What Should a Marketing Plan Include?
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What Should a Marketing Plan Include?

The marketing plan should be simple and to the point. The CEO wants to know the objectives, plan, and cost to carry out the plan. That does not require a 200-page document with numbers, text, diagrams, and ads that no one reads and that becomes obsolete before it is printed.

At a minimum, every marketing plan should contain the following sections:

  • Situation analysis
  • Marketing objectives and goals
  • Marketing strategy
  • Marketing action plan
  • Marketing controls

Situation Analysis

The Situation Analysis includes four sections:

  • A description of the current position, and what was done in the past
  • A SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
  • Main problems facing the business
  • Main assumptions about the future

Current Situation. The planning process begins with an objective evaluation of the product’s current situation. That will be portrayed by a statistical representation of the last (say) five years of the products sales, market share, prices, costs, and profits, along with the main competitors’ performances. Major driving forces in the marketing environment will also be assessed.

SWOT Analysis. The manager prepares two lists, and SW list defining the company and the product’s main strengths and weaknesses, and an OT list describing the chief opportunities and threats. SW describes factors internal to the company; OT describes forces external to the company. Note: There is no such thing as established product without opportunities; there are only managers missing an imagination. Likewise, the plan should name five significant threats facing the business. If a company that doesn’t see any problem ahead is headed for a real problem. The reason to observe the OT list first is that it provides clues as to which company and product strengths and weaknesses demand attention. For example, if competitors have set up online an effective website for selling their product and this company has not yet created its own website, that is not only a weakness but one requiring quick action. Every company must decide which strengths need to be further improved, and which weaknesses must be corrected, based on the looming opportunities and threats. Most CEOs want their managers to present an honest list of the problems and choices facing the business. After all, the CEO’s job is to lend help where needed.

Marketing Objectives and Goals

At this point, the manager moves from analysis to decision-making. Given the current and forecast situation, what should the company aim for?

Objectives. The manager needs to set the broad objectives to be achieved in the coming period. Among them might be:

  • Increase the margin
  • Increase the market share
  • Increase customer satisfaction

The chosen objectives must be feasible and internally compatible. Otherwise, the objectives will fail to provide much help in shaping strategy.

Goals. A goal requires stating a magnitude and a target date of achievement. Thus the objective “increase the market share” can be turned into the goal “move market share from 20 percent to 25 percent by the end of the current fiscal year.”

Marketing Strategy

The strategy is describable along six lines:

  • The target market
  • The core positioning
  • The price positioning
  • The total value proposition
  • The distribution strategy
  • The communication strategy

Managers do not always define the target market (TM) carefully. The TM’s characteristics should be described in the plan. In the case of consumer products, the description would include demographic characteristics (age, gender, income, education, location) and relevant psychographics (attitudes, interests, opinions). It would also be useful to specify the TM’s media and store preferences and habits. Finally, the description should include where members of the target market cluster residentially.

Core Positioning. A company’s offering should center on a core idea or benefit. Volvo centers its offerings on safety; IBM claims to offer the best service. Other companies may center on benefits like best quality, best performance, most reliable, most durable, safest, fastest, best value for the money, least expensive, most prestigious, best designed or styled, or easiest to use.

Marketing Action Plan

The managers now translate the goals and strategies into concrete actions to take place in calendar time. That means setting dates for the company’s advertising campaigns, sales promotions, trade show participations, and new product launches. It also means assigning individuals to tasks and monitoring performance. 

Marketing Controls

The plan must include a mechanism for reviewing whether or not the plan’s actions are accomplishing the plan’s goals. The plan typically includes monthly or quarterly benchmarks against which performance can be measured. When the goals are not being reached, the managers must take corrective steps to change some actions, strategies, target markets, or subgoals.

What Questions Should a Senior Manager Ask About a Business Plan?

  1. Does the plan list some exciting new opportunities? Has it also considered major threats?
  2. Is the plan clean in defining target market segments and their relative potential?
  3. Will the customers in each target segment see our offering as superior?
  4. Do the strategies seem coherent? Are the right tools being used?
  5. What is the probability that the plan will achieve its stated objectives?
  6. What would the manager eliminate if we gave him only 80 percent of his request?
  7. What would the manager do in addition if we gave him 120 percent of his request?