Common Sense Approach to Marketing Plans

  • Failure to plan is a plan to fail.
  • Great marketing plans just don’t appear out of thin air. They are “concepted”, “carefully crafted” and “constructed”.
  • Plans are a necessary means to generating results for your business or your clients.
  • [Add your own trite, BS-laden phrase here…blah]

Despite all the marketing industry jargon about a plan’s importance and its role in the marketing process, the ability to develop a tenable marketing vision is truly invaluable. It is an exercise that I find myself repeating over and over again, whether it be for an annual forecasting project or when creating a simple Facebook page.

roland / flickr CC
My recurring frustration with marketing plans stems from the lack of a clear standard. Some are ginormous, printed manifestos constructed to impress by their sheer size and pass some unknown weight test. Others are mere mind maps sketched out on a Denny’s napkin. Both have potential to be equally effective, and their success is primarily contingent upon the talent of the people who create and implement them. But which is the right way to go? Go ahead and google “marketing plan template” and you are given 1,250,000 results bound to give you a different variation of what is correct.

If there can be no standard due to the specific demands of the project, the individual’s comfort level with the planning process, or the fact that different situations call for varying approaches, perhaps every plan can adopt a few core attributes. Further, these three elements can remain a constant no matter the complexity of the final piece.

To use Plan A and Plan B below as an example, all plans have three common ingredients: Objectives, Strategies & Tactics

(from the meticulous overachiever types)


(from the degage, “let’s just get this done” types)


The difficulty in creating a plan is knowing the key differences between these core elements as they are so often confused. I have seen plans where objectives were called strategies, strategies were called tactics, and tactics were called objectives (e.g. Marketing Goal = Create an SEO campaign).

Here’s a helpful way to understand the difference and how they all work together: Have a Dream, Use Your Head, Use Your Hands.

marketing objectivesObjectives
Have A Dream
What are we trying to accomplish?

Think about the ultimate business goal. List it clearly. Quantify it if possible. Hint: Often times this revolves around either making or saving money.

Example 1: Increase Monthly Revenue to $100K

Example 2: Cut Expenses by 25%

marketing strategiesStrategies
Use Your Head
How can we pull it off?

The approach you will take to solve this problem and accomplish your goal.

Example 1: Generate More Dollars from Existing Customers

Example 2: Migrate Customer Service Operations Online

marketing tacticsTactics
Use Your Hands
What will we do specifically?

The tools and processes that will be enacted to carry out the strategy.

Example 1: Employ Retention Tactics Such as Email Marketing, Mobile and Social Media.

Example 2: Adopt Automated Voicemail, Social Media and Online Chat

You’ll notice that in the examples I provided the tactics fall under the strategies which align with the objective (i.e. use email marketing to speak to existing customers for the purpose of increasing revenue). The marketing plan, if mapped out in graphic form, should resemble a kind of family tree (see below). Strategies should flow from and support the objectives. Tactics must be a reflection of the strategy.

simple marketing plan

You may find yourself planning for a similar tactic under different objective trees. That’s OK. Some tactics can be implemented in different ways depending on goals and targets. If that common tactic is television advertising for instance, you may create one spot to meet one objective whose message is targeted to a very specific audience. Meanwhile another television commercial could stem from another objective, have a different message and be broadcasted on a different network.

The above outlines what works for me. Do you have another process you find helpful and effective?

4 thoughts on “Common Sense Approach to Marketing Plans

  1. hey Chris,

    Sometimes your Plan B is a good model for ideation sessions before even sitting down and mapping out any type of plan. I like the breakdowns. I often find myself in the same dilemma, where clients want to work at different paces and detail level. I’ve got 10 page plans and 60 page plans. I appreciate the fact that you are pointing out the differences in objectives, strategies and tactics. A lot of young marketers jump in at the tactical level because that’s all the experience they’ve had the opportunity to achieve and never learn the differences. Solid post.

  2. Thanks, BJ. I definitely prefer the scaled down approach to planning when working in tandem with clients. It’s much easier to start with a broader outline, get buy-in and then build out the detail (assuming they want all that). Thanks for your note about the differences in objectives/strategies/tactics. I find that to be a very easy way to explain the planning hierarchy to students and marketing novices.

  3. I like your simplification! I teach basic marketing concepts for todays world since so much has now changed from the traditional approach of marketing. I now start every plan with objectives and strategies and then with a visual representation showing the various places we need to be when marketing to our target audience and work my way back to these elements that specifically outline what we need to do to marketing in each of these avenues (tactics). Many people don’t take the time to read and want it short, to the point and visual, so that 60 pager becomes much less effective! Great approach and right to the point! Thank you.

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