What Is a Marketing Plan? And How to Create One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what a marketing plan is, how it helps businesses, and the steps for building yours.

[Featured image] A woman in a blue shirt shows a marketing plan on a whiteboard to a group.

What is a marketing plan?

A marketing plan is a document that a business uses to execute a marketing strategy. It is tactical in nature, and, as later sections of this article explore, it typically includes campaign objectives, buyer personas, competitive analysis, key performance indicators, an action plan, and a method for analyzing campaign results.  

What is the purpose of a marketing plan?

In general, a marketing plan serves several purposes: 

  • Streamline and organize marketing efforts 

  • Guide businesses and their marketing teams through a sequence of marketing activities 

  • Determine how to measure a campaign’s success  

  • Effectively allocate the marketing campaign budget  

A business might develop a marketing plan for a specific need, campaign, or goal within its larger mission. Here are some examples: 

  • Launching a new product or service

  • Carrying out campaigns through different marketing channels, including social media, email marketing, print media, TV, or offline events  

  • Implementing paid advertising 

  • Measuring marketing efforts over specific periods of time, such as every quarter, six months, or year

Marketing plan vs. marketing strategy vs. business plan

In researching what a marketing plan is, you may come across the related concepts of marketing strategy and business plan. Think of all three as written roadmaps for developing your business. You’ll find similarities among them, including your business objectives and information on your target market, but there are some important differences to know as you build these roadmaps, as we’ve laid out in the chart below. 

Business planMarketing strategyMarketing plan
What is it?Overview of a business in its entiretyOverview of a business’s long-term marketing visionDescribes the concrete actions and tactics that a business uses to execute a marketing strategy and meet objectives
What does it contain?Includes the business model, operational details, target customers, competitors, value proposition, brand identity, products, and salesIncludes objectives, marketing goals, target markets, competitive analysis, and value for customersIncludes marketing campaign goals, key performance indicators, buyer personas, competitive analysis, action plan, and method of results analysis
How is it used?Can serve as the foundation of business development efforts and means of generating investor funds or loansCan guide marketing efforts at large and be the basis for each version of the marketing planCan center on an individual marketing campaign and be adapted for future campaigns

Review these roadmaps periodically to measure the success of your marketing and business efforts. 

How to create a marketing plan 

The following sections describe the components of a solid marketing plan and the steps to building each one. Develop each section in the order listed, and use insights from each section to guide your process in the ones that follow. Once you complete all of the sections, review your entire plan for areas that need refining. 

1. Executive summary

Here, you will write a short summary, usually no longer than a few paragraphs, to introduce the sections that follow. In a few paragraphs, orient readers to the following:

  • General information about the business, such as its mission, past accomplishments and setbacks, and brand identity

  • Information specific to the marketing campaign driving this plan and how it will advance or improve upon past marketing efforts 

You might choose to compose this section last, after you’ve written and refined the marketing plan as a whole. 

2. Marketing campaign goals 

Borrowing from your marketing strategy and business plan, state the marketing campaign's goals with specificity and data-driven metrics. For example:

  • Specify “get more email subscribers” as “increase email subscribers by 50 per cent by next quarter.” 

  • “Generate more online purchases” could be specified as “Drive traffic from paid Facebook ads to a sales page and increase the site’s conversion rate from 2 per cent to 5 per cent.”

3. Key performance indicators (KPIs)

KPIs are the specific metrics you’ll monitor to measure the success of your marketing efforts. It’s important to determine KPIs so that you can continually optimize your tactics, reduce inefficiencies, and steer your marketing campaign toward success.  

KPI examples include:

  • The number of website visitors

  • The number of new email subscribers

  • The number of event registrants 

  • The rate of converting leads into customers

  • Sales revenue figures

4. Buyer personas 

Refer to your marketing strategy and business plan to crystalize target market insights into detailed buyer personas. You can think of a buyer persona as a fictional character that you create based on your existing customers and extensive market research. Building clear buyer personas helps to focus your marketing efforts and drive campaign results. 

Answer these questions to get started:

  • What is this persona’s demographic profile, including age, income, location, occupation, etc? 

  • Where do they go to find information? 

  • What keywords do they use to search?

  • How do they prefer to purchase products and services?

  • At what times of the day are they most likely active on social media or other marketing channels, online or offline?

  • What words, phrases, and questions do they use to describe their challenges and goals?

Use answers to tailor every detail of your marketing campaign to your buyer persona and guide potential customers toward an action, such as subscribing to your email list or making a purchase.

5. Competitor analysis 

Refer again to your marketing strategy and business plan to extract key information about how competing brands are reaching customers in your target market. Then, examine competitors’ marketing strategies in more detail.

Here are three ways to generate marketing-specific information about competitors:

  • Use SEO tools like SEMRush to discover how your competitors leverage popular keywords, content, and ad copy to attract an audience.

  • Study competitors’ social media accounts and note the content they post to engage followers. 

  • Subscribe to competitors’ email lists to learn how they market and sell to potential leads right in their inboxes. 

6. Action plan 

Your campaign’s action plan should include the specific tactics and methods you’ll use to market your products and services to potential customers. 

Include the following information in your action plan:  

  • The campaign budget and target date of completion

  • Key milestones you need to pass on your way to achieving the goals 

  • The marketing channels you will use, offline and online 

  • The kinds of content you will create and your schedule for delivering it

  • Organic and paid marketing activities

7. Method of analyzing results 

Your marketing plan should describe how you will monitor KPIs and analyze your campaign results at each milestone. That way, you can find out what’s working and what’s not and adjust your plan accordingly. 

Be sure to set up analytic tools for each of your marketing channels, including your social media accounts, email system, website and landing pages, and event registration pages. Set calendar alerts based on your action plan for reviewing KPIs.

  • Which channels see the most traffic?

  • Which channels are converting at the highest rates? 

  • How are individual pieces of content performing?

  • How efficiently is your budget performing?

  • Which metrics are improving, staying the same, or declining over time? 

Marketing plan key takeaways

Remember: Having a solid marketing plan can make it possible to allocate your marketing budget effectively and streamline your marketing activities. By following the seven steps above, you may be able to see improvements in your marketing efforts, from attracting more ideal customers to inspiring them to take action. 

Improve your marketing with Coursera.

One way to become a skilled marketer is to take online courses and practice the latest strategies. Learn which web analytics tools are right for you, how to use them to analyze data, and more in the Digital Marketing Specialization or with Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate.

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