The 12 Pillars of an Annual Marketing Plan
Details you need to include in your annual marketing strategy
Why do you need a marketing plan?
Every company needs an annual marketing plan. It defines in detail what, where and how you will promote your brand, products and/or services to your customers. A marketing plan helps ensure you reach overall business objectives via go-to-market strategies, and keeps businesses from chasing “shiny objects” in the day-to-day.
This post outlines the 12 pillars of planning you should include in your annual marketing plan. While the end of the year is a great time to get started on next year’s plan, you should align your marketing plan with your company’s fiscal year. We recommend you start working on your annual marketing plan at least three months before the end of your organization’s year. A better marketing plan is created over time, not in one sitting. Doing this planning in advance also allows for plenty of time for review, feedback, revisions, socialization and to begin implementation on day one.
Let’s get started!
Section 1: Overview
Although this is the first section, we recommend you write it last. Here, you will briefly summarize an overview of the marketing plan, including key objectives and goals, strategies and tactics and expected outcomes. Think of this part as an explanatory table of contents, where you hit all the high points. You should be sure to include your overall business objectives, acknowledging how your marketing efforts will support the achievement of those goals. Your overview will typically be one to three pages long, depending on the depth and breadth of you plan, so an executive can read and understand the basics of your marketing plan clearly and concisely, in just a few minutes. The remainder of the plan is available to them should they prefer to dive in deeper.
Section 2: Current Analysis
Here, you will review and acknowledge the current state of your business and marketing efforts to date. Include the latest industry trends, your business’s current size and growth potential, and both a company and marketing analysis. Typically, you would include a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis. However, for developing organizations, or for a more motivational analysis, you may prefer to “SOAR” – identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. Alternatively a SCORE Analysis is another option that is more action-oriented: Strengths, Challenges, Options, Responses, Effectiveness.
In this portion of the plan, you should also outline your competition, their strengths, and the opportunities you have to become the market leader, if you are not already.
Finally, recap previous strategies, including last year’s key performance indicators (KPI’s), metrics, and a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” analysis of your previous go-to-market strategies: what worked well, what could be improved, and what is it time to consider abandoning or what challenges or roadblocks does marketing face?
Section 3: Marketing Objectives
In this section, begin with clear and specific long- and short-term goals. Your marketing goals should align to your organization’s overall goals, defining how marketing will support achievement. For example, if a long-term business goal is to double income in the next five years, your long-term marketing goal could be to generate 20% more qualified leads each year for the next five. If the goal is to be ranked in the top three brands in customer satisfaction surveys within three years, your goal could be to improve customer retention rates by 15% in the next two years.
Short-term goals are tangible, reachable results to be achieved within the year of the marketing plan you are writing. Examples include: improve social media engagement by 8%, increase website traffic by 15%, or optimize conversation rate from 3% to 5%.
For every goal, ensure you identify a specific measurement and briefly define the marketing tools you will use (video content, targeted ads, utilizing A/B testing, etc.) to achieve each goal, and share how each goal is aligned to broader business objectives. We will dive more into execution specifics later.
Section 4: Target Audience and Customer Personas
Begin this section identifying the basic data and demographics of your customers, and please, please, do not stop there. It is vital to develop specific profiles that identify more information about your customers, including what challenges they face, what motivates them, the type of communication they desire, and where they spend their time learning new information.
Including more details, or what are called customer personas, assist you and your team in specifically recognizing what your target buyers need from your organization in order to make a purchase. You cannot define your positioning, marketing mix and distribution strategies without truly knowing and understanding in-depth details about your customer.
Recently, a strong argument for customer personas has resurfaced around the internet. To quickly explain, Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne, on paper, appear the same. They’re both men, the same age, raised in the United Kingdom and are wealthy and famous. However, we know they’re quite different people, with varied hobbies and preferences. This is an excellent example of why you must go beyond the basic demographics of your clients.
Pro tip: it’s important in this section to "gut check" expectations. It is not realistic to think that “everyone” should or will be your customer. If you offer the same service as another business that is closer in proximity to them, is there a truly compelling reason for them to drive further? If your services are top-of-the-line and value-based, is it worth the effort to market to customers who only care about making the smallest investment possible? The answer to either of these questions may be yes, and if so, outline the why in your strategy. Include in your planning ways you will convince potential customers to drive further or pay more. Simply put, we encourage you to confirm you are realistic and clear with your customer expectations.
Section 5: Positioning and Branding
In this portion, first pinpoint your company’s Unique Value Proposition (UVP). In other words, what problems does your product or service solve for potential customers? Explain the pain points you can solve for them. Here, you can also include what differentiates you from your competition – why should your clients choose your organization over what your competitors offer? Examples include price, level of service or location.
To keep all your planning in one place, you should also include details on your brand image and perception here. What are your key branding pillars? What do you want people to feel when they see or think about your brand? No need to include your entire brand guide here, but you can link to it here so that information is readily available.
Key messaging is another vital inclusion to this section. Answer questions like, “What messages does your organization convey in any of your go-to-market strategies?” “What should your audience understand and remember about your brand?” “How does it align with your audience and UVP?” These key messages are bite-sized summaries that articulate who you are, what you do, how you are different, and the value you bring to potential clients.
Section 6: Marketing Mix
Next, we are going to dive into the core of your marketing strategy with the four P’s: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.
Product: list the item(s) or service(s) being sold, and how they satisfy a customer’s need or desire. Do not worry, generalities are fine – no need to list every SKU or all 1,000 products you may sell. Answer questions such as, “What does your product accomplish?” “Does it fulfill a need or provide a unique experience?”
Price: identify your business’s pricing strategy. Answer questions like, “How does your pricing meet consumer expectations?” “How does your pricing compare to competitors?” and “What is the affordability and price range of target customers?”
Place: outline both where your product(s) or service(s) are sold, and where the product information is available and in what format(s). This should include distribution channels, locations, and your organization’s online presence. Add details that recap your customer personas like:
The buying habits of your target audience.
The places your target audience spends their time doing research.
Where potential buyers frequent for similar products or services.
Promotion: referring to reaching your target audience with the right message at the right time, promotion gets the word out when your potential clients are most likely to buy. Consider here the right time to reach your audience, which channels your target audience finds their information, what general advertising approaches would find the most and best customers, and cost-efficiencies for product promotion. For any business, these strategies could include advertising, public relations (PR), sales promotions, event marketing, direct marketing, content marketing and more.
Section 7: Distribution Strategies
This section will clarify the details of the promotion portion of your marketing mix. What specific go-to-market strategies will you implement? The first step in completing this information is to go back to your target audience and personas and the “Place” portion of your marketing mix, and confirm where your potential customers spend their time, consume information, and carry out their daily habits. This, alongside your budget, which you’ll outline in the next section, will help identify the mediums on which you share your brand. We recommend completing this portion of the plan in tandem with the budget section, as they go hand in hand.
Provide a rationale for each distribution strategy you choose, as it will help company leadership understand why each was chosen, help you remember the data points for selecting each, and allow you to revisit the rationale as you collect learnings from your KPIs, which will also be discussed shortly.
Section 8: Budget
This section is generally straightforward: identify the overall and, if applicable, a category-by-category allocation of resources to be used for all strategies within this plan, whether that be dollar amounts or hours dedicated to each area.
Here, you can also identify negotiation tactics for ensuring you remain on budget, as well as the anticipated ROI for the marketing spend.
Section 9: Implementation
In this portion of the plan, identify timelines, media schedules, event schedules, and responsibilities for each team member for the year. While you do not need every advertisement, blog post or event fully planned out, you should have a general idea of when and where your distribution strategies will be executed throughout the year.
We find that creating a monthly, at-a-glance list that outlines when each piece will be implemented helps to both ensure you aren’t overextending your team and allows you to work backward to created start dates, review dates and due dates once you move on to the execution phase.
Section 10: KPIs and Measurement
As you’re arriving toward the end of your plan, this section is just as important as your audience and marketing mix. How will you know this plan you have developed is working? When and how will you review benchmarks?
Referring to the marketing objectives you included at the beginning of this plan, first establish what you will measure for each of your go-to-market strategies.
Some examples include:
Website Engagement Rate (new with GA4)
Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs)
Social Media Engagement
Email Open or Click-Through Rate
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
Next, outline when your KPIs will be reviewed, and who will compile, review and receive the data. The specifics will vary dependent upon your business. For example, an organization with large social media and website teams may review and share KPIs on a weekly basis and determine if any adjustments are needed monthly based on that data, while a small organization may review their website and social metrics monthly and determine adjustments on a quarterly basis.
Section 11: Contingency Plans
In this second-to-last section of your plan, identify the actions you will take if certain strategies do not meet their KPIs. Include a timeline for making those decisions, as well as alternative approaches to achieve goals.
Section 12: Future Ideas and Considerations
Beyond your contingency plan, there are often times great ideas that make it into the first version of your marketing plan, but you realize you don’t have the capacity to execute. Use this section to outline those ideas for use in your next marketing plan.
A thought out marketing plan is essential to ensure you reach the right customers at the right time in the right place. Having a plan for your approach is vital to make the most of your time, energy and money spent on your marketing. Use this blog as a guide to help create your strategy.
If you are overwhelmed by the thought of creating an annual marketing plan, we’re happy to help support you. Robust annual plans begin at $1,250.
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