9 Steps in the Marketing Planning Process

The marketing planning process can seem like a daunting task. Any great marketer knows the importance of having a strategic marketing plan designed to achieve your business goals.

A marketing plan should be constructed to optimize your marketing budget. Whether you’re a CMO or a marketing operations manager, your job in the development of any marketing plan is to create one that yields a return on investment.

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.

– Pablo Picasso

Knowing your goals is important, but creating a plan to meet your objectives while staying within your budget is critical to ensure success. With this article, you learn all the steps involved to create a data-informed, goals-driven, and ROI-delivering marketing plan.

What is a Marketing Plan?

Simply put, the definition of a marketing plan is a roadmap that outlines a business’s specific marketing strategy and the actions to be taken to achieve goals.

The marketing planning process is a thoughtful, step-by-step approach that addresses how to create a marketing plan. When executed correctly, this process can be the foundation of success for your marketing plan.

There are plenty of benefits that establishing a marketing plan process can bring to an organization or business:

  • increased accountability
  • team collaboration
  • a refresh on your brand
  • an updated sense of the market and competitors
  • provide benchmarks


9 Steps of the Marketing Planning Process 

The development of a marketing plan takes effort. Planful’s Marketing Plan Builder is an approach that follows a hierarchical method that keeps all your marketing in alignment. Below are the most important 9 steps in the marketing planning process:

  1. Conduct a marketing audit
  2. Collect market research
  3. Understand your audience
  4. Develop your positioning and messaging
  5. Set company and marketing goals
  6. Determine your budget
  7. Develop marketing campaigns
  8. Develop an implementation timeline
  9. Evaluate and make improvements



Step 1: Conduct a Marketing Audit

If you don’t know where you stand as a business today, you will not be able to build a marketing plan for tomorrow. For this reason, a marketing audit provides a foundation for planning decisions.

The audit is the first step in the marketing plan process, providing a snapshot of where you’re currently at and the effectiveness of your marketing. When you conduct an audit, pull in data from the market, including historical marketing data, win/loss analysis, sales trends, team skills analysis, and budget impact. Your findings from the audit can be modeled in a SWOT analysis.

Create a SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is a study done by an organization to assess internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. Conducting a SWOT analysis can help set the table for a marketing strategy to capitalize on your strengths and improve areas of weakness.

Gather historical marketing performance data

Chances are, your current marketing plan is a multi-channel endeavor. Leverage data from different sources to provide insight into marketing performance at the marketing plan, campaign, and channel level. Analyzing historical data is your chance to understand whether you have been hitting all of your tactical and strategic goals. If you have not hit your goals, this is your chance to determine why this occurred.



Step 2: Conduct Market Research

The second step in the marketing planning process is to conduct marketing research. Researching external trends and the overall market landscape can help you understand your company’s current situation.

Where do you currently stand against the competition? Historically, have you improved or declined in performance and market share? There are four primary external data points to research:

  1. Economic trends
  2. Geopolitical issues
  3. The competition
  4. Customer intelligence (surveys)

You could research many others based on your business, so understand what makes you different and pull that information together.

Study the competition

Although you may find your company currently owns a certain share of the market, it wasn’t always that way. Newcomers that enter the market may take away some of the markets, and antiquated companies may go out of business. Analyzing the historical market share and growth/decline among competitors in your industry can help you tell the full story.

Conduct online surveys

Consider creating a survey to send to select consumers – ask them to provide their input on the brand and how it is perceived. You may uncover some valuable information that you would not otherwise get, and you may also find a disconnect between how you’re marketing and what people think of your brand.



Step 3: Understand Your Audience

The third step of the marketing planning process is to understand your audience. Marketing does not work without having an intimate understanding of your target audience and their pain, wants, or needs. Your audience will evolve based on a variety of changes to both your business and customers.

  1. Build out personas
  2. Consumer interviews
  3. Gather audience data
  4. Understand buyer motivations
  5. Get a sense of buyer expectations
  6. Understand the buying cycle

Build out personas

Buyer personas help you build your ideal customer profile (ICP). They are representations of your buyer based on key traits. Personas are meant to be detailed and should include buyer motivations, behaviors, triggers, frustrations, demographics, interests, and more. In terms of a marketing plan, personas help get a deeper understanding of who you’re marketing to.

Many organizations develop personas, but fewer have updated personas based on new research. You’ll want to update your personas every year, if possible.

Gather audience data

In this step of the marketing plan process, you’ll want to understand audience data, including demographics, geographics, behavior, and psychographics. Your personas should include this data to truly understand where your audience is, who they are, what they do, and what makes them tick.

Consumer interviews

In addition to getting data on your audience, conducting in-person (or virtual) interviews can be helpful. Consumer interviews provide qualitative context to your audience, motivations, behavior, and needs. Matching qualitative and quantitative data can put the pieces together and tell your brand’s story and how it’s perceived.

Understand buyer motivations

Buyer motivations refer to the factors that influence a consumer’s decision to purchase a product or service – from awareness to purchase. Understanding what triggers people to buy your product or service and their pain points can play a huge role in creating the right messaging in your campaigns.

Get a sense of buyer expectations

It’s important to get an understanding of the current expectations of buyers. Consumer expectations pertain to the pricing and quality of a product or service.

Ultimately, expectations play into pricing and brand positioning. Expectations and positioning should be mirrored in the messaging of campaigns in a marketing plan.

Understand the buying cycle

The buying cycle is the complete process a customer takes when buying a product or a service. Optimizing your website for the buying cycle will be key. Make sure you have top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel resources.

It is called a cycle because the buying process tends to repeat. Here are the stages in a buying cycle:

  1. Awareness Stage: The buyer becomes aware of a problem or need.
  2. Consideration Stage: The buyer defines their problem and searches for options.
  3. Decision Stage: The buyer compares sellers and chooses the right one for them.
  4. Repurchase: when to problem or need arises again, the same process ensues.

In regards to the buying cycle for the specific products or services you sell, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • How long does the buying cycle typically take?
  • How many marketing touchpoints are typically involved?
  • How much education and top-of-funnel marketing are involved in ultimately getting them to convert?

Another consideration in the marketing planning process is the time it takes to convert a prospect into a customer. This is where sales teams should be involved with a marketing plan.



Step 4: Develop Positioning & Messaging

The fourth step in the marketing planning process is to develop your positioning and messaging.

Positioning is the ability to influence consumer perception and how it is distinguished from competitors. In a crowded industry full of competitors, knowing where your brand falls among competitors in the marketplace is important. Brand positioning is key. Ask, what is your unique selling proposition (USP) versus competitors?

  1. Refining your audience
  2. Segmentation
  3. Update messaging

Refining Your Audience

The research done to get a better understanding of your audience will never stop. Successful businesses have a deep understanding of their audience, and that comes with refinement.

As you continue to roll out your plan, you will uncover more insights about your target marketing and how to approach them.

Segment your audience

Segmenting your audience is a marketing tactic that identifies subgroups within a target audience.

With marketing segmentation, subsets of your audience are created based on demographics, behavior, motivations, interests, and more. The segmentation process will help create targeted messages to better reach and engage with these groups.

Update your message (if needed)

Don’t be afraid to test and update your messaging, particularly for sub-segments of your audience. Tweak your messaging, and how you solve the pain points of your customers and target audience.


Step 5: Set Company & Marketing Goals 

How you measure success in marketing ultimately depends on your business goals. Creating marketing goals can be a daunting task. Here are a few tips to help you create goals for your marketing plan.

  1. Align business and marketing goals
  2. Create a goals pyramid to assign ownership
  3. Determine KPIs needed

Align business and marketing goals

Your marketing goals should be based on overall business goals. With step 5 in the planning process, you must know the bigger picture of how your marketing plan fits into business goals.

To determine this, you should ask yourself a basic question, “what is our company trying to achieve overall”? As a marketing expert, you should take what your company is looking to achieve and align it with your marketing goals.

Create a goals pyramid to assign ownership

Poorly defined marketing goals can be the downfall of any marketing plan. Creating specific, well-defined marketing goals during the marketing plan process can help keep your plan on track.

When going through the goal-setting process of your marketing plan, you’ll want to use the goals pyramid for aligning your team.


Determine KPIs needed to meet your goals

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a quantifiable, measurable value of performance over time regarding a strategic objective. KPIs are not the same as goals – the goal is the outcome, while a KPI is a metric tracked to work toward your goal.

Metrics are crucial for marketers. Determining the key marketing KPIs to track moving forward will give you insight into goal achievement. From general marketing KPIs to ones that fall under a certain campaign or marketing channel, tracking KPIs daily, weekly, monthly, or even annually will help your marketing team stay on track.


Step 6: Determine Budget

After your marketing goals are set, you’ll need the financial resources necessary to achieve those goals. To measure the ROI of a marketing plan, you’ll need to know the exact amount of your used budget.

With this step in the marketing planning process, we review tips on determining and using your budget for marketing plan success.

  1. Determine the budget to meet your goals
  2. Build agile budgets
  3. Manage your marketing spend

Determine the budget needed to meet goals

How much money is needed to meet or exceed your goals? This is a question that marketing executives and team members should be asking themselves. The first step is to set your goals, then build a plan to achieve them.

Your campaigns and channels listed in your marketing plan will provide your budget requirements. Build your marketing plan first, and then tell finance what you will need for resources to achieve the goals. Don’t wait for finance to give you your budget at the beginning of the year or you risk not having the financial means to execute your plan.

Build agile budgets

In addition to agile marketing plans, marketers should practice agile budgeting. Moving funds around as changes occur in the business over the course of a year starts with clear visibility of your budget at all times.

In the event marketing efforts get derailed, agile marketing budgets provide flexibility and prepare marketing teams for different scenarios.

Manage your marketing spend

As your marketing plan is executed, responsible marketing teams closely track their budget. When a budget is overspent, underspent, or mismanaged, it can cause many issues in the execution of marketing plans, including P&L issues.

How can you make sure your budget isn’t overspent or underspent? Planful’s marketing budget management software is perfect for ensuring you are not over or underspending.

Keep a close eye on your Budget Burn Rate (BBR) since this can help you forecast your spending velocity to protect you from going under or over budget.


Step 7: Develop Marketing Campaigns

Once the budget is set, the next step in the marketing planning process is to allocate your budget toward marketing campaigns within your marketing plan. When developing marketing campaigns, there are a few tips to keep in mind with this step:

  1. Select campaigns that deliver the greatest impact
  2. Leverage past campaigns
  3. Allocate budget for campaigns

Select campaigns that deliver the greatest impact

Determine which campaigns are going to help you reach your marketing goals. With these campaigns, you’ll want to leverage more resources. You may also want to prioritize launching the plan first.

Leverage past campaigns

The analysis of previous campaigns can help you develop new campaigns moving forward. Why was a past campaign successful or unsuccessful? You can use this data to pave the way for which campaigns to prioritize in the context of the new marketing plan you created. Use all the data from past campaigns to guide the development of a marketing campaign.

Allocate budget for campaigns

Like plans, marketing ROI is measured for specific campaigns. The budget allocated toward these campaigns is based on the expected ROI. Learn more on marketing budget allocation best practices.


Step 8: Develop an Implementation Plan & Timeline

Goals are established, a marketing plan is developed, and budgets are set – so what’s next in the marketing planning process? It’s time to shift your focus to an implementation plan.

Marketing implementation involves assigning tasks to different team members to execute the marketing plan created. A marketing plan is only as good as its implementation. Here are some tips on how to implement your marketing plan.

  1. Marketing plan length
  2. Know the team members involved
  3. Create a project management plan

Determine the length of a plan

A good starting point for your implementation plan is the length of time. The length of an implementation plan will depend on several factors – your budget, projected ROI, and marketing plan’s goals. Within the plan, you will also have to determine the length of time to implement marketing campaigns. Sit down and plan out a realistic start and end date for each campaign.

Know the team members involved (and responsibilities)

Team members will have select roles when carrying out the marketing plan and activities. Before launching a marketing plan, it’s important to know team members’ roles.

For instance, who strategizes? Who oversees the campaigns? Who is the project manager? Who is the subject matter expert of a particular task, campaign, or channel?

Determining the roles and responsibilities of each team is an integral part of the marketing plan process because it will eliminate confusion, improve production, and create accountability.

Create a project management plan

How can we make sure we hit our marketing plan timeline? As the plan unfolds and is carried out by team members, organizations must stay on top of activities and marketing activities.

Ongoing project management helps ensure that the right people are completing their tasks on time and on budget.


Step 9: Evaluate & Make Improvements

Let’s face it – although we strive for perfection, marketing plans will never be perfect. And that’s okay! In the marketing planning process, the final step is to evaluate your marketing efforts and make improvements.

During this step in the process, you must evaluate the performance of your marketing plan and campaigns and make changes accordingly. Without constant adjustments and re-evaluation, a marketing plan will not be as effective as it could be. 

  1. Evaluate marketing plan performance
  2. Hold status meetings
  3. Identify what’s working
  4. Justify your changes
  5. Measure plan ROI
  6. Make sure marketing attribution is set accurately

Evaluate marketing plan performance

During this step in the marketing planning process, you should evaluate your marketing plan. When evaluating the long-term outlook of marketing campaigns or activities within a marketing plan, you have 3 options:

  1. Capitalize on what’s working by investing more capital and resources.
  2. Stop or diminish resources for tactics that are not working.
  3. Update tactics that are not working based on finding.

Hold status meetings

Holding status meetings provides a chance to present the KPIs and results of a marketing plan. These meetings benefit the rest of your team, the C-level roles, and other stakeholders. Tell a story of the performance of your marketing plan and highlight specific success stories and failures.

Identify what’s not working

As your marketing plan unfolds, you will have the data available to know which campaigns are working and which are not. However, going beyond the data, you should know why things are not working. Uncovering why a campaign or channel is underperforming is important to make the changes needed to get back on track.

Justify your changes

Once you understand why a marketing channel or campaign is not working, it’s time to recommend a change. Knowing the reason for adjusting your plan will help justify the proposed updates to your team or management.

Measure your return on investment

Once changes have been made, track marketing ROI from that point forward. Using annotations in tools like Google Analytics and other marketing platforms can help track the impact of a campaign. 

Make sure your marketing attribution is accurately set

In today’s age, a marketing plan consists of several multi-channel strategies. That speaks to the importance of marketing attribution, which refers to analyzing consumer touchpoints on their path to purchase.


In Closing: The Marketing Plan Process

Today, too many marketing organizations focused on lead generation execute their marketing without a plan. Most fail as a result. A well-thought-out, realistic, and executable marketing plan makes a substantial difference in whether you achieve your goals.

Writing a marketing plan forces you to think through the important steps in the marketing process that lead to an effective marketing strategy.

Steps in the marketing planning process

To review, here are the steps in the marketing planning process (TL;DR):

  1. Conduct a marketing audit: a marketing audit provides a foundation for planning decisions
  2. Collect market research: researching external trends and the overall market landscape can help you understand your company’s current situation
  3. Understand your audience: get a full understanding of your audience’s behavior, motivations, and interests, by building out personas, and consumer interviews and gathering audience qualitative and quantitative data.
  4. Develop positioning and messaging: understand your brand against the market and how you compare to competitors.
  5. Set marketing goals: develop marketing goals that are aligned with business goals
  6. Determine your budget: determine the budget needed to achieve the goals of your marketing plan
  7. Develop marketing campaigns: allocate your budget toward marketing campaigns within your marketing plan.
  8. Develop an implementation timeline:

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