Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” That statement can apply to many different things, but it’s especially pertinent when it comes to marketing.
Many people — marketers included — think that having a creative vision is the most important aspect of marketing. The reality, though, is that having a solid plan is absolutely critical to making sure that your marketing efforts are successful.
That’s where a marketing plan comes into play. You should review your plan every year to make sure what you’re planning is the right course of action to help make your company’s business goals a reality. If you don’t have a plan, you have no way of knowing what to budget, where to allocate your time and resources, or what goals you need to achieve for growth.
Here’s how to make sure your marketing plan timeline sets your business up for success.
What is a marketing plan timeline?
Simply put, a marketing plan timeline allows you to chronologically see your marketing plan over time — everything from the target audience and goals to budget and tactics. It helps organize your projects and provides a clear schedule to follow. It’s also a great way to document when milestones were accomplished and highlight any issues that may have arisen during a project, which is useful for planning future projects.
The components of a successful marketing plan will vary depending on your goals, what kind of project you’re undertaking, and the scope of the project. There will also be other factors unique to your situation, but there are some common elements that can help you craft an effective marketing plan timeline.
Assess your current situation
First and foremost, start by evaluating where you currently stand. A good way to do this is with a SWOT analysis. Listing current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats can help you better understand your current situation and what you need to focus on going forward.
Also take into account the current market and how you compare to your competitors, which you can do with a competitor analysis. How do other products compare to yours? Is there a gap in the market that can give you a competitive advantage? What sets you apart from the rest of the pack?
Answering these types of questions can help you figure out what your customers want — and how to best meet their needs.
Define your target audience
Speaking of your customer, the next thing to include in your marketing plan timeline is your target audience. Does your company already have a buyer persona? If so, now is the time to refine your current persona based on the information you have on your current and past customers.
If you don’t already have a buyer persona, creating one is pretty simple, and having one can be especially helpful when you start creating content and messaging for your customers. There are plenty of templates and guides online that can help you create customer personas quickly and easily.
Your buyer persona should include basic attributes like age, gender, and income, but don’t forget about things like your audience’s pain points and needs. How can your product or service solve their problems? What’s their motivation?
Once you have that figured out, it’s time to move on to goals.
Set your goals
If you don’t set goals, it’s nearly impossible to make improvements. Often, setting goals can seem overwhelming — after all, where do you start? Luckily, there’s a simple framework that can help you identify what your goals should be. The “SMART” goals framework stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
Whether the goal is to increase your Instagram following by 10 percent in four months or to double the number of email subscribers, knowing what you’re working toward will make it easier to create a plan and analyze the results.
Schedule a date
Setting deadlines for your campaigns and initiatives, whether it’s something as complex as launching a new product or as simple as writing a blog post, can help keep your marketing efforts on track.
Sometimes, it can be hard to know exactly how long something will take, so start by roughly estimating the amount of time you think it will take to complete each step and set your first deadline accordingly. Then, track the actual time you spent working on each of those steps so you can have more accurate timelines and deadlines moving forward.
Brainstorm and define tactics
Your marketing plan should also specify how you’re going to achieve your goal. Let’s go back to the goal of increasing your Instagram following by 10 percent. Brainstorm tactics that can help you achieve this, such as holding giveaways, posting on social media four times a week, etc. Once you have a clear goal in mind, you can include the tactics and channels where you think you need to focus your time and money.
Set a budget
Always include a budget in your marketing plan timeline to ensure you have the resources to implement your strategy. If one of your tactics is influencer marketing, estimate how much it will cost for each influencer campaign you want to run.
Your budget should also include an estimate of the time each tactic will take so that you can account for the salary and hourly cost of everyone involved with the project — from the marketing manager and graphic designer to the writers and social media manager. In addition, factor in any assets you might need to purchase — stock images, video, etc. — and advertising budgets you’ll need to promote each campaign, such as for paid social ads.
Evaluate the results
Finally, track metrics along the way so you can evaluate the results of your marketing efforts. Identify key performance indicators specific to the project, and then compare revenue with expenses. This information will help you decide if you need to adjust your marketing plan going forward and can provide valuable insight on how to improve future campaigns.
Going forward with your marketing plan timeline
Marketers who plan their projects and campaigns in advance are 356 percent more likely to report success. A marketing plan timeline helps you figure out what you need to do, how you’re going to get there, and how long it will take — keeping your company ahead of the curve.