Navigating uncharted territories without a compass is impossible. The same is true for companies that try to overcome market challenges without a marketing plan. And yet: 50% of small and medium business owners don’t have one, according to Search Engine Journal.
We get it—creating a marketing plan can be a real challenge, especially if you’re starting from scratch. What needs to be in there? What doesn’t matter?
We took real-world and hypothetical examples to show how to write your marketing plan.
How to approach marketing plan creation
What your marketing plan looks like will depend on the size and type of your business. Looking at examples from companies in the same industry or same size and status should be your North Star.
That said, you can always find great frameworks that you can apply to your marketing plan, no matter the industry. You need to adjust the approach to fit your business and continue building from there.
Decide on the complexity based on your purpose
A marketing plan can vary from a few pages to a detailed roadmap that covers every aspect of the business. To decide on the scope, you need to ask yourself: What is the purpose of my marketing plan?
For some businesses, it’s outlining a specific marketing strategy with concrete actions. For others, it’s setting up benchmarks to assess results. There are also businesses trying to attract investors, so they need a comprehensive marketing plan to depict the company’s future.
Having the purpose in mind is the best way to determine what should be included in your marketing plan.
Use examples as pointers, not rigid rules
The marketing plan you create should give answers to the questions: Who are my target customers? How do I reach them? How do I retain them? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Each business is unique, so consider what resonates with your goals and your target customers instead of following some template blindly.
Remember: use marketing plan examples as a map rather than GPS coordinates.
Examples for every element in a marketing plan
To help you include the essential aspects, we’ve dissected the core elements of a marketing plan, highlighting the key takeaways and best practices with plenty of examples.
Think of these elements as stepping stones toward your goal.
First things first: you should start with a synopsis of the marketing plan. This section includes the basic business information and an overview of what you have done, what you plan to do, and how you plan to get there.
The purpose of an executive summary is not to provide detailed information but to set the stage and pique readers’ interest. All the sections in the executive summary are a top-level view of the information you will elaborate on in your marketing plan later. Although this is the first section in a marketing plan, it is usually written last.
Here’s a great example from Palo Alto Software. The executive summary in this sample marketing plan for an organic bakery is short and straightforward. At this point, you want to give readers context and set expectations.
A mission statement is a sentence describing your business goals and philosophies. This action-oriented statement lets customers know your company’s purpose.
The modern customer values more than price alone. According to Stackla, 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support.
The outdoor clothing and gear brand Patagonia is committed to protecting the environment. And it’s more than words. Aside from the durable products that can be recycled, the brand donates 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the environment.
Patagonia's mission statement reflects its commitment: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
When writing a mission statement, spotlight your business’ ethos. This is not an illusory sentence. It’s the core belief of your company. The best way to approach it is to ask yourself, why are you in business, and what problems are you solving?
You can’t have an effective marketing plan without clear objectives. They show the direction in which your business is moving. When deciding on your marketing objectives, you should follow the SMART framework—define specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based objectives.
Setting marketing objectives involves specifying expected results so you can measure performance and take action if needed. By defining the objectives, you should answer the following questions:
- Where will you focus the efforts?
- What results do you expect?
- Why are the objectives important?
- When should you achieve the objectives?
- Who is responsible for attaining the objectives?
- How do you plan to achieve the results?
In this example from MPlans, the event planning company sets SMART objectives that can be easily measured and tracked.
Understanding the full potential of your business requires having a clear picture of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats you may encounter. Using SWOT analysis, you can identify all internal and external factors that affect the success of your business.
The strengths and weaknesses are internal factors that you can control to some extent, while the opportunities and threats are external factors that come from the environment surrounding your business.
However, being aware of the conditions in which your business operates gives you insights to make informed decisions about your marketing plan and your business in general.
Here’s a SWOT analysis example for a perennial farm that grows a variety of botanical medicinal plants. While it produces high-quality plants and has business development and horticultural experience, it is faced with a lack of funding and threats from similar-sized farms. However, the opportunity lies in the growing market and customers’ need for a long-term relationship with one botanical vendor.
Based on the information from the SWOT matrix, you can identify the next steps and the best way to reach your goals.
The next step is thorough market research. This section should give an overview of the industry, define your buyer persona, prepare a competitive analysis, and conduct customer surveys and interviews.
Start by analyzing your market. Keeping a finger on the industry's pulse will help you understand the needs and the potential.
Answer the following questions:
- What is your market size?
- What is the growth potential?
- What are the latest market trends?
- How is the business environment?
- How are customers segmented?
Next, you should decide on the target audience. If your product is good for everyone, it means that it’s good for no one. Having a target audience leads to focused marketing effort and higher conversion.
Even though every customer is unique, you can create buyer persona profiles with characteristics common to your target audience. Here, you should define information such as demographics, location, interests, purchase intent, and everything else relevant for your target audience.
In this example from Cyberclick, you can see all the essential information, goals, pain points, research methods, and tools used during research, but also how the company can address customers’ needs.
Competitive analysis is an important part of market research. Keeping an eye on your competitors gives you an overview of their strategy and lets you prepare accordingly.
Not sure what competitive analysis looks like? Here’s an example of the elements you should include and differentiate from your competitors.
Another important market research segment is mapping out your customers’ journey from the first contact to making a purchase. The best way to gather information is by conducting customer surveys or interviews.
Explore the sources and channels your target audience uses during research, analyze their steps at each stage of the buyer journey, and understand what motivates them to make a purchase.
Now that you’ve set the foundation, it’s time to dive deeper into defining the strategy. If you’re selling products, you should specify the marketing mix through the 4Ps: product, price, place, and promotion.
Service-oriented businesses should define the 8Ps of marketing: product, price, place, promotion, people, process, physical evidence, and performance.
Let’s take a look at Warby Parker’s marketing strategy. The direct-to-consumer eyewear company started with a simple goal in mind: to solve the problem of expensive glasses.
From custom-designed cellulose acetate to ultra-lightweight titanium, Warby Parker uses premium materials for its frames. The glasses and lenses range from about $95 to $295, which is generally lower than the competition.
While it started as an online-first business in 2010, Warby Parker opened its first store in 2013. Today, it has more than one hundred brick-and-mortar stores.
Its strategy heavily relies on PR, user-generated content, and a mobile app packed with user-friendly features, such as virtually trying on frames using augmented reality.
Preparing a marketing budget can seem challenging—especially for small businesses. However, to execute the projects outlined in your marketing plan, you need to allocate enough resources.
The marketing budget should encompass all different facets of marketing—from brand and creative to product marketing, digital, content, events, and much more.
While you can have separate plans for each segment, using this Master Marketing Budget template from HubSpot, you can compile individual budgets and determine the overall marketing cost.
To give you an idea of how a complete marketing plan looks, we’re sharing seven more examples and templates that give you a step-by-step explanation of the essential elements of an effective marketing plan.
7 marketing plan examples and templates
1. Visit Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge positions itself as “An Authentic Louisiana Experience” by fostering a rebirth of local passion and enthusiasm. From a detailed SWOT analysis to a well-defined target audience, there are plenty of takeaways you can apply to your marketing plan.
2. University of Illinois
In this high-level overview of the marketing strategy for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and its 2021 recruitment cycle, the University of Illinois maps out a detailed marketing plan. One thing that stands out in this marketing plan is the approach of defining objectives, tactics, and success metrics for every segment.
HubSpot’s template includes sections for business summary, business initiatives, target market, market strategy, budget, marketing channels, and every other important aspect of a marketing plan.
If you want to put together a plan that already lives in a project management tool, this one from Monday.com can come in handy. Using this template, you can track all of your marketing initiatives, strategies, business goals, budgets, and marketing campaigns. The best part is you can transform data with a variety of data visualizations, including kanban, calendar, timeline, gantt, map, form, workload, and more.
Evernote is another great example that can help you outline your marketing plan and keep track of your progress. The template is broken down into seven main sections: Details, Research, Goals & Objectives, Buyer Persona, Calendar, Evaluation, and Sign Off. For each section there is an explanation to lead your next step.
This guide from G2 takes you step by step through creating a marketing plan, with well-defined sections and examples to ease the process. It covers every critical aspect of a marketing plan, and you can easily edit and customize it for your business.
With this pre-built marketing plan template from Smartsheet, you can outline the purpose of your business, its strategic goals, its target market, and its standards of performance, ensuring you have a thorough plan of action. If you want a detailed marketing plan, this editable PDF will guide you through the process.
Get started with your marketing plan today
There you have it—examples for the core elements of a marketing plan, plus seven complete examples and templates to help you create your own.
By taking a page from some of these examples and relying on the best practices, we’ve mentioned in this article, you’re one step closer to creating an effective marketing plan that will pave the way to accomplishing your business goals.