeeding in at least one way, and perhaps even word-of-mouth marketing is kicking in a bit too. 

If you can answer these two questions, then you’ve effectively completed half the work of creating a marketing plan and you can now turn your attention to goal-setting. Mazel tov! Now back to work. These areas of success can be broken down into the SMART goals, as explained best by HubSpot:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bounce 

What is missing from your outreach efforts?

When you see what is and isn’t working, you can also see what outreach efforts your organization isn’t taking advantage of. Maybe it’s social media. Maybe it’s online advertising. Maybe it’s an outdated website, or uninteresting brochures and collateral. 

Whatever the missing pieces are, consider again why they haven’t been leveraged before. Those efforts may be worth a second look if you’re looking to revitalize your outreach programs. 

How should you establish your goals? 

Your primary goals are obvious – to you, me, and just about everyone on the planet; more exposure for more business. How can this be answered in a marketing plan? Right here:

  • Define your organization
  • Define your target audience
  • Understand how that audience defines you
  • Establish your goals for the next twelve months, be it by revenue, website traffic, social media interaction, or simply through new leads

Once answered, you can begin to write the narrative of your organization – the narrative that’ll define the next year of outreach, design, and communication efforts. For more information on establishing that narrative and creating a strategy, check out this DD post from a few months back for additional ideas. 

As I said, your story is being told with or without you. That doesn’t mean you can’t leverage it. 

View the blog post here.

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