When building a marketing campaign, creating a solid plan can be the path to success. Naturally, the more time you have to plan, the easier it will be to execute your plan, however, in the world of marketing, time is often not a common commodity.

Planning a marketing campaign is similar to planning a road trip; first decide where you’re going, then decide how you will get there, how much you will invest on the trip, and what stops you will make along the way.

A marketing campaign can be any marketing effort to achieve a goal and the marketing plan should change and evolve as the planning goes on so each step logically leads to reaching the intended goal successfully.

1. Initial Questions

Before building a plan, there are several questions that should be answered to aid in planning:

  • What goal(s) are we looking to achieve?
  • Who is our target?
  • What is the budget (and is it realistic)?
  • What is the time frame?
  • What mediums do we want to use? (i.e. email, mail, TV, social media, newspaper, etc;)
  • What is the message?
  • What are the expectations of this campaign?

You should also consider whether you’ve done something similar in the past and review the results to determine what was done, what worked and what could have been done better. You may also want to determine if a specific theme is to be used to mesh with other marketing campaigns or current events.

2. Work Backwards

Whenever planning a campaign, I like to start by examining the end goal. What do we want to accomplish through this campaign? This provides a focus that can be looked toward any time there are questions on direction while planning. It also helps lay a solid foundation for all marketing efforts.

For example, if you have an excess amount of a particular product that you want to sell, the below questions can help you plan a successful marketing campaign:

  • What is the goal? To sell all 10,000 widgets and still make a profit.
  • Who is the target? Widget buyers who have purchased in the past 5 years, but not the past 6 months.
  • What is the budget? While it’s costing us to store these 10,000 widgets that aren’t selling, but taking up room in our warehouse, we want to earn a profit on them. If our cost is $5 each and we normally sell them for $10 each, we could normally expect to receive $50,000 in profit. If we offer them for 25% off at $7.50 each, we will still bring in $25,000 in profit. If we allow half of that to be our marketing campaign budget, that will allow for $12,500 budget and the same in profit, less any expenses incurred.
  • What is the time frame? If we’re expecting a shipment of new and improved widgets in 8 weeks, let’s set the campaign to end in 6 weeks or less to allow 2 weeks of buffer time. This allows 2 weeks in case the new widgets arrive early or if our campaign is not as successful as planned and we need to try another attempt to get rid of the rest of the widgets.
  • What mediums will be used (and will  they realistically work within the set budget)? If this business is a warehouse that sells nationwide, certain mediums such as newspaper and TV won’t effectively reach the target market. Since we’re focusing on previous customers, email and mail will probably be the most effective marketing methods, followed by salesperson follow-up calls.
  • What is the message? It’s vital to choose a solid message to keep all marketing and sales efforts consistent and you want to keep a message that is appealing to your target. “Stock up and save BIG on widgets” is a lot more appealing than “we have too many widgets so we’re hoping you buy them from us so we don’t have to throw them away.” Also be prepared to answer why: “we have more widgets coming in so we need to make room for them!” Keep the message exciting, logical and limited so your target will want to take advantage of your offer.
  • What are our expectations? Of course we want to sell 100% of the widgets and still turn a profit, so maybe we’re willing to go as low as $6 a widget to sell them.
    • What’s more important: actually selling the widgets or making money? If it’s just going to get more difficult to sell the widgets as time goes on, lowering the price can be an option.
    • Another expectation is the quantity each customer will buy. If our target is 1,000 customers and the average sale is 100 widgets, we know we need a 10% sell rate from this campaign. Is that realistic? If not, this would be a time to change the marketing plan to include a larger target.
  • Does the plan need revision? After answering and reviewing all the above questions, you’ll want to determine if the plan still makes sense or if it needs revision. You may also get partway through the campaign and realize what you’re doing isn’t going according to plans and expectations and need to make revisions at that point as well.

3. Communication

One of the most obvious, in my opinion, but also highly overlooked steps in a marketing campaign is communicating the plan to all those involved. Generally, the marketing team builds a campaign for the sales team, however, the sales team is often left out of communication until the very end, as are other maybe less obvious team members such as accounting and reception.

Don’t assume that anyone has been notified about the campaign unless you tell them, and it’s important for you to control the message they receive to ensure they understand the purpose, goals and expectations of them.

When planning a marketing campaign, it’s important to consider who the targeted market will be contacting. Would they call the main phone line and speak to reception? Would they call accounting to clean up their account before participating in whatever special is being marketed to them?

It should be assumed that not all campaign recipients are going to follow whatever instructions are listed, especially if they’ve built relationships with other team members within the company.

The more informed your team is as a whole, the higher quality customer service they will all be able to provide and the more successful your marketing campaign will be.

Something that has worked well for me is to create a marketing or event overview. This should include the following:

  • Name & dates of the campaign
  • What the purpose and goals of the campaign are (make sure to exclude any information you would not want provided to customers such as profit so employees do not accidentally pass this information along to customers)
  • How it’s being marketed with samples of everything (i.e. screenshots of web banners, copies of emails and mail pieces, etc;) so all employees know exactly what was sent to customers and have a copy for their reference

After the campaign, I also add sections for results, what worked well and what could have been done differently to have made the campaign more successful for reference when planning future campaigns.

4. Analysis & Reflection

One of the most important things to do after a marketing campaign is to take a look at the campaign overall to determine how effective it was and to provide real examples for future planning.

  • Was each step taken as planned?
  • What percentage of the target market was reached? (i.e. opened emails)
  • How many responses/attendees were there?
  • What were the final costs in comparison to the budget?
  • Were the goals reached?
  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well and how could it have been done differently to have been more successful?

While particularly successful campaigns are useful for planning future campaigns, unsuccessful campaigns are an incredible learning tool to show what to avoid in future campaigns to make them more successful. Perhaps the reason for failure has nothing to do with your campaign, but everything to do with bad weather conditions, fierce competition or other circumstances out of your control. But by noting these, you can better plan future campaigns with continued success and learning each time.