If you have a commercial aspiration, you need a marketing plan.

What should that plan look like?

It depends on your market, your brand, what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, your business goals, etc.

But at a high level, every successful marketing plan calls for five core components:

  1. An honest look at your brand.
  2. Short- and long-term marketing goals.
  3. Content that supports your goals.
  4. The right marketing channels for your content.
  5. Metrics.

Let’s get into it.

1. An honest look at your brand

What’s going on in the world around your brand?

It’s a complicated question that you need to periodically revisit to continue justifying your brand’s existence and articulating its mission.

Think of this as checking in on the “why?” of your business so you can better inform the “what” and the “how” of your current marketing strategy.

Start with PEST analysis:

  • Political: For instance, manufacturers in the north of England are hitting headwinds at the moment because of Brexit.
  • Economic: Iceland tourism companies are anticipating a slight lull as the country deals with the fallout of a post-WOW world.
  • Social: Sustainable brands are really hot among millennials; 73% say they’ll pay more for an environmentally friendly product or service.
  • Technological: Data is everywhere, and anyone with novel ideas for how to put it to use has a platform for business success.

Some of these are hindrances, others opportunities. All of them represent factors that will guide the identity of your business and direction of its marketing efforts.

Once you’re done with PEST, assess your brand’s readiness for those circumstances. Cue SWOT analysis:

  • Strengths: You have solid intellectual property, or hold some other competitive advantage that can inform marketing activities.
  • Weaknesses: You’re beat on price, you need a bigger marketing budget or your competitors are doing a better job adopting new technologies.
  • Opportunities: Sustainability is all the rage among millennials, and they have a lot of money to spend on your brand if you get your messaging right.
  • Threats: You’re running into a bit of a market slump due to seasonal or economic shifts beyond your control.

Clearly, a circumstance that’s a threat to one brand can be an opportunity for another.

And that’s the whole point of this exercise. It helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses in your current market environment.

From here, you can start forming the short- and long-term goals of your marketing strategies – whether that’s to play up your strengths or bolster your weaknesses.

2. A strategy built on short- and long-term marketing goals

At the top of your aspirational hierarchy, you have business objectives. For example:

  • Trying to lock down more venture capital to grow your B2B firm.
  • Increasing e-commerce sales for a B2C retailer.
  • Shifting to a subscription-based, pay-as-you-go model.

Beneath that are the long-term goals that serve those business goals.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an example.

Ranking on the first page of Google for all of your industry’s highly competitive keywords can:

  • Help you get investors’ attention.
  • Improve online sales.
  • Build awareness for your new business model.

But none of this happens overnight. It requires a series of strategies and tactics.

Enter your short-term goals. They serve a long-term goal that serves bigger business objectives.

Let’s make this a little more concrete by walking through an example of strategic marketing. We’ll use the long-term goal of boosting online visibility through SEO as our template.

Within that long-term goal, you have your more immediate short-term goals:

  • Increase raw traffic: You can do this by ranking for relevant long-tail keywords or earning the featured-snippet spot for said keywords; you can rank for relevant keywords with high-quality content that best answers the questions typed into a search engine.
  • Boost on-page engagement: Once you get people on the page, you want to keep them on your site. This tells Google your content is engaging the right audience.
  • Optimize technical SEO: Eliminate 404 errors, improve your linking structure, make sure you’re using the right metatags to help Google’s crawlers rank your site.
  • Influencer outreach: Promote your webpages on social media, and try reaching out to influencers who may be willing to promote them for you (you don’t necessarily have to pay them – you link to theirs if they link to yours, kind of thing). Backlinks from high-quality sources are good for your page authority, which is good for SEO.

As part of the marketing planning process, make sure you’ve benchmarked everything you might need in order to track your progress.

In this particular example, your key performance indicators might include:

  • Number of keywords you rank for.
  • Pageviews per Session.
  • Average time per Session.
  • Click-through rates.
  • Bounce rates (how many users leave after viewing just one page).

It’s possible that your marketing goals may have nothing to do with SEO, but this general hierarchy of objectives can serve as a planning template as you set out creating a marketing plan.

Draw a straight line between business objectives and the short-term goals that need to be achieved before you can lock down those bigger wins.

This will make it much easier to get buy-in, because every marketing plan needs a budget, right?

Make your case with a realistic and methodically detailed strategy.

3. Content that supports your goals

Content is the “how” for just about any imaginable form of marketing. It’s video, it’s graphics, it’s words, it’s interactive UX.

Even a multi-million-dollar ad on prime-time TV is content. But is it the right type of content?

Maybe, but probably not.

When you’re creating content, you need to do so with your long-term goal in mind.

Let’s go back to SEO. A business might want to improve online visibility for any number of reasons.

Maybe a B2B brand wants to create a steady flow of inbound leads with useful content that performs well on search. A B2C brand might want to drive up site traffic so that it can get more potential buyers in front of its product pages.

In the case of the B2B brand, you’ll need content at every stage of the sales funnel:

content ideas

Content ideas for every stage of the funnel.

You’re clearly dealing with a lot of short-term goals here, and much minutiae within those goals.

So where do you begin when planning what content to create?

With analysis to know what type of content you’re really hurting for. This requires the aforementioned benchmarking (see section, “A strategy built on short and long-term marketing goals”).

Let’s say, for instance, you have plenty of traffic coming into your blog but no one’s signing up for your newsletter. This is a tell-tale indicator of two possible problems:

  1. You’re targeting the wrong audience in your content.
  2. You’re not doing enough to convert your traffic into leads (with strategically positioned calls-to-action, opt-in fields and user-friendly UX).

For the purposes of this example, we’ll assume you have your visitor personas on lock, and that the problem is poor UX.

Now you have your short-term goal. The content you might use to address that goal would include CTA banners embedded in your blog posts, a website redesign and other strategic graphical elements to encourage more subscribers, like so:

Other examples are less straightforward. Maybe you’re a burgeoning B2C e-commerce brand and you don’t have a lot of traffic to your product pages.

The same general marketing plan template still applies.

You have your long-term goal (brand awareness) and you can build your short-term goals around that (generating more traffic to your site with useful, high-quality blog posts, how-to videos and other top-of-funnel content).

This approach to a content marketing campaign is scientific, analytical and deliberate. Your business shouldn’t necessarily strive to do the coolest thing or the loudest thing. It needs to do the thing that works, and that means creating the right content for the occasion.

Yes, it can be a slow-going process, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is good marketing.

4. The right marketing channels for your content

If content is the atomic particle of marketing, so to speak, marketing channels make up the universe it inhabits.

For the purposes of your marketing plan, you need to know which channels are most important to your goals. Some of your options include:

  • Word-of-mouth: Conferences and events.
  • Search: Google.
  • Web: Your website, content you contribute to other websites, paids ads, etc.
  • Mobile: Encompasses mobile web and search as well as apps and location.
  • Social: Your social media pages and paid ads that appear on others’ pages.
  • Email: Exactly what it sounds like.
  • YouTube: Your brand’s channel, or paid ads on other videos.
  • Print ads: In magazines, etc.
  • TV commercials: Local or national.

Choosing the right channels on which to create or pay for content depends partly on your short- and long-term goals and partly on what you can afford.

At the most basic level, you’ll need a website, and preferably one that ranks well on search.

What you do on your website (content created for SEO) will ultimately affect how you perform on search channels (Google, Bing).

But you can also promote your content on social media and through email marketing. For social media marketing, you need a strong grasp on the specific social networks your audience uses.

We won’t get into the nitty-gritty about the fundamentals of email marketing or social media marketing since we’ve done that elsewhere on this blog.

For the sake of your marketing plan, just know this: Practically any long-term marketing goal you can name will require some combination of the channels listed above.

And deciding which channels to use for content creation, distribution and promotion (based on your goals) is a whole lot easier when you have a bit of help from a digital marketing expert.

5. Metrics

We’re at the home stretch and this one is fairly self-explanatory, so we won’t belabor the point.

You need metrics from sources such as SEMrush, BuzzSumo, Google Analytics and Screaming Frog to:

  • Inform your short- and long-term goals.
  • Track the effectiveness of your efforts to achieve those goals.
  • Create new goals that will help you inch ever-nearer to accomplishing your business objectives.

The precise metrics you’ll need vary depending on your goals, and our eBook on the subject is a good place to get started in terms of knowing what’s worth measuring.

The marketing X-factor: Dedication

Specifically, dedication to doing what works as opposed to what seems easy or convenient.

I’ll be brutally honest: There is no “easy way out” of marketing. It requires attention to detail, some trial and error and, of course, a well-thought-out plan.

And when you’re willing to produce all of that, the results speak for themselves.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.