Learning how to write a marketing plan can help you grow your business much faster than you would without it. It might sound tedious, but it helps you better understand how you can serve your customers.
There’s no definitive template for a marketing plan, but you need several key ingredients if you want it to inform your marketing strategy. We’ll explore those 10 essential ingredients as well as delve into the reasons you need to learn how to write a marketing plan.
What Is a Marketing Plan?
Think of a marketing plan as a roadmap that takes you through the process of designing, implementing, and benefiting from a marketing strategy. Just like a business plan, a marketing plan contains several sections devoted to specific needs of your business.
Over the last two decades, marketing has become increasingly complex. Consequently, marketing plans become more complicated because you’re forced to address more potential avenues of reaching customers.
Ideally, your marketing plan should answer several questions:
- What does your business offer its customers?
- Who is your target audience?
- What would your prospective customers want to buy your product?
- How can you reach potential customers through marketing messages?
- What marketing mediums best serve your business model?
- How can you overcome obstacles related to marketing your business?
- What are your short- and long-term marketing goals?
- How will you track your marketing strategy’s success?
Use these questions to help you write a marketing plan that will not only nail down your marketing strategy’s structure, but also help you achieve specific, measurable goals.
After you’ve written your marketing plan, you can revise it as often as necessary as you discover new challenges, try new mediums, and get feedback from your customers. Like a business plan, a marketing plan shouldn’t remain static. It evolves with your business.
Why Is it Important?
As mentioned above, marketing is a complex subject. It can involve numerous ways in which you might reach prospective customers, and failing to develop a concrete strategy can lead to mixed — if not negative — results.
Imagine, for example, that you pick a social media platform out of a hat. It’s Facebook. You’ve heard that Facebook is a great platform for reaching customers in your demographic, so you set up a Facebook Business Page and start accruing followers. But none of those followers becomes a customer.
Why? You won’t know if you haven’t created a marketing plan. You can’t revisit your original strategy and figure out where you went wrong. Furthermore, you’ll find yourself back at square one: In need of a marketing plan.
It’s also important for your bottom line. You’ll decide how much money you want to funnel into your marketing strategy based on available liquid capital. Over time, you’ll track how much you spend on marketing and how much ROI you generate from those dollars.
Without a marketing plan, you can’t make those decisions based on concrete data.
If you’re serious about building a business by teaching online courses, it’s time to learn how to write a marketing plan and execute it effectively.
1. List Your Goals
Although goals don’t usually appear at the beginning of a marketing plan, they’re a great place to start because they’ll inform every other document you prepare for the plan. After all, if you don’t know your goals, you can’t figure out how to find success as an online entrepreneur.
Goals help you drive your business forward. They light the path toward your ultimate destination, and they help you keep your marketing efforts in check.
For a marketing plan, your goals should relate specifically to marketing. For instance, one of your business goals might be to create disruptive technology, but that’s an operational and philosophical goal — not a marketing goal.
So what types of goals should you include in your marketing plan?
Start with return on investment. Use a revenue-to-cost ratio to set your goal and to track it as you market to your customers. Businesses should shoot for a minimum of a 5:1 revenue-to-cost ratio, which indicates a healthy balance of marketing spend. If you can get as high as 10:1, you’re beating most businesses’ averages.
In terms of ROI, your goal could be to reach an ROI of 5:1. That’s specific and achievable based on cross-industry averages.
Next, consider brand awareness. Social media, email marketing, blogging, and other marketing efforts should make your audience more brand-aware. While it’s difficult to track in terms of numbers, you could create a goal based on a specific social media platform. For example, you could decide that you want to increase your Instagram following by 50 percent in six months.
Again, it’s specific and achievable. Adding a deadline allows you to stay focused on your goals.
You can create plenty of other marketing goals, such as the following:
- Increase market share by X percent.
- Launch three new online courses in 12 months.
- Create an online course that targets a new market.
- Improve social media engagement by X percent.
- Amass an email subscriber list of 10,000 people.
The goals you choose and the metrics you set will depend on your business’s current marketing status and your target market.
Write your goals in a separate document. Under each goal, explain how you plan to achieve it.
For instance, if you want to reach more email subscribers, you could state that you plan to put opt-in forms on every page on your website and to advertise your list on social media. Now you not only have a goal, but also a plan for reaching it. Do this for each goal you set.
2. Do Your Research
While research might not be the most fun part about starting a business, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to best the competition and reach as many customers as possible. Knowing your business as well as those of your competitors will give you an edge.
In terms of marketing, your research should center around your target audience and demographics, buyer personas, competition, and internal obstacles. All of these data points can help guide your marketing strategy.
Plus, once you know how to write a marketing plan, you can use this research to fill out the document with cold, hard facts. It’s better to know what obstacles you’ll face and what opportunities you can exploit than to simply wing it.
Conduct a Competitive Analysis
To succeed in online business, you need to know your competitors as well as you know yourself. What goals are they trying to reach? What percentage of the market share do they command? How do their digital products differ from yours?
Fortunately, the Internet makes competitive analysis much easier than it used to be. There are plenty of free and paid online tools that can help you spy on your competitors and better understand what you’re facing as you attempt to woo customers away from them.
It all starts with one question: If your customers don’t buy from you, who will get their money? These are your competitors.
Start by listing the competitors you find in a column in an Excel document or Google sheet. Populate the rows with these values:
- Mission statement or value proposition
- Years active
- Online properties
You can add any other information you want to collect on your competitors.
Research each of the competitors you listed and fill in the values we described above. Then compare them to your own products. How do they differ? What are your product’s strengths and weaknesses? What about theirs?
During this stage of writing a marketing plan, you can figure out what you offer customers that your competitors do not. You might also identify features that you might want to add to your own digital products to make them more competitive. It’s all about giving your business a fighting chance even when faced with heavy competition.
Ideally, you should start with four or five competitors. However, you can collect data on more competitors if you feel the need.
Prepare a SWOT Analysis
No, you don’t need to attack your competitors with a band of gun-wielding law-enforcement officers. That’s SWAT. A SWOT analysis calls for your to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that relate specifically to your marketing strategy.
These are the areas at which your business excels. They’re your unique selling proposition (USP) and your trump card over the competition.
Strengths could include a large online platform, extensive education credentials, testimonials from people who have benefited from your skills in the past, and the amount of money you can spend on marketing.
You could also include “soft” strengths, such as your ability to quickly adapt to changes, your speed when it comes to bringing new digital products to market, or your communication skills.
It’s never fun to consider your own weaknesses, but everyone has them. Recognizing them in advance can make your marketing plan stronger because you’ll know what you need to work around.
For instance, maybe you don’t have much presence on social media, or perhaps you’re uncomfortable speaking in videos, but you want to create video content for your online course.
Other weaknesses could include a lack of startup capital, limited time to work on marketing and product creation, or the inability to hire a new team member when you need one.
When you’re learning how to write a marketing plan, you’ll quickly realize that opportunities are your greatest asset. Opportunities include chances to spread your brand message and get your product in front of consumers’ eyes.
You might include an increasing demand trend for your digital product, a deficit in available materials related to your online courses, and other opportunities for growth. You’re identifying facts that can set you up for success as you launch or continue to market your digital products.
In the last section of your SWOT analysis, identify any threats that stand in your way — whether internal or external.
For instance, fierce competition could constitute a serious threat to your business’s survival. The same goes for any negative perceptions or taboos concerning your online courses’ subject matter.
Include the SWOT analysis in your marketing plan so you can refer to it often. As new strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats come to light, add them to the list.
Create Your Buyer Persona
Buyer personas are essential for identifying your target market. Instead of trying to get everyone to buy your digital products, you target people who can legitimately benefit from them.
Think of a buyer persona as a character sketch. You can give each buyer a name (such as Frugal Phil or Sales-Friendly Sally) to give them a bit more interest.
Each buyer persona should describe that person’s demographics, pain points, needs, and buyer’s journey. How does this person make buying decisions? What would stop him or her from enrolling in your online course or buying your e-book?
However, you don’t want to pull this data off the top of your head. Research your target audience by polling potential and existing customers, sending out surveys, and studying buying patterns for your online business.
If you have multiple buyer personas, you can market to each segment in a different way. You’ll hit on their specific pain points and present a solution that’s attractive to them.
Don’t try to fit everyone in the world into a buyer persona. Business doesn’t work like that. If you sell fitness courses for stressed parents, teenagers probably won’t want to buy your course. That’s okay. Focus on the people who might want to get access to the information you provide.
Learn Your Customers’ Buying Cycles
We touched on buying cycles a little in the last section, but let’s dive into the topic a little deeper. Buying cycles describe the ways in which buyers move through your sales funnel.
Some people, for instance, spend weeks researching products before they buy. They read online reviews, talk to friends and other connections on social media, check out the competition, and read some of your online content.
Others find your Kajabi website, love what they see, and buy within the next 10 minutes. Clearly, these are two very different buying cycles.
Generally, however, a buying cycle takes place in three stages:
- Awareness: The consumer becomes aware that your product exists. He or she might look at your landing page or check out your social media profiles.
- Consideration: In this stage, the consumer wants to know more. He or she might sign up for your email campaign, email you questions about your online courses, and consume more of your free content.
- Purchase: You’ve nailed the sale! The customer exchanges his or her money for your product and the transaction concludes.
However, there’s also a fourth step: a subsequent purchase. You want your customers to continue returning to the well, so to speak, to buy your other products. That’s why it’s so important to stay in contact with people who have bought from you in the past.
Track consumers’ journeys as they move toward a sale. You can use tracking software to figure out how many touch points consumers make with your brand before they reach the Purchase stage.
3. Describe Your Products
Your marketing plan should carefully describe your products to make them appealing to customers. In other words, it’s kind of like a trial run for when you start to write marketing copy.
What makes your products special? How can you leverage benefits (not features) to attract more customers?
Let’s say that you have created several fitness-related online courses. You’re hoping to attract inexperienced athletes who want to improve their strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Include those details in your product descriptions. Explain what concrete benefits your customers will glean from taking your courses.
You can use case studies for this purpose. For instance, you could highlight a particular previous customer who used your course to prepare for a half marathon.
4. Define KPIs And Measurement Methods
Now let’s talk about your key performance indicators (KPIs) and the ways in which you’ll measure them.
Every marketing strategy needs KPIs, which should reflect the goals you created in the first step of this article. You know what you want to achieve, so translate those goals into measurable metrics.
For example, your goal might be to increase social media followers by 50 percent in six months. That’s a KPI. You’ll measure it by keeping tabs on your total social media followers over the next six months. To keep yourself on track, you’ll promote your content, follow influencers, and improve the quality of the content you post.
Each KPI should have a method of measurement. You can track website traffic, bounce rates, email subscribers, and more.
5. Have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
The USP is one of the most misunderstood marketing concepts. It’s also one of the simplest.
Your USP is “[t]he factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition.”
To put it even more simply, a USP is what makes your product special.
You’ve already conducted an extensive competitor analysis. Go back to that spreadsheet and look for common denominators. What do you offer that your competitors don’t? That’s your USP as long as it’s appealing to the buyer personas you established.
6. Determine a Pricing and Positioning Strategy
You might already know what you charge for your products, but have any of these steps made you rethink your pricing strategy? Perhaps, after your in-depth competitor analysis, you noticed that you’re charging much more or much less than your competition.
You might want to make some adjustments to make your products more competitive.
Then you must create a positioning strategy. This is a statement that describes your business culture, your target audience, your strategy for meeting your prospective customers’ needs, and your differentiating factors from the competition.
If you can nail all four of those requirements, you’ll have an excellent head start in creating a marketing strategy.
7. Create Content for Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey
Now it’s time to create content, but first you need to plan it. In your marketing plan, you should establish an editorial calendar that describes what and where you will post.
Where you’ll post:
- Company blog
- Social media
- Message boards and forums
- Guest blogs
What you’ll post:
- How-to guides
- Long-form educational content
- Photos and videos
Obviously, you’ll want to drill down deeper and figure out exactly what to post on each medium. Plan your content calendar at least four months in advance, including the topic and outline for each piece of content as well as where it will go when you publish it.
Each piece of content should target customers in specific parts of the buying cycle.
In the awareness stage, you’re hoping to establish yourself as an authority and convince prospective customers that you have the information you need. During this stage, your content should serve to educate and inform — not sell. You want to sound like a trusted friend who has your target audience’s best interests at heart.
How-to guides and listicles are excellent fodder for blog content at this stage. If you’re sending emails, customers in the awareness stage should receive messages about educational information and light sales pitches.
Now that customers are starting to consider your product, you’ll want to up the ante in terms of sales pitches. Focus your emails to these customers on outlining the specific benefits these people can reap from your online courses.
If you’re publishing long-form content, you might include excerpts from your course materials, videos that highlight your presentation style, or slide decks that whet the consumer’s appetite for more information. Always include strong CTAs to compel readers or viewers to take action.
Always send thank-you emails when someone purchases one of your digital products. The content you push to them should underscore the information they’re learning from your online course. Supplementary materials and bonus content are ideal for this purpose.
We talked about the fourth stage earlier. It’s easier to retain than to acquire customers, so keep that line of communication open. Let your customers know about upcoming product releases so they can keep coming back for more.
As mentioned above, create your editorial calendar so that you target different stages of the buying cycle equally. For email marketing, consider segmenting your list so your audience receives targeted emails that appreciate the customer’s position in the buying cycle.
8. Create a Distribution Plan
Your marketing plan should also include the ways in which you’ll distribute your marketing messages. You have several options, but they might not all fit with your business plan and structure.
- Email: Build an email list of qualified leads who might be interested in your online courses. Send them content that educates, informs, and entertains them, but include persuasive CTAs and links to your sales pages.
- Social media: You can use social media to publish original and curated content as well as announcements and marketing messages about your digital products. Social media platforms that might work well for you include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.
- Blogging: Creating your own blog on Kajabi can help you reach people with your marketing message. Most blog posts should offer educational content, but again, you can end with a clear CTA that encourages readers to buy your digital products.
- Paid ads: You can also take out paid advertisements, such as on social media or search engines, to drive sales. However, you have to make sure that such advertisements fit with your budget. Consider a retargeting campaign if you’re tight on funds. This type of campaign will show your ads to people who are already brand-aware
9. Set Your Marketing Budget
Regardless of how big your online business is, you need a marketing budget. This tells you exactly how much cash you can spend on marketing and still remain in the black.
It’s true that many forms of marketing don’t cost anything at all. If you write your own content for blog posts, emails, and social media posts, for example, you’re not spending anything but your time.
However, you can use your marketing budget for paid social, paid search, paid marketing tools, and other services that help you increase your reach.
MailChimp, for instance, serves as an excellent tool for email marketing. There’s a free version as well as a paid version, but when you start collecting thousands of emails, you’ll need to upgrade. The fees for a service like MailChimp will come from your marketing budget.
10. Write an Executive Summary
This is actually the first document in your marketing plan, but you might want to save it to write until last. You now have all the other pieces of the puzzle in place, so you can write a clear, actionable executive summary that takes into account all the research you’ve conducted.
An executive summary is a brief document that’s written in paragraph form. It should nail down several specific facts:
- Descriptions of your products
- Overview of your business’s goals and objectives
- Purpose of marketing
- Marketing methods you want to pursue
- The steps you’ll take to reach your goals
Much of the information included in your executive summary will be condensed versions of information you include in subsequent sections.
Learning how to write a marketing plan will make your business more structured and more relevant to your audience. You’ll learn about your own digital products as well as your competitors’, and you’ll start to consider marketing mediums that you might not have considered before.
Start by outlining your goals. Research your competitors carefully and conduct a SWOT analysis so there aren’t any surprises. Create buyer personas, then establish common buying cycles for each of those personas.
You can then describe your products, KPIs, and measurement tools. Go into as much detail as possible so you have a roadmap for success. Outline your USP, figure out how to position your brand, and make sure your pricing strategy is competitive.
Create content, figure out how to distribute it, nail down a marketing budget, and prepare an executive summary. After that, you’ll have all the information you need to make your business thrive. In no time, you’ll join our other Kajabi Heroes who have managed to find financial success through online courses.
Have you created a marketing plan? If not, do you plan to create one now?
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