How to write a marketing plan that gets everyone on the same page

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What makes a good marketing plan? A good marketing plan helps make decisions to deploy the resources and provide a roadmap for everyone who works on the brand. To simplify things, I will use marketing plan and brand plan interchangeably the same way we might with brand manager or marketing manager. In this article, I will use plenty of marketing plan examples (brand plan examples) and lead you to our marketing plan template.

You will learn how to write each component of the marketing plan, looking at brand vision, purpose, values, goals, key Issues, strategies, and tactics. If there is any difference, the strategic brand plan covers the bigger strategic elements, while the marketing plan includes the strategic elements, but goes deeper on the marketing execution.

Click on the image to zoom in to see brand plan process

We provide both a strategic brand plan template and marketing plan template, which include the key definitions and marketing plan examples to inspire you for how to write each component. You will get access to our unique formats for a marketing-plan-on-a-page and long-range strategic brand roadmaps. The marketing plan template includes a marketing communications plan, innovation plan, sales plan, and experiential plan. 

Our Marketing Plan on-a-page

I first came up with this “marketing plan on a page” template when I led a team with 15 brands. It helped me see the big picture quickly, rather than having to hunt through a big thick binder. Also, the sales team appreciated the ability to see the entire plan on one page quickly. Most salespeople also had 15 brands to manage with each of their customers. Everyone who works on the brand should receive the one-page marketing plan. And they should keep it close by to steer their day-to-day decisions.

Click on the marketing plan or brand plan example to zoom in

How the marketing plan is organized

  • The analysis section lays out the summary from the deep-dive business review. Provide an overview of the top three points, which envelop what is driving your brand’s growth, what is inhibiting your brand’s growth, which threats could hurt your brand and what opportunities your brand faces.
  • The key issues and strategies section focuses on the top three issues getting in the way of achieving your vision, which you should put in question format. And the strategic solutions are the answers that match up to each of those questions. Set goals to measure your brand’s performance against each strategy.
  • The marketing execution section maps out the specific plans for each of the chosen execution areas that line up to most essential consumer touchpoints.

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The strategic sections of the Marketing Plan

The strategic elements of your marketing plan or your strategic brand plan would include the vision, purpose, values, key issues, and strategies. Below you can see a potential layout for how these strategic slides can be organized. 

Click on the Marketing Plan or Strategic Brand Plan example to zoom in

Brand Vision

A well-written strategic brand vision should be the ultimate end-in-mind achievement, which answers, “Where could we be?” Reflect on future ambitions that would bring you true satisfaction. That means, you have to put a stake in the ground to describe an ideal state for your future. Having a vision for your brand is essential to setting it up for success – and it doesn’t have to be complicated. When I see brand teams struggle, they usually lack a brand vision. 

Some companies will do anything to meet their short-term goals and take any tactic. But use your vision to help plan for the long term and use inspirational language to lead others.

A great vision should scare you a little, but excite you a lot. Maybe you will see something that feels familiar to what is in your mind or at least a structure for how you would write your own vision statement.

Use the vision statement examples to inspire you as you write your own vision statement. Maybe you will see something that feels familiar to what is in your mind or at least a structure for how you would write your own vision statement.

Once you establish your vision, use it to set up the key issues of your marketing plan. Try to understand the obstacles in the way of achieving your vision, which then sets up the strategies for how to reach the vision. Your marketing strategies will then revolve around solving these problems.

 

Turning your key issues into a marketing strategy

Lay out the key issues that answer, “Why are we here?” by taking the summary findings of the deep-dive analysis and drawing out the significant issues in the way of achieving your stated brand vision.

A great way to find the issues is to brainstorm up to 30 things in the way of your vision. Then, narrow down your list to the top 3-5 significant themes you see. 

Take the themes and begin to write the top issues in a rhetorical, strategic question format to prompt a few different strategic options for how to solve each issue. Spend serious thinking time on these questions because the better the strategic question you ask, the better the strategic answer you will get. 

In our Marketing Plan example, we use four strategic questions to focus the brand’s key issues

Another excellent methodology for finding key issues is to go back to the four strategic questions model I outlined in the strategic thinking chapters. This thinking ensures you take a 360-degree view of your brand. Looking at the marketing plan example below, I have used the four strategic questions and come up with four specific questions that fit the Gray’s Cookies brand.

With various ways to brainstorm and find the issues I recommend for the annual marketing plan, focus on the top three key issues, which set up the top three strategies. A long-range brand strategic roadmap can typically handle up to five key issues, then five strategies. 

Click on the diagram to see how our brand strategy process works

Writing strategic objective statements

Within our marketing plan template, we provide slides to lay out your brand strategies. You should start off by writing your strategic objective statement using the four components of the a + b + c + d model outlined in our Beloved Brands book. We go through four types of strategy, including your core strength, consumer strategy, competitive strategy and your brand situation.

Click to zoom in on our brand plan examples

Here’s how that marketing strategy statement breaks down:

A: Program investment: First, the marketing strategy statement calls out the investment in a strategic program, with crystal clear marching orders to the team, leaving no room for doubt, confusion, or hesitation. In this example, the strategic program is to “Advertising Gray’s guilt-free positioning.” 

B: Focused opportunity: Second, you need to see a breakthrough point where the brand will exert pressure to create a market impact. In this example, the focused opportunity is to “to new proactive preventers.” 

C: Market impact: Third, the marketing strategy should achieve a specific desired market impact with a stakeholder you will attempt to move, whether it is consumers, sales channels, competitors, or influencers. In this example, the desired impact is “To move consumers from consideration to trial.” 

D: Performance result: Finally, the marketing strategy statement must drive a specific performance result linked to the market impact, either making the brand more powerful or more profitable. In this example, “Steal competitive users.”

This unique strategic model will force you to pick answers to build a strategy statement with marching orders for those who follow your plan. And, as you build your brand plan, I recommend you use these four elements of smart marketing strategy statements to ensure you structure the thinking. 

How to lay out each marketing strategy in our marketing plan slide

Your effort in writing these clunky statements will not go to waste. Once you have decided on your top three strategies, you can lay out a specific slide to explain each strategy within your presentation. 

  • Include the clunky strategic objective statement (told you it would not go to waste). 
  • The goals measure the ideal result of this strategy.
  • Then, list three tactical programs, where you will invest your resources. 
  • I also insert a “watch out statement” to show I am proactively addressing any issue I feel could derail my presentation.

Click to zoom in and see the brand plan example

The best brand strategy slide

The most essential slides in any brand plan are the strategy pages, with one page for each strategy. The good news is that you have completed the most challenging part by finding the strategic objective statement, which moves to the second line. We write a shorter, simpler version of the strategy as the headline. 

For each strategy, hold a brainstorming session to get the best tactical program ideas. Then narrow down to a maximum of three tactics per strategy to ensure the focus of your limited resources, especially money and time. That gives you enough money to make sure each tactic will break through and that we have enough time to put our heart and soul into perfecting the execution. There is nothing worse than a plan of 75 random tactics because each execution then becomes a chore you complete instead of a passion you love.  

Setting goals

Then, you need to set the goals, which should measure the desired result of this strategy. There are four ways to set goals for your brand plan: 1) Ideal strategic outcome: Market impact (awareness, trial, repeat, loyalty, the share of requirements) or performance result (sales, share, costs, pricing, profit) stated in your strategic objective statement; 2) Tactical execution measures: Advertising results (attention, brand link, communication, stickiness), innovation freshness index (percent of portfolio launched during the time period), in-store performance indicators (display, pricing, share of shelf, distribution coverage); 3) Major milestones: major project completion dates, reaching a key performance level in terms of market share position, sales level, or profit level; 4) Brand reputation: net promoter score, online review scores, consumer playback of the desired brand positioning, reputation among influencers or social media followers.

Don’t forget the watch out

As a control freak, I hate losing control over the room, which usually happens when the most obvious question is asked and then five people feel the need to add their two cents. To avoid losing control, I created a “watch out” to address all possible questions or concerns I will get on that strategy and then proactively address on the slide. Listing the watch out demonstrates that you have proactively thought of any major concern and it assures the room that you will continue to manage that specific watch out.  

Execution Plans

For each execution investment, write a separate execution plan as an organizing tool to ensure everyone has specific marching orders on the particular strategy related to their function, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Every strategic investment you make deserves an execution plan. Most plans should have specific execution plans for marketing communication, innovation, and sales. 

Depending on your brand’s specific needs, you may have execution plans for sampling, influencer,  e-commerce, medical, consumer experience, competitive, or sales.

Your execution plans should combine the work you do with strategic thinking and brand positioning. 

Start each execution plan with your strategic objective statement from one of your strategies. Then, for the next four sections, go back to your brand positioning work to lay out the target, brand idea, main benefit and support points. For the final two sections, make it specific to the type of execution. For marketing communications, use the desired response that kicks off the creative brief, and the media options where you will invest. For innovation, decide what the internal beacon is to inspire the team, and the project status related to new products, formats or claims. For a sales plan, include any differences between shoppers and consumers (users), specific retail programs and execution tactics.

One flaw I see is that brand leaders keep using different words to say the same thing. Keep repeating the exact words and phrases to ensure the consistency of execution. Never get bored with your words. Repeat them.

Click to zoom in on our brand plan examples

Brand Communications Plan

The brand communications plan answers seven questions. These questions steer and inspire the creation of the brand story work, so the brand communications work will establish your brand positioning, and motivate consumers to see, think, feel, do, or influence. We have it set up in our marketing plan template to answer the following questions: 

  1. First, what do we need our advertising to do? (Brand strategic objective statement)
  2. Second, who is in our desired consumer target? (Most motivated people to buy what we do)
  3. Third, what are we selling? (Our main consumer benefit we stand behind) 
  4. Why should they believe us? (Support points to back up the main benefit) 
  5. Next, what is our organizing brand idea? (Brand soul, essence or DNA for the brand)
  6. Then, what do we want people to see, think, feel, do, or influence? (Desired consumer response)
  7. Finally, where will our consumer be most receptive to see and act upon our message? (Media plan)

With our marketing plan examples, below is our Brand Communications Plan for Gray's Cookies.

Click on the image to zoom in our Brand Plan example

Innovation Plan

Use your brand idea to guide the product development team to manage innovation ideas at the exploratory stage, (beyond five years), pipeline ideas (two to five years) and go-to-market launch plans (within the next two years). Use the marketing plan template to influence, manage, and even direct your product development team to ensure they focus on the brand strategy. As part of our marketing plan examples, below is our Innovation Plan for Gray’s Cookies. 

Click on the image to zoom in our Brand Plan example

Sales and Retail Plan

Brand leaders should work side-by-side with the sales team to manage the consumer through the purchase moment. The brand plan should guide the sales team on specific strategy and goals. Given that your sales team owns the selling execution, you must gain the sales team’s alignment and buy-in on the best ways to execute your brand’s strategy through direct selling, retailer management, and e-commerce options. The programs include pricing, distribution focus, shelf management, promotional spending, customer marketing, customer analytics, and specific promotional tools.

Use a “triple win” to find the ideal retail programs, which match up with wins for your channel customer, your shared consumer, and your brand. Marketers must understand that sales leaders work through relationships, and need to balance the strategies of their customer with the desired strategies of your brand. Your channel customers are trying to win in their market, satisfying a base of their consumers through your brands, while battling competitors who you may also be going through that customer. Your most successful programs will provide a win for your channel customer, as you will get much more support for your program. 

As part of our marketing plan examples, below is our Selling and Retail Plan for Gray’s Cookies. 

Click on the image to zoom in our Brand Plan example

Marketing Plan template: The execution slides

We provide marketing plan examples of execution slides you can use in your marketing plan. We have PowerPoint slides you can use for advertising, social media and search, event sampling, new product launch, new product pipeline, competitive defense plan, merchandising and in-store sampling, customer marketing, promotions.

Click to zoom in for details of our brand plan examples

Brand Communications execution plans

  • Advertising Plan: Looks at the creative advertising plan, creative idea, and a media plan that lays out the specific media choices and a media calendar.  
  • Social Media and Search Plan: The role of social media and specific media choices. The role of paid and organic search to drive to the website. 
  • Events sampling and sponsorship: Link sampling to point of usage, sponsorship to support brand positioning.
  • Creative Brief: Details to help drive the creative message, including strategy, target market, consumer insights, main message, support points, and desired response for consumers.

Innovation execution plans

  • New Products Pipeline: Five-year map of innovation ideas categorized based on product extensions, product improvements, new formats, brand stretching, game-changing, or blue ocean.
  • New Product Launch Plan: Go-to-market plan for the launches coming to market in the next year.

Sales and Retailing execution plans

  • Customer Marketing programs: Key account focus with specific insights, issues, and customer scorecards.
  • Merchandising and In-store Sampling program: In-store focuses on overall distribution points, shelf placement, merchandising, and in-store sampling. 
  • Promotions Plan: Tactics related to driving penetration and usage frequency. 

We also provide a slide so you can map out your competitor’s plan. And, we have a slide for a Market Research Plan that includes new product concept testing, advertising and claims testing, in-market tracking, voice of the consumer, and the consistent gathering of consumer insights. 

Click on the image to zoom in our Brand Plan example

Writing the plan with the power of threes

I believe in “the power of threes.” As I said earlier, your brand plan should help you make decisions on where to focus and allocate your limited resources. As a guideline, for an annual plan, I recommend you focus on the top three strategies, then focus on the top three tactics for each strategy. 


That means nine significant projects for your brand to focus your limited resources against during the year. Compare the subtle difference with what happens when you try to do five strategies with five tactics: the plan quickly explodes into 25 projects, and seven by seven leads to 49 projects. That would cripple your brand’s limited resources. What if you never get to the forty-ninth project, but it was the most important project? With fewer projects, you will be able to execute everything with full passion and brilliance.

I see too many marketers with a long list of things they need to do. They are so busy; they have no time to think about what matters to their brand. They have very little passion for any one particular project; they are trying to get everything done. This thinking is not the ideal behavior a brand needs to become a beloved brand.

Avoid misfits within your plan

When you write a plan, think of it like conducting an orchestra. There are a lot of moving parts and, if you do not stay organized, the plan may begin to look like many scattered thoughts. When your plan is disjointed or looks like a collection of disconnected ideas, it will confuse and meet resistance, which are counter-productive to the reason why you create a plan. A smart brand plan should have a consistent flow in the writing as you move from the vision through to execution. Like an orchestra playing in perfect harmony, everyone is playing the same song. 

When you write something that does not fit, it tends to stand out like, “a tuba player playing their own song.” When I managed a marketing team, I came up with this analogy and started to call plan misfits “tubas.” 

From my experience, senior leaders are skilled at finding “tubas,” which can derail your presentation, as the debate becomes more about why the “tuba” is there and less about the bigger aspects of your plan. Go “tuba hunting” by reading through your brand plan and eliminating the “tubas” before your management finds them.

The worst “tubas” are those elements of the plan that seems to ‘die a quick death’ in the document or they ‘come from out of nowhere’ with no analytical setup. 

The two worst types of “tubas”

  • A reasonable idea is presented early on and dies a quick death never to be seen again in the plan.

If, early on in your plan, you say part of your brand vision or purpose is “to be the disruptive leader in innovation,” then why is there no innovation strategy, innovation process or new products for the next four years? Sure, your vision sounds catchy. However, it appears to be a misfit “tuba” with very little to do with the rest of your plan.

  • A creative tactical idea presented late in the plan seems to come out of nowhere.

If the focus of your plan for a new product launch is to drive early trial, then why is there a significant investment in your tactical execution plan to create a VIP club for high-frequency users? If there is no analytical set-up of an opportunity or strategic set-up, then a tactic that comes out of nowhere late in the plan is a “tuba.” It risks causing conflict or confusion. 

You can get our Marketing Plan PowerPoint template

The best brand leaders need to use the marketing plan presentation to convince senior management to buy into your issues and strategies you lay out and then garner the organization’s necessary support to cascade the activities to key leaders in sales, marketing, product development, HR, and customer service. Most importantly, you ask for an investment of resources, including financial, people, time, and the partners at the table. All the great thinking that goes into the plan shows the art to the layout that makes sense.   

If you are running a consumer-driven brand or a consultant helping your clients, our Marketing Plan template includes ideal slides for vision, purpose, analysis, key issues, strategies, brand positioning statement, and execution plans. And, we provide great templates for many types of execution. 

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I have sat through meandering 80-slide presentations, filled with “show and tell” of every display and posters. The presentation becomes a complete mess. I prefer you use your creativity on the ideas that drive brand growth, not on super-cool slides. The most important slides to get approval on include the vision, key issues, and strategies. The execution plans should include communications, innovation, and sales plans for those specific executives. Our marketing plan presentation template is available for purchase. Our template includes brand plan examples.

A look at some of our execution slides within our Marketing Plan template

Click on any of the slides to view the examples of our Marketing Plan template slides

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Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders

As the founder of Beloved Brands, Graham has been a brand advisor to Slack, the NFL Players Association, National Geographic, Pfizer, Honda, The Mayo Clinic, Hershey’s, and Miller beer. 

Over the past 10 years, Graham has advised many leaders on how to define their brand and map out the best possible future. He has trained some of the world’s best marketing teams on strategic thinking, brand positioning, marketing plans, decision-making, and marketing analytics. 

Throughout his marketing career, Graham led some of the world’s most beloved brands at Coke, General Mills, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, rising up to VP Marketing. He has been recognized for his contributions in marketing by winning Marketing Magazine’s Marketer of the Year award, and four Effie advertising awards.In 2020, Graham was ranked one of the top ten CMOs by The Silicon Review.

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The 5-year brand strategic roadmap

 

Every brand should have a five-year plan to lay out the big picture elements, including brand vision, purpose, and values. It then layers in the brand idea to guide everyone on how to deliver a consistent brand across the five consumer touchpoints. The key issues lay out which obstacles lie in the way of achieving your vision and the strategies then answer those key issue questions. Keep tactics within the long-range plan as broad guideposts rather than specific programs with detailed execution.

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Contact Information

Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

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