5 Steps to Create an Outstanding Marketing Plan [Free Templates]

5 Steps to Create an Outstanding Marketing Plan [Free Templates]

Do you take a good, hard look at your team’s marketing strategy every year?

You should. An annual marketing plan helps you set your marketing on the right course to make your company’s business goals a reality. Think of it as a high-level plan that guides the direction of your team’s campaigns, goals, and growth.

Without one, things can get messy — and it’s nearly impossible to put a number on the budget you’ll need to secure for the projects, hiring, and outsourcing you’ll encounter over the course of a year if you don’t have a plan.

Keep in mind there are variations to the marketing plan you need, depending on your industry and the goals of your marketing team. To make your plan’s creation easier, we’ve put together a list of what to include in your plan and a few different planning templates where you can easily fill in the blanks.

Download Now: Free Marketing Plan Template

To start, let’s dive into how to create a marketing plan and then take a look at what a high-level marketing plan has inside.

In this article, we’re going to discuss: 

1. Conduct a situation analysis.

Before you can get started with your marketing plan, you have to know your current situation.

What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Conduct a basic SWOT analysis is the first step to creating a marketing plan.

Additionally, you should also have an understanding of the current market. How do you compare to your competitors? Doing a competitor analysis should help you with this step.

Think about how other products are better than yours. Plus, consider the gaps in a competitor’s approach. What are they missing? What can you offer that’ll give you a competitive advantage? Think about what sets you apart.

Answering questions like this should help you figure out what your customer wants, which brings us to step number two.

2. Define your target audience.

Once you have a better understanding of the market and your company’s situation, make sure you know who your target audience is.

If your company already has buyer personas, this step might just mean you have to refine your current personas.

If you don’t have a buyer persona, you should create one. To do this, you might have to conduct market research.

Your buyer persona should include demographic information such as age, gender, and income. However, it will also include psychographic information such as pain points and goals. What drives your audience? What problems do they have that your product or service can fix?

Once you have this information written out, it’ll help you define what your goals are, which brings us to step number three.

3. Write SMART goals.

My mother always used to tell me, “You can’t go somewhere unless you have a road map.” Now, for me, someone who’s geographically challenged, that was literal advice.

However, it can also be applied metaphorically to marketing. You can’t improve your ROI unless you know what your goals are.

After you’ve figured out your current situation and know your audience, you can begin to define your SMART goals.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This means that all your goals should be specific and include a time frame for which you want to complete it.

For example, your goal could be to increase your Instagram followers by 15% in three months. Depending on your overall marketing goals, this should be relevant and attainable. Additionally, this goal is specific, measurable, and time-bound.

Before you start any tactic, you should write out your goals. Then, you can begin to analyze which tactics will help you achieve that goal. That brings us to step number four.

4. Analyze your tactics.

At this point, you’ve written down your goals based on your target audience and current situation.

Now, you have to figure out what tactics will help you achieve your goals. Plus, what are the right channels and action items to focus on.

For example, if your goal is to increase your Instagram followers by 15% in three months, your tactics might include hosting a giveaway, responding to every comment, and posting three times on Instagram per week.

Once you know your goals, brainstorming several tactics to achieve those goals should be easy.

However, while you’re writing your tactics, you have to keep your budget in mind, which brings us to step number five.

5. Set your budget.

Before you can begin implementing any of your ideas that you’ve come up with in the steps above, you have to know your budget.

For example, your tactics might include social media advertising. However, if you don’t have the budget for that, then you might not be able to achieve your goals.

While you’re writing out your tactics, be sure to note an estimated budget. You can include the time it’ll take to complete each tactic in addition to the assets you might need to purchase, such as ad space.

Now that you know how to create your marketing plan, let’s dive into the elements that a high-level marketing plan should include.

Marketing Plan Outline

Marketing plans can get quite granular to reflect the industry you’re in, whether you’re selling to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B), and how big your digital presence is. Nonetheless, here are the elements every effective marketing plan includes:

1. Business Summary

In a marketing plan, your Business Summary is exactly what it sounds like: a summary of the organization. This includes:

  • The company name
  • Where it’s headquartered
  • Its mission statement

2. Business Initiatives

The Business Initiatives element of a marketing plan helps you segment the various goals of your department. Be careful not to include big-picture company initiatives, which you’d normally find in a business plan. This section of your marketing plan should outline the projects that are specific to marketing. You’ll also describe the goals of those projects and how those goals will be measured.

3. Customer Analysis

Here’s where you’ll conduct some basic market research. If your company has already done a thorough market research study, this section of your marketing plan might be easier to put together.

Ultimately, this element of your marketing plan will help you describe the industry you’re selling to and your buyer persona. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional description of your ideal customer, focusing on traits like:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Title
  • Goals
  • Personal challenges
  • Pains
  • Triggering events

4. Competitor Analysis

Your buyer persona has choices when it comes to solving their problems, choices in both the types of solutions they consider and the providers that can administer those solutions. In your market research, you should consider your competition, what they do well, and where the gaps are that you can potentially fill. This can include:

  • Positioning
  • Market share
  • Offerings
  • Pricing

5. SWOT Analysis

Your marketing plan’s Business Summary also includes a SWOT analysis, which stands for the business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Be patient with your business’s SWOT analysis; you’ll write most of it based on your market research from the sections above and your strategy below.

6. Market Strategy

Your Market Strategy uses the information included in the above sections to describe how your company should approach the market. What will your business offer your buyer personas that your competitors aren’t already offering them?

In a full-length marketing plan, this section can contain the “seven Ps of marketing”:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion
  • People
  • Process
  • Physical Evidence

(You’ll learn more about these seven sub-components inside our free marketing plan template, which you can download below.)

7. Budget

Don’t mistake the Budget element of your marketing plan with your product’s price or other company financials. Your budget describes how much money the business has allotted the marketing team to pursue the initiatives and goals outlined in the elements above.

Depending on how many individual expenses you have, you should consider itemizing this budget by what specifically you’ll spend your budget on. Example marketing expenses include:

  • Outsourcing costs to a marketing agency and/or other providers
  • Marketing software
  • Paid promotions
  • Events (those you’ll host and/or attend)

8. Marketing Channels

Lastly, your marketing plan will include a list of your marketing channels. While your company might promote the product itself using certain ad space, your marketing channels are where you’ll publish the content that educates your buyers, generates leads, and spreads awareness of your brand.

If you publish (or intend to publish) on social media, this is the place to talk about it. Use the Marketing Channels section of your marketing plan to lay out which social networks you want to launch a business page on, what you’ll use this social network for, and how you’ll measure your success on this network. Part of this section’s purpose is to prove to your superiors, both inside and outside the marketing department, that these channels will serve to grow the business.

Businesses with extensive social media presences might even consider elaborating on their social strategy in a separate social media plan template.

9. Financial Projections

Knowing the budget and doing analysis on the marketing channels you want to invest in, you should be able to come up with a plan for how much budget to invest in which tactics based on expected ROI. From there, you’ll be able to come up with financial projections for the year. These won’t be 100% accurate but can help with executive planning.

Free Marketing Plan Template [Word]

Now that you know what to include in your marketing plan, it’s time to grab your marketing plan template and see how best to organize the six elements explained above. The following marketing plan template opens directly in Microsoft Word, so you can edit each section as you see fit:

Cover page of free marketing plan template

Download your marketing plan template here.

Social Media Marketing Plan Templates

As marketing departments grow, so will their presence on social media. And as as their social media presence grows, so will their need to measure, plan, and re-plan what types of content they want to publish across each network.

If you’re looking for a way to deepen your social media marketing strategy — even further than the marketing plan template above — the following collection of social media marketing plan templates is perfect for you:

Download 10 social media reporting templates here.

In the above collection of marketing plan templates, you’ll get to fill in the following contents (and more) to suit your company:

  • Annual social media budget tracking
  • Weekly social media themes
  • Required social media image dimension key
  • Pie chart on social media traffic sorted by platform
  • Social media post calendar and publish time

Below, let’s review the social media reporting templates, and what you’ll find in each one.

1. Social Media Questions

Social media publishing analysis and questions.

This template lists out questions to help you decide which social media management platform you should use.

Once you know what social media tactics you’re going to implement in your marketing plan, it’s time to figure out what channels are right for you. This template will help you do that.

2. Hashtag Holidays

Social media hashtag holidays.

If you’re going to lean in to social media in your marketing plan, you can use hashtag holidays to generate ideas.

These holidays are a great way to fill out your social media publishing schedule. With this template, you’ll get a list of all the hashtag holidays for the year.

3. Facebook Live Schedule

Facebook live schedule template.

If Facebook live is one of the marketing tactics in your plan, this template will help you design an editorial calendar. With this template, you can organize what Facebook live’s you want to do and when.

4. Instagram Post Log

Instagram post log for social media publishing management.

Are you going to begin using Instagram regularly? Do you want to increase your following? With this template, you can organize your Instagram posts, so everyone on your team knows what posts are going live and when.

Additionally, you can organize your assets and campaigns on this doc.

5. Paid Social Media Template

paid social media template for annual budgeting

With this template, you can organize your annual and monthly budget for your paid social media calendar.

6. Social Media Audit

Social media audit template.

Conducting a social media audit? You can use this template to help you gather the right analytics.

7. Social Media Editorial Calendar

Social media editorial calendar template.

With this template, you can organize your social media editorial calendar. For example, you can include social media posts for each platform, so your team knows what’s going live on any given day.

8. Social Media Image Sizes

Social media image size template.

With this template, your team can have the latest social media image sizes handy. This template includes image sizes for all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

9. Social Media Marketing Proposal

Social media marketing proposal template.

With this template, you can create an entire social media marketing proposal. This will outline the social media goals, scope of the work, and the tactics that you plan to implement.

10. Social Media Reporting Template

Social media report template.

With this template, you’ll gain access to a slidedeck that includes templates for social media reporting. If you plan to implement social media in your marketing plan, these reporting templates can help you track your progress.

Simple Marketing Plan Template

Of course, this type of planning takes a lot of time and effort. So if you’re strapped for time before the holidays, give our new Marketing Plan Generator a try. This tool simplifies yearly planning and lays your strategies, initiatives, and goals out in a simple template so you can identify what’s most important for the coming year.

Try our free Marketing Plan Generator here.

Once you’ve filled in your information, you’ll come away with a plan that helps you:

  • Outline your annual marketing strategy
  • Identify your most important annual initiatives
  • Nix the projects that won’t help you hit your goals
  • Track the right metrics throughout the year
  • Align your team through a common mission

Pro Tip: The best way to set up your marketing plan for the year is to start with quick wins first, that way you can ramp up fast and set yourself (and your team) up to hit more challenging goals and take on more sophisticated projects by Q4. So, what do you say? Are you ready to give it a spin?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Marketing Plan Template

11 Social Media Calendars, Tools, & Templates to Plan Your Content

11 Social Media Calendars, Tools, & Templates to Plan Your Content

What do cross-country road trips, wedding speeches, and social media marketing have in common? Planning.

You could improvise all three, but it’s better to have a plan for what direction you’re heading — especially when developing your social media content strategy.

By now, most marketers recognize that social media plays an integral role in an effective inbound marketing strategy. And with so many social networks to manage and publish on, it’s important to stay organized and have a plan for when and what you’re going to share on these platforms.→ Free Download: Social Media Calendar Template [Access Now]

The Benefits of Using a Social Media Content Calendar

We’re all busy. And when we’re busy without a plan in place for the tasks we have to get done, things inevitably slip through the cracks. Social media content is no exception.

Just like with blogging, a successful social media strategy requires regular publishing and engaging with followers to see positive results — whether that be in terms of SEO, brand recognition, lead generation, or all three.

So, if you’re not already using a social media content calendar, hear me out:

  1. Calendars help you get organized to avoid the dreaded scramble when things come up. With a social media calendar, marketers can plan out posts for entire weeks or months in advance, which frees up working hours to strategize for the future — and to dash off any posts about breaking news in your industry. Otherwise, you’ll spend valuable time each day searching the internet for that day’s content to share, which is a known productivity killer.
  2. A calendar helps you plan for each social network to customize posts instead of spamming all platforms with the same message. Social media marketers should take the time to craft custom messages for each network, and doing this in advance will save time throughout the week and ensure you’re being thoughtful and intentional when you do post.
  3. Calendars can help you track performance and plan for future posts. Without a calendar, social media marketers are publishing content into the void and are unable to track big-picture and past performance. With a calendar, marketers can look back and analyze which content performed best so they can adjust their strategy accordingly.
  4. With the help of a calendar, marketers can plan for holidays and observance days, such as National Cat Day, when they can tailor their content and engage with a wider audience.

Now that you understand the merits of having a social media content calendar in place, check out our list of top tools to stay organized and on top of your game.

Social Media Content Calendar Tools to Plan Your Messaging

1. HubSpot’s Downloadable Template for Excel

Content Calendar

Social media calendar ideas organized on an Excel spreadsheet

Marketers might already use Excel for different types of reports and data analysis in their roles, but it’s a highly useful tool for social media content calendar organization, too. Excel can be customized according to whatever priorities or metrics a team is focused on, so it’s a great tool for planning ahead.

The good news? We’ve already done the heavy lifting for you by creating a free, downloadable social media content calendar template using Microsoft Excel. Marketers can use this template to easily plan out individual social media posts — monthly or annually — while keeping an eye on bigger picture events, holidays, publications, and partnerships.

  • Use the Monthly Planning Calendar Tab above to get a bird’s-eye view of what’s coming down their content pipeline in a given month.
  • In the Content Repository tab, users can record the content they’re publishing on this tab to keep track of which pieces have been promoted and to easily recall older content that can be re-promoted on social media.
  • On the Social Network Update tabs, users can draft and plan out social media posts in advance. These tabs are for organizational purposes, and the content of the posts themselves must be uploaded into a social media publisher.

For more on how to use the templates, check out this in-depth guide from my colleague Lindsay Kolowich.

This free resource can be used to draft social media posts, or it can be bulk-uploaded into a publishing app to maximize efficiency. (HubSpot customers: You can use this spreadsheet to organize content and upload it directly into Social Inbox. For instructions on how to do so, check out the template’s cover sheet here.)

2. Google Drive

Content Calendar and Asset Organization

Google Drive has several helpful features that make it easy for social media marketers to build out an effective content calendar.

Here’s an example of how a team might use Google Calendar to track both their editorial and social media calendars to make sure they’re aligning posts with new blog content. These calendars can be easily shared with multiple teams to avoid scheduling conflicts and ensure that campaigns are aligned.

Social media calendar organized on Google Calendar

Marketers can also use shared Google Sheets to schedule posts on social media, track the status of different pieces of content, and assign tasks to team members — all on the same platform as their calendar.

Social media calendar ideas listed on Google Sheets

With the help of Google Docs, users can keep comments all in one place and can collaborate on different projects without emailing back-and-forth or having to schedule a meeting. This is a particularly useful feature when editing content for social media, which may need to be drafted and approved quickly.

Google Docs document with projects listed and comments on those projects

(HubSpot customers: You can link your Google Drive account to your HubSpot portal to easily upload files from Drive into your HubSpot software.)

3. Loomly

Content Planning, Creation, Publishing, and Calendar

loomly social media calendar feature

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If you want more mileage out of a content calendar than publishing dates, you can turn to an all-in-one content planning and publishing platform such as Loomly.

Loomly offers tools beyond the management of content, going even so far as to provide post inspiration and ideas to help you create content. It also allows you to manage your content assets, schedule posts, manage them in both a list view and a calendar view, and analyze what’s working.

Their most robust feature set, though, includes a collaboration and approval environment so that teams can submit mockups, provide comments, see version logs, and flag for approval. This can help you streamline for efficiency when it may otherwise seem as though there are “too many cooks in the kitchen” on a particular project.

4. Trello

Task Management and Content Calendar

Social media calendar ideas organized on a Trello calendar

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Trello is another organizational tool that’s highly effective for team collaboration. Trello also offers a full calendar view (shown above) which makes it easy to visualize what content is going out, and when. More specifically, social media managers can use Trello’s flexible assignment “cards” and customizable “boards” and “lists” to map out to-do lists, manage a content calendar, plan a campaign, and house ideas from a brainstorm.

But you’re not limited to just one structure: Users can customize boards according to their needs. For example, a team could create a board to organize social media posts for a given week, on a specific platform, or post ideas around a topic, such as a campaign or awareness day.

Trello cards allow for a ton of customization as well. You can track progress toward completing a checklist, which could be useful for social media marketers looking to track campaign progress.

Additionally, Trello cards can be assigned to different team members, marked with due dates, and commented on. Users can even customize labels with different publication statuses so the entire team can see the progress of their social media posts and when they’re due on the calendar. The labels could also indicate different social networks that content is being published on.

5. SproutSocial

Social Publishing and Content Calendar

social publishing and content calendar using sprout social

Sprout Social’s social media calendar and publishing tool makes it easy for teams or individuals to plan and schedule all of their social posts. You can schedule content to automatically post to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and more.

You can also tag each social post and add notes to better track and report on your posting strategy and campaigns. Additionally, their publishing suite includes a tool called Optimal Send Times which analyzes your social media data and automatically publishes at a time your audience is most engaged.

6. Evernote

Content Calendar, Task Management, and Asset Organization

Social media content calendar on Evernote

Evernote is a note-taking app that marketers can use to keep track of all the moving parts that comprise a social media campaign.

The tool also features yearly, monthly, weekly, and hourly logs, which make it easy to keep track of when you’re publishing content on social media, when you’re producing blog content, and other team-wide priorities. (Evernote offers customizable templates for each of these that can be downloaded into the app.)

Another useful feature? Evernote’s Web Clipper extension for Chrome. Marketers can use this tool to easily save links to their Evernote Notebook for sharing later on.

The Evernote mobile app also boasts some interesting features to help marketers keep their social content ideas straight. For example, you can easily snap a photo and save it to your Evernote files for review later.

This feature is of particular valuable for social content creators looking to maintain a backlog of photos to publish on Instagram.

7. Hootsuite

Social Publishing and Content Calendar

hootsuite social publishing calendar features

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Hootsuite offers a built-in Planner tool to help you create campaigns, identify publishing gaps, and collaborate with your content creation team. Its primary features are in social publishing so that you can release content to your networks in advance, but it also has rich features for collaboration and post approvals. You can even curate content from other sources without logging into your account. Once your content is created, you can preview it with the Composer tool, which displays according to each social network’s unique format.

8. Agorapulse

Social Publishing and Content Calendar

agorapulse social publishing calendar feature

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Similar to Hootsuite, Agorapulse offers social publishing tools and a content calendar so that you can manage your social media accounts with ease. This includes scheduling (or rescheduling), queuing, and bulk uploading posts, which is incredibly helpful for those who do quarterly or monthly content plans. What makes Agorapulse different, though, is its social inbox that allows you to manage all the interactions from various platforms in a single place. After all, content isn’t just a one-and-done activity; it’s about building awareness and engagement with your readers as well.

9. StoryChief

Content Planning and Distribution

storychief smart calendar feature

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If you want more from your content calendar than simply knowing when posts go live, StoryChief is a good option. With StoryChief’s smart calendar, you can better strategize and plan your content strategy across channels. It not only displays your timetable; it also allows you to assign collaborators to tasks and filter by campaign. StoryChief self-describes their tool as a “content distribution platform” that unifies analytics and publishing across multiple channels for a more simplified approach to content creation. Best of all, it syncs with your favorite calendar apps as well as HubSpot.

10. ClearVoice

Content Creation and Management

clearvoice editorial calendar

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So what about content planning and creation? ClearVoice offers content creation tools to fit into your workflow. While their big claim to fame is their Talent Network Search which allows you to find and connect to content creators to work on your projects, ClearVoice also has features for task management for internal and external collaborators. You can create, edit, and approve projects in an interface that makes editorial management easy. They also have a dashboard and dynamic editorial calendar with plenty of interactive functionality, and there’s integrations with other popular software.

11. Zerys

Content Creation and Management

zerys content calendar feature

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Zerys is another platform that matches you with your ideal content creation freelancers. However, it markets itself as a platform dedicated to content success, offering features for content planning, production, publishing, promotion, conversion, and analytics. You can manage unlimited content projects, plan keywords and titles for blog content, hire writers, and view all deadlines on an integrated calendar. Your in-house writers can use the platform, too, with the project management features that Zerys offers. It also integrates with HubSpot so that publishing is a breeze.

Social Media Templates

HubSpot’s Social Media Calendar Template

If you’re new to setting up social media calendars, HubSpot offers a pre-made, free, and downloadable template that you can use to schedule out full weeks of posts. 

HubSpot's Free Social Media Calendar Template

HubSpot’s Social Media Content Calendar Template for Startups

This template is very similar to the one seen above but also has tabs that work as a repository for content ideas. The template also includes helpful tips for posting on specific social media networks. 

Social media idea repository tab on Social Media Calendar template from HubSpot

If you’re aiming to get all of your ideas down in order to develop a big-picture plan for your social assets, we recommend starting with this template. 

Getting Started on Your Social Media Schedule

Now that we’ve reviewed a few helpful tools to kick your social media strategy into high gear, experiment with them. Every social media team is different, and it could be a combination of these tools that helps you execute your strategy efficiently to drive ROI. 

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

social media content calendar

To Have What It Takes: Essential Skills Every Digital Marketer Needs

To Have What It Takes: Essential Skills Every Digital Marketer Needs

Do you want to become the very best digital marketer?

Being a digital marketer comes with a lot of responsibilities and can be stressful at times. More businesses are starting to rely on online sales and conversions rather than offline.

This means that you play a key role in the success of the business and you must get your tactics right.

So what skills do you need to master in order to get it right each time?

In this article, we’ll break down the most essential skills every top digital marketer needs. By mastering these skills, you’ll have a greater chance of success.

Read on for more information.

Be Able to Produce Engaging Videos

Even though memes and pictures have the potential to go viral, they’re nothing compared to videos. This is why Youtube and Tiktok are so popular, as they retain audiences for long periods.

So being able to produce stunning videos on a regular basis is going to help you. Not only are they fun for customers to watch, but they are more informative than pictures can ever be. Therefore this makes them great to showcase products and services.

You don’t need to be able to create oscar-winning videos, just something that’s well made, and that looks professional. If you’re stuck, take a look at how the most successful companies do it.

Learn and Keep Learning SEO

Ok, so you’re probably familiar with search engine optimization aka SEO, but if not, here’s a quick overview.

SEO is being able to make your website and content search engine friendly. This is so the search engine bots can scroll through the content and figure out what it’s about. It will then rank your website pages on Google based on relevance.

Of course, it’s not easy to get to the top of Google and there’s a lot of ranking factors. These are things such as relevant content, mobile usability, page loading speed, and more.

The thing about SEO is it’s pretty much impossible to master. This is due to frequent algorithm updates by Google and not knowing every ranking factor- there are over 200 of them.

Saying this, there is a lot we do know about them and you must do your research. But, once you understand them and find success, don’t get complacent. SEO is a lifelong learning process and you must keep up with the changes.

Be Able to Read Large Amounts of Data

When you’re a digital marketer you look at a lot of numbers and stats every single day.

This could be stats on how many views your videos have, engagement rate, organic traffic, and more. You need to know what everything means and what to focus on.

Once you’re confident in handling lots of data, it will make your job a lot easier. You’ll be able to spot patterns and what works in no time at all.

Essential Skills Every Digital Marketer Needs

We hope you have enjoyed reading our article and it has been useful to you.

As you can see, successful digital marketers require many skills. However, anyone can learn these skills and become successful in their job.

Why not check out the rest of our blog for more digital marketing tips?