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The Anatomy of a Marketing Plan

The Anatomy of a Marketing Plan

By John F. Hunt, Author of “The Do-It-Yourself Marketing Handbook: How Anyone Can Learn to be a Great Marketer”

When a company enters a growth stage it is essential that planning its marketing efforts becomes an important element of the process.

There are many different marketing plan models you can follow which are available through a variety of sources such as on-line services like Fast Marketing Plan (, computer software, books, or classes offered at local business schools. 

While the section titles of the marketing plan models may differ from source to source, a basic marketing plan contains the following parts:
1) A section on analyzing your market and differentiating yourself.  
2) A section on defining the target audience.
3)  A section where goals for the plan can be spelled out.
4) A section on choosing strategic marketing tools to deliver your message.
5) A section on setting up your calendar or implementation timetable
6) A section on establish a budget.

Situation Analysis
The first section of the marketing plan is the situation analysis.  Before you can decide what marketing efforts to undertake, you need to look at yourself, your competition and your marketplace as a whole.  Knowing where you fit within your industry will help you properly design your marketing communications platform (more on that in Section 4: Strategies).  This involves self-examination and industry examination. 

This part of the marketing plan is generally the most tedious.  It takes time to complete and gather all the information you need.  See the questions in the free marketing plan template from to give you an idea of the kinds of things you need to be asking yourself when developing your plan.  In a competed marketing plan, this information should be presented in a format that is easy to read and follow.

Knowing your competition is critical to establishing yourself within an industry.  It is essential to have as much information about your entire industry so that you can make informed decisions about your own position in the marketplace. 

One of the first things you should do is conduct a market overview and competition analysis.  There are some basic things you need to know about your competition including, product offerings, pricing, phone manners, sales pitch, marketing materials, follow-up procedures.  Some of this information can be obtained by making simple “Sherlock Holmes” calls where you pose as an interested customer.  If you are uncomfortable calling, you can also find out data about your competitors and your industry in such places as trade journals or fact books, if they exist.

The reference librarian at your local library can help you locate these resources.  Another way to research your competition is on the Internet.  Check out your competitor’s web site for valuable information you can use.  Other places to find information on your competitors include the yellow pages, from other competitors, trade shows and industry meetings, and from your vendors. When you have gathered your information make a list of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and your company.  

The purpose of this research is to gather enough information to create your Unique Selling Proposition (U.S.P.).  Your position in the marketplace is perhaps the single most important aspect of your marketing.  Start with ten words or less.  If you could describe your business in ten words or less, how would you do it?  If you could only use ten words to sell your product or service, what would they be?

Sometimes the U.S.P. can be a catchy slogan that you use in all of your marketing materials. However, it doesn’t have to always be that way.  Some companies create their U.S.P. as part of their operating philosophy.  For example, August Technology Corporation, one of the fastest growing private companies in Minnesota history grew from a two-person company to over five hundred employees in a few short years by simply adopting a philosophy which combined two elements.  First, they developed unique multi-skilled engineering teams which allowed them to develop new products faster than their competitors. 

Second, the top management of the company was constantly listening to key customers in their industry to quickly uncover emerging trends.  “We acted as trend-scouts,” says Jeff O’Dell, the former CEO of the company. “Being able to deliver the right solution first was a high priority for our company,” he says.  The company has since been sold and O’Dell has moved on to another venture.  If you can unlock the power of positioning by developing your U.S.P. you will be way ahead of most other companies.

Target Audience
Determining your target audience is the second step in building a winning marketing plan. Anyone can find customers if they follow three easy steps. These steps are:
(1) find out who has a need for your product or service,
(2) profile your ideal customer and their habits,
(3) use the appropriate tools to locate and contact your ideal customer.
For new businesses, determining who has a need for your product involves conducting market research.  For existing businesses one of the best ways to determine your target audience is to profile your current client base.  One way to do this is by sorting your sales transactions by customer type. Your customer types will be unique to your business. If you spend some time looking at your list of active accounts, you will start to see some trends.  Keep sorting until you come up with four or five divisions.  You can also sort your customers by demographics (age, income, gender, etc.), by geography (where the customer lives, plays or works), by psychographics (the lifestyles or habits of the customer), by industry category (an industry-accepted way of categorizing buyers), or simply by sales volume.

Take some time to develop an accurate profile of the customers who most have a need for your product or service.

Marketing Goals
Volumes have been written on the art and science of goal setting.  The third section of the marketing plan is writing specific and achievable goals for the marketing efforts you will produce in the coming year. 

Goals are important for the success of your marketing plan.  Without a measure of success you won’t be able to gauge the effectiveness of your plan.  There are two kinds of goals you can set: quantitative and qualitative.  Quantitative goals are those with specific, measurable numbers or results. For example, an increase in sales by ten percent, or to sell X more units by December 31.  Quantitative goals are generally more popular because most people think in terms of measuring success by the amount of increase in sales or dollars generated.  Qualitative goals are those that bring an increased value to the identity of a company or an improvement in a process or product that is directly experienced by the customer.  For example, you may want to improve your image in the marketplace by creating new materials or increase awareness of your company’s involvement with a specific cause such as child abuse prevention.

Marketing Strategies
The fourth section of the marketing plan is called strategies.  In this section you will choose the strategic marketing tools you will use to deliver your message to your target audience.  This will probably involve the use of either paid or non-paid advertising media. 

By completing the first three sections of your marketing plan- situation analysis, target audience, and goals – you will have a much easier time choosing your marketing strategies.  This section of the marketing plan and the next section, tactics, go hand in hand.  The strategy is choosing the best marketing tools, and the tactics are the implementation of these strategic marketing tools.

Marketing Tactics
In the previous section of the marketing plan (Section 4: Strategies), you chose the tools you thought would best reach your target audience.  In Section 5: Tactics, you will develop a campaign that will orchestrate the use of those tools. 

Your campaign consists of two parts: your media rational and your marketing calendar.  The media rationale is a written statement contained within the marketing plan to justify the use of a particular tool.  It is also used to describe how you will optimize the use of a tool.  The key points included in the media rationale are the clarification of your target audience (do the attributes of the media match the profile of your target audience?), timing of your use of the media, and justification of why this is the best alternative.

The second part of the media campaign involves developing a detailed marketing calendar.  A complete marketing calendar includes deadlines and key dates for executing the marketing activities.  The ultimate marketing calendar will tell you what task you need to perform today to accomplish your marketing goals tomorrow.

Marketing Budget
The final section of the marketing plan, budget, is where we reconcile the money you invest in marketing efforts with the potential for return or profitability. 

The biggest mistake company owners make is considering marketing an expense.  While it is an expense for tax purposes, it is also an investment that should generate a return, much like investing in the stock of a publicly traded company.  As an investor, you are faced with many options on the best way to make money work for you.  Your job as an investor is to make the right decisions that will maximize the return on your investment.  The same is true for marketing. You need to make the best marketing decisions possible to maximize the return on your marketing dollars invested. 

The only way to accomplish this is to plan for a year, execute your plan and track your results, and then evaluate after a year to see if the results matched your expectations or goals.   How to determine what to spend on marketing is the subject of whole other article.  

The Total Marketing Plan
A complete marketing plan has all six of the above sections included in it.  If you would like to receive a free marketing plan template just visit


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I highly recommend “The Do-It-Yourself Marketing Handbook: How Anyone Can Learn to be a Great Marketer”

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