What is in a Marketing Plan?

by Debra Andrews | June 29, 2017

Today, let’s back up to a basic question: What is in marketing plan?

You’re perfectly capable of Googling a list of common marketing tactics, any of which could fit into a strategic marketing plan. (Here are a few: social media, email marketing, content calendar, timeline, and budget.)

But that’s not what I want to cover. I’d rather concentrate on four strategic elements that aren’t as common.

A marketing plan should contain research.

Some of my most frustrating career memories are centered on what I’ll label “critical oblivion.” Those moments play out kind of like this:

Enter Consultant.

Consultant: Why aren’t we ranking higher for [Keyword 1]?

Me: That’s the first time I’ve heard of [Keyword 1]. Are we sticking with this direction? If so, I can work to drive it. There’s a loose connection between that and what we’re currently ranking for.

Consultant: Of course we’re sticking with it.

Weeks pass. Consultant has left company. Enter New Consultant.

New Consultant: Why are we ranking for [Keyword 1]? I thought we just decided we don’t do that anymore. We do [Keyword 2] now. Get on social media and find leads who are ready to pay for [Keyword 2].

Me: I don’t think that’s how it works.

New Consultant: I don’t have time for this.

New Consultant leaves to beat shore traffic.

Me: Ugh.


It always felt like I was talking to someone who didn’t care about what I’d been working on, and wasn’t invested in refining and harnessing effort in the longer term.

I’ve since learned good strategic marketing consultants strive to learn about the history of a company’s marketing. They learn what’s worked, hasn’t worked, been surprising, or been a neglected opportunity. They ask marketing team members about their opinions and workloads. They analyze the entire marketing machine. They do their homework.

But they also go a little further. They get a clear sense of the company’s strengths and weaknesses. They define long-term strategic business goals. They dig into the competitive landscape. They focus on assessing inhouse skillsets and cataloging the tools they have at their disposal.

Good strategists know for a marketing plan to work, it must have a firm foothold in the company’s history and reality. Only then can it help the company leap forward.

Marketing plans should have vision.

A great marketing plan should exhibit two qualities relevant to vision:

  1. It should be grounded.
  2. It should cause a little anxiety.

As we’ve alluded to above and in other blogs, every strategic marketing plan is a roadmap. It should first establish your present location. It should help everyone understand in detail where the company stands in terms of its marketing program.

Like any good map, your marketing plan should also depict your destination. If a marketing plan has vision, the destination will cause a little bit of anxiety. That’s good. It means the plan is pushing the marketing program into new territory. You’re giving people a glimpse of a future that they’ll be responsible for reaching—and of course that would be a little unnerving.


A marketing plan should have a strong sense of scope.

Scope is what prevents that anxiety from blooming into panic.

Scope refers to the definition of the work that will be (or won’t be) required to achieve the goal. In other words, scope is the path between your present location and future destination. It’s the line you want everyone to walk.

Scope sounds easy to define, but it can be a frustrating and constant challenge—particularly as you start enacting the plan. You may find that a given tactic doesn’t prove as fruitful as you’d hoped, or that another outperformed. (And factors like internal politics can create seemingly endless detours out of scope.)

A good marketing plan should focus on wasting little energy, while not holding any given tactic too dear. While the destination may be clear, the journey will take unexpected turns. That means the execution of a marketing plan must be a collaborative, constructive, and purposeful effort to stay on course.

A marketing plan has a little flexibility too.

When it comes down to it, what is in a marketing plan is today’s best guess. Ultimate success will come down to the skills and talents of the marketers involved in execution, as well as the team’s ability to handle continual challenges while remaining focused on the long-term target. Even the types of marketing plans that companies apply play a big part in the outcome.

So it’s important to find ways to enjoy the journey. So focus on maintaining ongoing purpose. Use metrics to find out what works and what doesn’t. Test tactics that support the career ambitions of inhouse team members. Find ways to let them put their stamp on the work. Give each other credit, and celebrate milestones.

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