Most businesspeople intuitively know that the key to successful marketing is having a marketing plan—a blueprint for action. However, many companies operate without one, focusing instead on the issues of the moment without committing to a long-term strategy.

A marketing plan does not need to be complex, but it does require several elements to be effective. The plan should include market research to understand the customer, defensible positioning to own a space in the customers' mind, strategies and tactics to meet the company's marketing goals, and metrics to track progress toward those goals.

Most importantly, a marketing plan must be aligned with the company's business plan.

"Don't even think of waging a battle or producing marketing materials without a plan," advises Jay Conrad Levinson, president of Guerilla Marketing, International.

Most businesspeople understand that such a road map enables the organization to achieve business outcomes—often related to increased market share, improved customer lifetime value, and enhanced profitability.

There are a multitude of reasons for creating a marketing plan: to provide strategic direction, create a dialogue with senior management, communicate priorities, obtain buy-in from other parts of the organization and request resources.

An effective plan can positively impact the bottom line. Research shows that companies with a marketing plan experience a 24-30% improvement in sales over those without.

A marketing plan must be relevant and actionable. It should gather and distill the learning of the organization into one document that charts a course of action. A well-constructed marketing plan answers the following questions:

  • What economic and business environment are you experiencing?

  • What opportunities and problems/challenges are you facing?

  • What business objectives do you expect to achieve?

  • What exactly do you sell?

  • Who specifically are your customers/targets?

  • Why should these people buy your products or services rather than your competitors'?

  • How will you communicate your product or service to your customers/targets?

  • Who will do what, when?

  • How are you going to measure and report your progress?

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM