The Role of the Marketing Plan

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the role of a marketing plan as a guiding document for marketing activities

The Marketing Plan

Effective marketing requires a plan—specifically, a marketing plan. Although customers should be at the center of any marketing plan, marketing activities do not operate in a vacuum. Instead, marketing is one function within a larger organization, and it operates within a competitive market environment. To ensure the effectiveness of marketing activities, the marketing plan must take all of these factors into account. Furthermore, once a plan is in place, it serves to guide all the marketing activities that an organization undertakes.

The marketing plan can take a variety of formats. It’s often a formal document that is broadly reviewed to create alignment and support across the organization. It can also be a presentation that explains each of the objectives and strategies. Sometimes the elements of the marketing plan are presented on a company’s internal Web site (or intranet), allowing all employees to access the information and see updates.

The format is less important than the impact. The marketing plan identifies the marketing objectives and explains how marketing activities will help the organization achieve its broader goals and objectives. The marketing plan describes how the company will use the marketing mix—product, promotion, place, and price—to achieve its marketing objectives effectively within the competitive market environment. The marketing plan also focuses the company’s resources on reaching target customers and driving them to act.

The Market Planning Process: vertical Flowchart with 7 layers. From top, Layer 1 “Corporate Mission” [highlighted in gold] points to Layer 2 “Situational Analysis” [blue], points Layer 3 “Internal Factors: Strengths & Weaknesses” and “External Factors: Opportunities & Threats” [blue], points to Layer 4 “Corporate Strategy: Objectives & Tactics” [blue]. Layers 2-4 are connected with gray lines, as one sub-unit. This points to Layer 5 “Marketing Strategy: Objectives & Tactics” [blue], to Layer 6, a graphic showing “Target Market” as the central piece of the 4 Ps surrounding it: Product, Price, Promotion, Place [all blue]. The final layer is “Implementation & Evaluation” [blue]. Layers 5-7 are connected with gray lines, as a second sub-unit.

Marketing Plan Alignment with Company Goals

Photo of two scientists; one is looking through a microscope.

The executive leadership of a company is charged with creating the framework that aligns and focuses the work of employees: the company’s mission, objectives, and strategy. The company’s mission describes its purpose and explains why it exists. The executive leadership defines corporate goals and the high-level strategies that marketing activities should support.

Informed by corporate goals and strategies, marketers develop marketing objectives to support the broader company goals. They may cover a variety of areas: company growth, sales, market share, profitability, customer perceptions, market penetration, and so forth. The marketing objectives represent a set of measurable goals, tied to marketing activity, that align with and move the company towards its corporate mission and goals.

For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb is a pharmaceutical company with a mission to discover, develop, and deliver innovative medicines that help patients combat and recover from serious diseases. The company’s business strategy focuses on the manufacturing and distribution of medication, but it’s also engaged in medical research and the discovery of new treatments. Both the mission and strategy inform the marketing plan. The company’s marketing objectives and strategy should reinforce customer perceptions about the company’s biotech innovation and commitment to promising pharmaceutical breakthroughs. 

Marketing Plan Input: Situation Analysis

Beyond the company’s purpose and focus, the marketing plan must take into account a range of internal and external factors that can be very complex. A situation analysis examines both the internal and external factors that might impact the marketing plan.

Internally, the company has both strengths and weaknesses that will influence the plan, such as its products, workforce, market perceptions, and other characteristics that give it advantages or disadvantages in the market. Outside the organization there are a range of opportunities and threats such as competitors, economic forces, government regulations, and other political factors.

The situation analysis helps refine corporate goals and produce a relevant set of marketing objectives. At the corporate level, typical objectives include profitability, cost savings, growth, market share improvement, risk containment, reputation, and so on. These corporate objectives can be translated into specific, measurable marketing objectives. For example, the marketing objective “Introduce three new products” might lead marketers to support corporate goals on profitability, increased market share, and movement into new markets. A corporate goal of “Increase profit margins” might dictate marketing objectives around product innovation, quality of materials, and the price charged.

Translating Marketing Objectives into Strategies and Tactics

Once the organization has conducted a situation analysis and identified its marketing objectives, the next step is to figure out what strategies will be most effective and the tactics that will be used to carry them out. You will learn more about the differences between strategy and tactics later on; for now, think of the strategy as the “big idea,” or approach, and tactics as “the details”—the specific actions that will be taken to make the big idea a reality and help the organization reach its goals. For example, if you’re a chess player, your strategy might be to “keep your opponent on the defensive,” and one of your tactics might be to “take the opponent’s queen as early in the game as possible.” Your goal, or objective, is to win the game.

Obviously, a marketing plan needs to include actual plans, and that’s where strategy and tactics come in. Though it’s crucial for a marketing plan to be aligned with an organization’s mission and mindful of its target customers, its competitors, and so on, it’s just as important to have a plan of action that spells out exactly how the organization’s resources will be used to reach its goals. Strategies and tactics are the key components of that action plan.

Marketing Plan Implementation and Evaluation

Once the plan is in place, the organization begins to implement the strategies. Successful marketing strategies require effective implementation. For example, if the organization has a promotional strategy to launch a social media campaign, then significant work is required to hone the message, manage social media tools, and encourage customers to engage. The strategy cannot achieve results if it is not executed well.

How will you know if it has been executed well? Marketing organizations need to identify what constitutes a successful marketing campaign and then measure the results to determine whether it had the desired impact. Did it reach the desired customers? Was it cost-effective? Did it generate the sales expected? Were the metrics for the specific elements of the campaign successful? Marketing metrics might include the number of customers viewing an advertisement, the number of social media “shares” or “likes,” the number of visits to a Web site, the proportion of new customers vs. existing customers, customer spending levels, etc. The right set of marketing metrics depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the marketing campaign.

Marketers should capture and analyze the appropriate metrics to understand the the success of marketing activities—to improve planning and future results.