Creating a Marketing Plan for Your Startup

With the new year already underway, many of us have set various business goals. One of the best ways to achieve these goals is having a good plan. The same goes for marketing. A marketing plan can help you make the right decisions and guide you through the steps you need to take in a way that boosts your marketing effectiveness and grow your business.

What is a marketing plan? 

A marketing plan is a written document that describes your startup’s marketing efforts for the coming year. It includes your marketing vision, goals, strategy and tactics. It also covers a variety of details including the definition of your target customers, marketing tools, costs and action steps. A marketing plan acts as a road map which provides you guidance through specific actions you need to carry out to reach your business objectives.

A marketing plan basically answers the questions below:

  • What do you want to accomplish with your startup next year?
  • How will you accomplish it, what are the actions that need to be taken?
  • Which resources will you need?
  • How much budget will you allocate for this?
  • Who will help you to take the necessary actions?
  • When will you take these actions in terms of monthly, weekly and daily basis?

Why your startup needs a marketing plan?

As a startup you are on a small budget, with a small –maybe no- team. You want to make a good start by quickly creating awareness, educating your audience, generating leads, expanding your products. You know that marketing can help you achieve these goals. But how?

You may have no idea about which marketing actions you need to take, when and how you will take them. Marketing can seem as just another uncertainty you need to deal with. But a marketing plan can help you to see a clearer picture of your future efforts.

A comprehensive marketing plan helps you to:

  • Know your organization and products/services better
  • Understand your strengths, weaknesses and differentiation points
  • Identify your target customers
  • Uncover the needs of your potential customers
  • Find the right methods to reach your customers
  • Find the ways to generate more leads
  • Define the actions that need to be taken to market your products and solutions
  • Craft marketing messages that will generate results
  • Set who is doing what (in case you have a team)
  • Measure the effectiveness of your actions
  • Find and fix weaknesses in your assumptions and tactics

Creating the Plan

Before starting, keep in mind that a marketing plan is a dynamic document. Things might not happen as planned and you may need to take into account new variables that you did not consider before.  The tactics in your plan, may not survive the yearlong period for which you wrote it. That is why you need to revise your plan continuously in order to make the necessary updates and frequently assess it to see the results.

A startup marketing plan must;

  • Be simple and clear
  • Based on real data and facts
  • Be flexible enough to be updated when needed
  • Easily transform into a marketing calendar
  • Include right measures to evaluate its success

Although contents of a marketing plan may vary from organization to organization depending upon the industry, the organization size, the product etc.; the basic elements of a startup marketing plan can be listed as below.

Key Elements of a Marketing Plan

The elements of a marketing plan, are the answers to the following questions:

1. Who are you?

There is no single "right" way to approach a marketing plan. Since your marketing plan is unique to your business, you need to start it with a self-evaluation process.  In order to set right goals, you need to know yourself better which requires examining your business from top to bottom. In order to understand your current situation, you need to make an internal analysis.

Internal analysis is an in-depth understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. While strengths define positive attributes; weaknesses define the negative attributes that may prevent you from achieving your goals.

2. Where are you?

This section of your marketing plan helps you understand your position in the competition while evaluating the external factors that influence your overall success. It also helps you define your target segments, in other words your ideal customers.

External analysis: External analysis covers opportunities and threats which result from external environment. While opportunities include factors that can positively influence your organization; threats include negative factors that can risk your goals.

Competitive analysis: Competitive analysis requires evaluating both current competitors who are already in your market and potential competitors who might enter your market. While analyzing your competitors try to find as much information as possible by searching the internet, checking their websites, evaluating their communication messages. Try to list their strengths, weaknesses, marketing strategies and points of differentiation which will let you know how you will position yourself in the market.

Target segments: Target segments include a set of customers sharing common needs or characteristics. In this section, you group different sets of people according to their needs and your ability to answer these needs. While defining target segments, you can use demographic information like age, gender, location, education level, annual income, job title etc.

Buyer persona: Buyer persona can be defined as a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. While target segments are defined with basic demographics; buyer personas also include psychographic and behavioral information like interests, opinions, values, lifestyle features. To gather these information, a detailed research including interviews and surveys is needed.

3. What do you want to achieve?

This is the main part of your marketing plan where you set your goals and objectives by looking at your vision. The prior condition to succeed is knowing what you want to achieve.

Vision: Your vision explains what you want your organization to be or known in the near future. The vision gives you a control over your plan by showing a reason for your efforts. Vision is one of the main motivation sources that guides you through the steps you need to take to succeed.

Goals and objectives: While a goal is a well-defined and targeted statement of what you want to achieve; an objective is a specific result that you aim to achieve within a timeframe. It is possible to consider an objective as the breakdown of a goal. Trying to set “SMART” goals is a common approach in marketing plans. According to this approach; goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. While setting objectives; instead of having a long list, it is better to structure them in a way that aligns them to your goals. So, your objectives should define how you will achieve your marketing goals and they should specify actions and desired outcomes.

Positioning: Positioning can be defined as establishing the identity of your product or service in a way that differentiates it from your competitors’ products and services. While defining your position, try to answer what makes your product or service unique and how is your product or service different from those of your competitors. You can differentiate your products and services with the help of marketing mix which includes product, price, place and promotion. In other words, you can position your product or services by emphasizing your product features, pricing strategy, distribution channels or promotion methods you use.

4. How will you achieve it?

This part includes the strategic and tactical details of your marketing plan. In the previous sections, you simply define what you should do and in this section you need to clarify how you will achieve your goals and objectives.

Strategy & Tactics:  While a marketing strategy defines a general approach that is adopted to achieve a goal; a tactic defines a tool to achieve this goal in a way that is associated with a strategy. For example; “creating an expert image in your industry to reach new people” is a strategy; “writing blog posts and making online presentations that provide useful information” is a tactic. Although your strategy and tactics may differ dependent upon your industry, your competition, your goals; there are common points you need to take into consideration while setting your strategy and tactics:

  • Answer what marketing efforts you will focus on
  • Detail specific activities you intend to undertake
  • Identify the audience each activity is targeted to
  • While defining your actions consider your audiences’ needs
  • Define which promotion methods and communication channels you will use
  • Try to be as specific as possible

Timeline: Timeline of your plan includes the details about when you will do what. Your plan should indicate a timeline for each task to be completed. In other words, your marketing plan should include all major and minor details with proper dates. Timeline helps you to keep track of your marketing actions. You can directly transform this section of your marketing plan into a marketing calendar.

Budget: Budget is one of the most important parts of your marketing plan. It is a determining factor in your actions. Without setting a realistic budget, you cannot set your strategies and tactics accurately. While setting your budget;

  • Assess your current finances and what you can afford to spend right now
  • Start small allocating your marketing funds for each activity planned
  • Try to be as objective as you can while anticipating your costs
  • For the budget items you have no idea, add at least 25% more money
  • Use apps or at least an Excel to track your spending and make the necessary revisions

How will you measure your actions?

You need various measures to track progress on your marketing activities throughout the year. Since measurement is an ongoing process; you need to start measuring and reporting as soon as you put your marketing plan into action. Instead of allowing the entire year to go by; it is better to make weekly, bi-weekly or monthly evaluations to monitor your progress and and make necessary adjustments in your actions on-time. Although the components of a marketing plan may differ according to business priorities, industries that are targeted or products and services that are provided; you can evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts by looking at ROI, sales numbers, customer feedback, investor feedback and competitor’s reaction.

A detailed marketing plan not only provides you guidance through your marketing efforts but also helps you build your brand, mitigate business risks, know your competition better and answer customer needs on-time. By revising your plan continuously, you can make the necessary updates in a way that helps you to take the right actions to achieve your overall goals.