What is a strategic marketing plan?

A strategic marketing plan is a comprehensive outline for the advertising and marketing efforts of a brand or organization. Founded on audience research and market trends, a marketing plan formalizes the steps an organization will take to promote its offerings to a relevant audience of existing and potential customers.

6 steps to building a strategic marketing plan are:

  1. Know where you are.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Know where you want to go.
  4. Pick your channels and tactics.
  5. Develop your budget and your revise tactics.
  6. Measure and adjust your strategy periodically.
Strategic marketing plan template

Why is a strategic marketing plan important?

Planning for any major undertaking is essential for success.

The modern media landscape is crowded; researchers have estimated that most Americans see between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements per day.

A strategic marketing plan lays the groundwork for your brand to delight and satisfy your customers. As the old saying goes: “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”

By taking the time to develop a thoughtful marketing strategy, you’ll gain several benefits, including:

  • A better understanding of your brand’s value proposition.
  • Deeper knowledge of your audience’s needs and desires.
  • A roadmap for how to manage your brand’s growth.
  • Methods for measuring your marketing performance.

Creating an effective plan takes time, but when you see the results, you’ll know it was well worth the effort.

4 basic marketing strategies (The 4 P’s of marketing)

Today’s digital marketers have a long pedigree of great thinkers who have shaped the way we think about appealing to customers.

We may be producing content for distribution on digital channels that few people could have predicted several decades ago, but the basic principles combining human psychology and economics are still relevant and powerful today.

In fact, the marketing mix commonly deployed in any modern campaign was first conceived by Harvard Business School professor Neil H. Borden and subsequently expanded upon by University of Minnesota professor E. Jerome McCarthy.

Though first published in 1960, McCarthy’s four P’s of marketing are still the common starting point of an effective marketing strategy.

1. Product

A product can be a tangible item or an intangible service that satisfies a need or want.

B2B and B2C marketers need to possess a firm grasp of both what the product is and how it provides value to customers. The more specifically you can define these aspects, the more confident you will be in your marketing strategies.

For example, when selling products and services to other businesses, you’ll need to know what challenges your customers face and understand how your offering solves those problems.

Importantly, marketing and sales departments need to be aligned so that every customer encounter can occur within the same context.

2. Price

The cost of your offerings has an obvious influence over your customers.

Having a complete understanding of the product and its features will help stakeholders determine the best possible pricing strategy.

You may need to determine if it’s better to offer your product on a subscription basis or as a one-time purchase.

Your product’s price point will impact your organization’s profit margins, inventory requirements and more. The marketing team can work with other business units to determine the best course of action.

3. Promotion

With deep knowledge of the product, it’s value and price point, you can more effectively promote the offering in the marketplace.

This is where your strategic marketing strategy will come into play.

As you’ll see a little further on, your marketing plan should include the various channels you’ll use to communicate with your customers.

These days, the avenues for communication are much more varied than when the four P’s were developed, but the advice remains the same. Whether you’re promoting your product on a billboard or on Instagram, you need to ensure that each touchpoint supports your brand’s goals and addresses key customer needs.

4. Place

The fourth P can refer to a physical location, a digital touchpoint or a mindset.

As the old saying goes, it helps to be in the right place at the right time. Marketers can control this factor by developing thoughtful buyer journeys – or sales funnels – and lead nurturing campaigns that help customers make a purchase decision.

For example, if you find that your customers are most inclined to buy once they understand the cost-saving benefits of your offering, you can construct a marketing funnel that places your audience in that position before making the hard sell. So, if customers read a blog and then download a white paper about cost savings, you could include a call to action at the end of the white paper, encouraging readers to call for more information.


6 steps of the strategic marketing planning process

When making a marketing plan, it’s a common mistake for new marketers to start with the deliverables. Full of enthusiasm, they’ll dash off several blog articles, social media posts and pay-per-click ad headlines. Often, their eagerness will begin to wane when they don’t see huge results from their efforts.

This happens due to a lack of foundation.

The best marketing strategies aren’t built on gut feelings, enthusiasm or brute force; they’re built on carefully researched information, scientific analysis and psychological understanding.

An effective strategic marketing process includes:

  • Deep knowledge of your organization’s goals and how your marketing plan promotes those objectives.
  • Researched findings about your customers’ needs and desires.
  • Campaign-specific marketing goals (E.g. building thought awareness or driving sales) supported by measurable performance indicators.
  • Tangible collateral and associated distribution channels.

Follow these six steps to create an actionable marketing plan for your business:

Strategic marketing plan template

1. Know where you are

Before you can make a plan, you need to know where your organization stands today.

Work with relevant stakeholders to define the goals of the business and how the marketing department currently supports them. Consider the brand’s current search engine optimization strategy and how it will benefit the organization’s marketing efforts.

Conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to pinpoint what you’re doing right, what you can improve on and how external market factors will affect your customer relationships. This process can open up areas in need of further analysis.

The beginning of the planning stage is the time to consider everything that might influence your market position.

2. Know your audience

Understanding your organization is one side of the coin, knowing your customers is the other side.

Segmenting your audience is a good way to identify the number of marketing tactics you’ll need to employ. For example, if you find that only half of your customer base uses social media, you’ll need to spread your efforts across multiple channels.

The importance of scientific research at this stage cannot be overstated. Even if you have years of experience in the field, you can’t fully predict how your customers’ expectations, needs and wants will evolve over time.

Conduct surveys, do research and – most importantly – talk to your audience!

3. Know where you want to go

With a firm understanding of your offerings and your audience, you can start thinking about next steps.

Define your goals for the year, then break them down into quarterly, monthly and weekly objectives. Tie these goals to the organization’s long-term goals. For example, if your organization wants to increase revenue by 10% over four years, what marketing objectives must be accomplished for that to happen?

Be optimistic when setting goals, but never lose sight of real market conditions.

For every target you establish, you should define metrics by which to judge your success. Metrics can tell you when to adjust your course of action.

4. Pick your channels and tactics (think big)

An effective marketing strategy addresses the entire sales cycle.

For B2C brands, that might be as simple as making customers aware of your brand. For more complex B2B brands, you may need to build thought leadership, spread awareness, develop engaging relationships with potential buyers and more.

There are many unique ways to appeal to B2B customers.

At this stage, you should think big.

  • How would you market your product or service if you had an unlimited marketing budget?
  • What channels would you use?
  • What type of content would you create?

Get all of your ideas out so you can consider each one carefully. At this stage, you may need to conduct further research into the cost and ROI of each tactic.

5. Develop your budget and your revise tactics (pare down)

Now it’s time to solidify your plans into actionable tactics.

Decide which channels you want to use and create a calendar of content you want to promote. If you’re using paid advertising like billboards, radio ads or pay-per-click display networks, you’ll need to create budgets and bidding strategies.

Compared with the previous step, this is where you get realistic.

To maximize your marketing budget, and choose the ideal mix of collateral, you’ll need to be confident that each investment of time and resources is relevant to your business goals and your customers’ needs.

6. Measure and adjust your strategy periodically

Implementing your marketing plan isn’t the end.

Once your strategy is off the ground, you’ll need to watch it carefully to determine if it’s meeting expectations. By giving every tactic a metric by which to judge its performance, you can make valuable adjustments to your strategy over time.

These alterations may be small, like posting to your social media accounts at a different time of day; they might be big, such as swapping out one tactic for another. The important thing to remember is that any change you make should be informed by keen analysis of your current progress.

Your free strategic marketing plan template

Use this template to structure your own marketing plan. It’s designed to be extensible and easy to use. Simply make a copy of it and add or delete fields as they apply to your needs. By filling it out, this template will help you visualize your strategy more clearly and ultimately become more confident in your ability to grow your brand’s footprint in the marketplace.

Your ability to clearly plan your marketing strategy will determine your future success. The more detailed your plan, the better your chances of success. Map out your goals, choose your metrics and commit to adjusting your strategy based on scientific evidence.

Strategic marketing plan template

[Company name]

Marketing mission statement

Briefly outline how your marketing strategy will support your organization’s business objectives.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths

What are you currently doing that’s giving you an edge over your competitors? What do your customers like about your brand?

Weaknesses

What do your competitors do better than you? What can you do more efficiently? Where do you struggle to fully support your customers?

Opportunities

How is your industry changing? How can you prepare for the future? How can you better define your value proposition to engage new customers?

Threats

What could draw your customers away from your brand? What industry disruptions are on the horizon? What could slow the growth of your organization?

Marketing actions

[Action 1]

Overview: Briefly describe the initiative. (E.g. We’ll build a library of infographics to help our customers understand market trends.)

Desired outcome: What’s your goal? (E.g. We want to increase organic traffic to our resource library by 3% over the next quarter)

KPI / Metric: How will you objectively measure your outcome? (E.g. Page visitors, time-on-site, clicks, etc.)

[Action 2]

Overview:

Desired outcome:

KPI / Metric:

[Action 3]

Overview:

Desired outcome:

KPI / Metric:

Market segments

[Segment 1]

Demographics: Superficial details about your audience. (E.g. gender, age, income and marital status.)

Psychographics: What motivates your audience? (E.g. personal interests, attitudes, values, desires.)

Challenges: What problems do they need to overcome?

Preferred channels: Where do they absorb industry news? Where do they go to ask questions and seek professional insights?

Preferred content types: How do they prefer to gain new knowledge? Do they prefer video, audio or written content?

[Segment 2]

Demographics:

Psychographics:

Challenges:

Preferred channels:

Preferred content types:

[Segment 3]

Demographics:

Psychographics:

Challenges:

Preferred channels:

Preferred content types:

Buyer Personas

[Persona 1]

Name: Each persona should have a unique name.

Age: What’s the average age range of this persona?

Job title: List a few common job titles.

Motivations / goals: What do they hope to achieve? What drives them?

Personal interests: What do they like to do outside of work?

Challenges: What business challenges do they face? What’s stopping them from achieving their goals?

[Persona 2]

Name:

Age:

Job title:

Motivations / goals:

Personal interests:

Challenges:

[Persona 3]

Name:

Age:

Job title:

Motivations / goals:

Personal interests:

Challenges:

Competitor analysis

[Competitor 1]

Company name:

Competing products: How are their offerings similar to your own? How are they different?

Areas of overlap: How do they market their offerings? Are you competing for space in the same channels?

[Competitor 2]

Company name:

Competing products:

Areas of overlap:

[Competitor 3]

Company name:

Competing products:

Areas of overlap:

Strategy overview

[Product / Service 1]

Price: What’s the current pricing strategy? How do customers perceive the price in relation to the value of the product?

Promotion: How will you communicate the offering’s value proposition?

Place: Which channels will you use to promote this offering?

[Product / Service 2]

Price:

Promotion:

Place:

[Product / Service 3]

Price:

Promotion:

Place:

Channels

Website / Content

Channel Name:

Intent: What’s your goal? (E.g. We will promote brand awareness through a series of blog posts written by our senior leadership.)

KPI / Metric: How will you measure your progress? (E.g. Organic traffic, bounce rate, conversions.)

Email

Channel Name:

Intent:

KPI / Metric:

Social media

Channel Name:

Intent:

KPI / Metric:

Print

Channel Name:

Intent:

KPI / Metric:

PPC

Channel Name:

Intent:

KPI / Metric:

Influencers

Channel Name:

Intent:

KPI / Metric:

Alexander Santo is a Brafton writer living in Washington. ​He enjoys searching for the perfect cup of coffee, browsing used book shops and attending punk rock concerts.