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The Right Way to Create a Marketing Plan
Kidding, this is just ONE way to create a marketing plan. But I think it gives you a pretty solid starting point.
A quick note: There’s a good chance you’re new here. Hello, new reader! I’m the VP of Marketing for SaaS startup SparkToro. You probably found this newsletter by way of me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in a recent Zapier blog post. I typically write about marketing and content.
Recently, I was asked a simple question that initially had me at a loss for words: How do you create a marketing plan?
I just didn’t know where to start. Do I kick off with audience research? Market research? Do we go into the whole TAM, SAM, SOM thing? Are they asking about the format? Should it be in slide deck?
One thing I know for sure: there isn’t one way to create a marketing plan. But here’s how I think of it, as a person with 10+ years of marketing experience and a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to aligning teams.
Get super clear about goals vs. strategies vs. tactics.
In fact, go ahead and give Rand Fishkin’s blog post, “Too Few Marketers Grasp the Difference Between Strategy vs. Tactics; We Need to Fix That” a read then come back here. Great! Welcome back. Basically…
Goal: The outcome you want. The fewer, the better, as the clearer you can be and the more focused you and your team can be. (Example: Acquire 1,000 net new customers in Q3.)
Strategy: The belief that will help you reach your goal. It’s also the belief that informs your approach, which is your tactics. (Example: Dominate the attention of people in our niche of product managers who work at small (<100-person) startups in Q3. These people are early adopters and fast movers, and we think that over time, they can become customer advocates who help power our efforts in larger markets.)
Tactics: The things that you do execute the strategy. (Examples: Co-market with creators in this niche; create content that addresses customers’ common objections; and host morning roundtable events for our key prospects.)
I like to think that a goal is applicable to the entire company. In the above example, it’s not just marketing that’s responsible for bringing in new customers. It’s also the Customer Success team’s responsibility to make sure customers get a great onboarding experience. It’s on the Sales team to close deals. And it’s on Product/Engineering to deliver on the product roadmap on-time. All those responsibilities should ladder up to the mail goal of acquiring new customers.
Meanwhile, a marketing strategy should be broad enough that it encompasses the entire marketing team, but specific enough that it can be distinctly different from a given time period. Let’s say Q3 is about acquiring 1,000 net new customer. Maybe Q4 involves expanding into a market of product managers who work at larger companies, and a key strategy is engaging those Q3 customers as advocates.
From there, the goal and strategy should be clear enough that the tactics are specific and focused. The PR team isn’t focused on “getting media placements” — they’re to focus on securing placements in trade publications. The content marketing team isn’t just “publishing on the blog” — they’re creating, publishing and distributing pain-point oriented content that pairs nicely with their top-ranking blog posts. The demand generation team isn’t “driving new leads” — they’re designing account-based marketing campaigns to reach the people in this specific, target market.
Here’s how I wouldn’t run my team:
“We need to acquire 1,000 net new customers over the next 3 months. Our strategy will be to publish twice-weekly on the blog, post five times weekly on LinkedIn, host a minimum of 10 roundtables, and secure five media placements!”
I mean… those are things we can do, yes, but they’re just an arbitrary list of tactics. Who’s to say we wouldn’t reach meaningful outcomes by securing three media placements? And might we be better off with three, thoughtful viral LinkedIn posts per week rather than five pretty-good ones?
An effective marketing plan enables flow.
A better marketing plan than “publishing twice-weekly on the blog” would be to identify all the common customer pain points and objections, map out how they fit into content we’re already ranking for, and then creating the most helpful content we can. Maybe we’ll come up with a list of only five common pain points.
Maybe we’ll have the hypothesis that turning these into five discrete webinars is a bit of overkill, and we should focus on just the most impactful, excruciating pain points — and maybe that ends up being two webinars.
We host those webinars to drive new leads, and then we turn those into blog posts, along with posts on the remaining three pain points.
We know we want to host at least a couple in-person roundtable events, so we use this content to inform those events. Maybe we even repurpose the blog posts and conduct original research to create and design an ebook that we gift at these events. Then we kick off with one event, but quickly realize we should instead bring in our most loyal customers and have them host the roundtables at their company headquarters across our target markets…
And then these events help drum up excitement for journalists who agree to attend to hear the customer speak and to speak to an executive at your company.
Did… did I lose you? Or did you see what I’m getting at?
It’s not that we need to execute a specific number of marketing tactics, but rather, that we need to focus on the right ones. And often, we’d be wise to remain flexible enough that we can change course and reduce or increase the amount of deliverables if we need to.
It doesn’t matter whether we ship seven things per week, just that we ship the right things.
Ok, but what channels do we start with?
The above example was a pretty clear cut content-driven marketing plan. Not every team is structured this way. (I’m a marketing generalist, but my core skill is content; I’m more than a little biased here.)
If content isn’t your driver of growth, what is? I often think of companies as either sales-led (in which most revenue or acquisition is driven by a sales team) or product-led (in which most acquisition happens through use of the product).
But there’s also paid and word-of-mouth or community-led. In the former, growth largely occurs through ads and sponsorships. The latter is a bottom-up approach where growth is reliant on customers spreading the word. (More on growth teams in Julian Shapiro’s startup guide.)
From there, I’d build a marketing plan that benefits the main driver of growth first, then cascades down to your other marketing channels. A sales-led organization would likely benefit from a set of user playbooks, industry white papers, and interactive tools that provide immediate and unique value to consumers (think: a calculator). Those materials can also inform the blog strategy, and serve as assets for demand generation.
A product-led organization might benefit greatly from SEO, so a focus on driving organic traffic through a company blog could be key. Paid-led teams could stand to benefit from strong positioning and creative, and community-led business might need a strong focus on virtual and in-person events. These are just a few examples.
Track KPIs along the way, not just at the end.
This should go without saying. You don’t implement a marketing plan, execute, close your eyes, and hope for the best at the end of the quarter or first half of the year. You gauge success along the way.
You could look at impressions, ongoing engagement, sentiment, number of leads week over week — all standard marketing metrics.
But you can also look at repeat use of your marketing investments (did that blog post turn into an ebook? Did both the Events and Ads teams use the same creative assets?) to gauge business sustainability. In other words, are your marketing efforts powering each other, and/or are you maximizing utility of the assets you’re creating?
If you’re hammering your creative team with request after request for every discrete marketing tactic, there’s a good chance you aren’t seeing the bigger picture. If your Content Marketing team isn’t partnering with the Events team on agendas or speaker rosters, you might have employees who are doubling up outreach efforts instead of having a single point of contact. Not a great look for your company.
Elevate your thinking of marketing KPIs and consider how all the work you and your team are doing sustains the whole business.
Wait, so how do you make that marketing plan?
Oh yeah, that: The actual designing of the plan. Write it out into bullet points. Or visualize it in a slide deck. Nobody actually cares about the format.
They’re looking for clarity and accountability. From you. And they need to know how those inform their ownership over their programs.
They can do their own reading of the TAM, SAM, SOM thing.
✅ Shoutout to Benable for lists that get you paid
No, this is not a sponsored post. My good friend Tony Staehelin recently started a new company called Benable. Their app is elegant, they make list-making easier, and they help people/indie creators get paid. Hell yeah.
Benable makes it easy for creators/people to make recommendation lists. They even auto-create affiliate links where applicable — without your having to sign up for an affiliate program. When you join Benable you instantly get approved for 35,000+ brand deals.
You just make lists, add links, and share.
And in the spirit of this, I created two lists about things I’m frequently asked about:
Why you should listen to me: I’m a Le Cordon Bleu graduate. I once worked at the LA Times’ test kitchen. I’m a picky buyer and I do an inordinate amount of research on something before I buy it. And I absolutely do not agree with the notion that expensive = better.
This list is also a work-in progress! So follow along to see what else I add to it.
Why you should listen to me: Ugh, I hate revealing my age but I’m in my late 30s. I don’t think I look like it. Also, I don’t tend to shop too much, but my guilty pleasure is buying skincare products. So I experiment a lot. Also, read this article on skin cycling to get more from your skincare products.
Hey, I’m all for competition and I love that Benable helps us go beyond the typical Amazon Storefront.
» Make your own lists on Benable.
📷 Find me on Instagram: amandanat
I just started goofing around on Instagram with a new public account.
First, it was because I wanted to go beyond Twitter and LinkedIn. But then I thought it would be a fun way to hold me accountable to creating more content on the fly and getting better at speaking off the cuff.
I’ve been fighting off the lingering effects of RSV so video has been a challenge recently. But I’m there! Making content! Having fun! I’m more casual! And sometimes I’m posting recipes.
» Follow me on Instagram. (It’s also a good way to DM me because my Twitter DMs are closed. 😅)
🧀 Pickle in a Blanket (as seen on TikTok)
If TikTok gets banned, at least we’ll have this recipe.
Mozzarella cheese (a thin slice, or small handful of shredded cheese from the bag, hey we are not gourmands today)
Pickle spear (I am obsessed with Grillo’s Pickles)
5-6 Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (in case you were worried this recipe was looking too classy, these will bring us all back down to earth)
Heat your nonstick pan over medium-high heat. (I have an induction cooktop. I put it on 7 if that means anything to you.)
Once hot, add your cheese in a thin circular layer, about the diameter of your pickle spear (if you can think that far ahead. I did not).
Cook that cheese until it bubbles and the edges start to crisp and turn golden brown.
Add your pickle spear and Cheetos, ideally on one side of the cheese.
Shimmy your spatula underneath the un-pickled side of the cheese. Lift up this side of the cheese and fold it over the pickle and Cheetos, like an elegant little envelope.
Press your blanket of love shut with the back of your spatula. Flip it over if you have concerns about it getting evenly golden brown.
Remove from heat and prepare to be dazzled. Eat when ready.