How to Write a Simple Marcomm Plan
Having a marketing communications plan to guide your marketing efforts is important to help you stick to a schedule, gauge the results of your marketing, and stay within budget. You’d be amazed how many industrial companies don’t have one! If your marketing budget is $100K or higher, take the time to write a marcomm plan and I guarantee, at some point you’ll be glad you did. It doesn’t have to be voluminous, and it doesn’t have to sound like a PhD thesis. As a matter of fact, I think a simple plan is best. No redundancy. No marketing jargon. Just the fewest number of pages possible stating what you intend to do; who you intend to do it to; how you intend to do it; and when you intend to do it.
I usually write marcomm plans for a period of one year, although for the sake of media schedules it is best to end the plan in December of the current year. Without editorial calendars, you won’t be able to target specific issues for advertising or editorial based on editorial focus. You can draft a new plan prior to December for the following year, after trade publication editorial calendars have been released, usually by October. It’s not wise to plan out any further than one year. Marketing has to be continually evaluated for effectiveness. Even though you have a plan in place, you should always be ready to redirect resources if a strategy is failing miserably.
It is surprising how many marketers confuse “overall” marketing with “marketing communications.” Remember the “4 P’s of marketing” from Marketing 101? Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. Marketing communications is only the PROMOTION aspect of marketing; however, in order to write a thorough marcomm plan, you should include a brief section on your company’s overall marketing objectives and strategies, as well as the marketing communications objectives and strategies. Keep in mind when writing your plan, you want anyone to be able to read it and be able to understand your logic and decisions. If you outline your company’s overall marketing plans, your marketing communications initiatives will make more sense to anyone reading.
If you include the following 8 sections in your marcomm plan, you will have a thorough reference guide that anyone should be able to undertand. None of them needs to be more than a page or two, and if you feel a few of them are unnecessary for your organization, then by all means, customize!
1) General Overview
This can be as simple as a few paragraphs, or several pages. It simply lays out the playing field, the environment in which your company is currently doing business. You can include high points from a SWOT analysis, information about your industry, competitive situations, anything that helps someone reading the plan understand it from a “big picture” perspective.
2) Target Audience(s)
Your target audience is of course, the who that you want to reach with your marketing communications. If you sell to several groups of customers or markets, state how they are different and state each of their distinct needs. You should also include how your company’s products or services uniquely meet their needs.
3) Marketing Objectives
Your objectives are what you hope to accomplish as a result of implementing your plan. The best objectives are quantifiable: increased market share, sales, or an improvement in brand recognition or image. It is difficult sometimes to separate objectives and strategies. For instance, “develop west coast manufacturers rep network” is not an objective, it is a strategy, or a means to an end (strategies coming up next.)
4) Marketing Strategies
Strategies are how you intend to achieve your objectives. Some examples might be:[list]
- Develop new sales channels (as in the example of the manufacturers rep network, above)
- Develop new products or technology
- Expand manufacturing capacity or add new equipment or capabilities to meet a customer need
- Focus sales and marketing efforts on a certain region or area of the world
- Special offers or incentive programs[/list]
This is the hardest part for anyone responsible for marketing in an organization, because it builds accountability into the plan. Again, objectives should be quantifiable, which can be difficult in marketing communications. It’s easy to monitor whether or not an SEO program on a new website brings 20% more visitors to the site. It’s not so easy to gauge “increased awareness” for a particular product, or an “improvement in brand image.” The only way you can truly gauge changes in perceptions is through surveys and focus groups – conducted at the beginning of your plan, as a baseline – and then at the end, so you can measure differences. The easiest objectives to quantify are an increase in sales leads and anything related to Internet marketing, since Internet marketing results can be easily tracked and analyzed.
6) Marketing Communications Strategies, or Tactics
Again, the marcomm strategies or tactics are how you will meet your marcomm objectives. This is usually the easiest part of the plan for anyone in marketing communications, and the most fun. This is where you will present your plans for advertising, Internet marketing, new marketing literature, a new website, social media marketing, trade show exhibitions, rebranding initiatives, P/R, and anything else your budget will allow for that will help you achieve your objectives. It’s a good idea in to include when in this section, since timing for some tactics must coincide with others. For example, you may need to develop a new product brochure prior to a trade show where it will be introduced. There will also be ads that you will want to appear prior to the magazine’s distribution at a certain trade show. One way to present this section is to list tactics as they will occur through the year so the plan reflects a logical sequence of events or initiatives.
Hopefully, you were given a budget to start with and your tactics will roughly cost that amount. There is nothing a marketing agency likes to hear less than, “We don’t really have a budget in mind. Just write the plan and we’ll see what we can do.” Playing the “guessing game” can be a true waste of time and effort. Before you write your plan, pin down upper management on a rough budget they are willing to allocate. Your budget recap doesn’t have to be extremely detailed. Give approximate amounts for each of your tactics that allow for flexibility.
8) Media Schedule
There are numerous ways to show a media schedule. The easiest is probably plotting it out on a 12-month calendar in Excel. You would of course include each publication or other advertising sources. For every ad placement, you’ll include the editorial focus; any special promotions, or bonus distribution; and the cost. You can tally the cost per month, and again on the far right as a total for the year. This is simply a quick visual of how your ads stack up for the year, and what you are spending with each source.
Marketers tend to be more creative types that like to push the envelope and try new ways of doing things. Perhaps that’s why the structure of a formal marcomm plan is something that many of them shy away from. Just ask yourself this: if you don’t have a plan to tell you where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? Get into the practice of writing annual marcomm plans, and you may find that not only are your efforts more fruitful, you also have a document to refer to that proves that they were!