You wouldn’t host a dinner party without planning the essentials—like the dinner and the drinks. And you wouldn’t drive from the west coast of the U.S. to the east coast without a plan detailing which roads to follow and how to pay for the gas. And you probably wouldn’t set sail from the coast of Florida into the Bermuda Triangle without a compass, a map, and a really good life insurance policy.
The same theme goes for your ecommerce business (except for maybe the life insurance policy). It’s a good idea to have a plan—notably, a marketing plan—in place to keep your online shop traveling down the path to success.
This post will explore everything your big brain has ever questioned about a marketing plan. We’ll go over what a marketing plan is and why your ecommerce business needs one; we’ll dive into the differences between a marketing plan versus a marketing strategy (yes, there are differences); we’ll lay out the ground rules you need to know to write your own marketing plan; and we’ll wrap up with a few successful marketing plan tips and tricks to help your online store stay on track.
What Is a Marketing Plan?
What does a marketing plan look like?
A marketing plan is a business road map that helps an ecommerce business (or any other type of business) move toward a designated goal. A marketing plan is comprised of marketing strategies, campaigns, and more. The plan is the overarching goal or idea that needs further refining for execution.
Think of a marketing plan as being the blueprint for the ocean-side dreamhouse of your future, or the recipe for that savory winter stew you’re planning to cook over the weekend. Essentially, a marketing plan is a detailed blueprint/recipe/report that a business follows to guide it down the best path toward its goals.
A marketing plan doesn’t need to be a long and tedious document, and it doesn’t have to cost your ecommerce business a lot of money to complete. In truth, sometimes the simplest plans—if done well and implemented the right way—have the greatest impact. But creating an effective marketing plan does require some research, contemplation, and careful consideration in order to serve as an effective tool for your business.
Why should you create a marketing plan?
A marketing plan is essential for your online business for numerous reasons. Here are a few of the top sellers:
Keeps you (and your online business) focused. Your 5 a.m. workout with Jane Fonda, the peculiar orange mold growing in the shower (no seriously, what is that?), the low tire pressure sensor that keeps chiming in your car—with all of the world’s distractions that are constantly competing for your attention, it’s easy to lose sight of your online store’s goals.
A well-written plan helps to keep you grounded and focused on the ins and outs of your intended business goals so that all of life’s little distractions don’t send your online shop off the deep end.
Provides you with measurable goals. It’s hard to gauge how far you’ve come if you don’t know where you started. Measurable goals act as targets your ecommerce store aims to hit. By setting specific goals and timeframes in which to reach those goals, you’re helping to ensure your business is headed down the path toward success.
Allows for pick-your-brain thinking. Sitting down with your thoughts and penciling in the time to formulate a marketing plan allows you to zoom in on the dots you’re looking to connect between what it is you’re selling and who you’re selling to. Thoughtful consideration helps you to outline your strategies, determine what it is you want to accomplish, and decide where you want to go with your business.
Paves the way to better customer relationships. Ecommerce businesses that connect with customers through tailored communication methods cater to exactly what online shoppers crave—a personalized experience with a brand. A solid marketing plan helps to reinforce your brand, nurture your current customers, and heighten the awareness of your ecommerce business to attract new customers. Ultimately, a plan outlines the ways in which you intend to deliver a targeted, top-notch personalized experience for your customers on a 24/7 basis.
Helps get your ducks in a row. You know what’s visually appealing? Watching those little yellow rubber ducks float in a perfect line around the mock-river tub at the local fair. You know what else is visually appealing? Viewing your ecommerce business’ marketing plan in print. Creating a marketing plan for your business helps you understand all of the outside factors that may or may not affect your success. Essentially, it helps you to get your ducks in a row so that you can see the big picture and gain more control over your business.
Steers you clear of dumpster fires. Without a solid marketing plan, your business runs the risk of imploding on itself into a big ol’ dumpster fire before it’s even had the chance to explode into a money-making machine. You won’t know your business’ strengths, weaknesses, customer base, or competitors, and you’ll be left in the dark on all of the other essential data needed to keep your online business healthy. Avoid heaps of flaming trash whenever possible (truly a motto applicable to all of life), and a marketing plan is one way to help you do that.
What should a marketing plan include?
An effective marketing plan should always include an objective (the main goal), who it’s for (the buyer personas), a budget (how much your business plans to spend on the goal), a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), a competitor analysis (what are other companies doing and how you can do it better), strategies to achieve the desired objective, and a way to measure your success. Did ya get all that? Don’t sweat it, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty details on each of these topics later in this blog.
Marketing Strategy Versus Marketing Plan
What is a marketing strategy?
A marketing strategy is the way in which a business will accomplish a particular goal. Particularly, it focuses on the “how” (how will you get your message to the right audience; how will you increase sales?) and it utilizes a business’ available resources to boost sales and gain a competitive advantage. A marketing strategy is considered a long-term approach to planning and has a strong focus on the future.
Remember earlier when we said a marketing plan is like the blueprints for your dream vacation home, or the recipe for your upcoming weekend stew? From this blueprints/recipe perspective, a marketing strategy would be the bricks and lumber that go into building your house, or the carrots and potatoes that go into your stew. A marketing strategy includes the content, campaigns, and channels that will go into ensuring your marketing plan is carried out.
For example, let’s say Bob’s Bobbers—an online business that sells bobbers, lures, spinnerbaits, and all things fishing galore—decides that it wants to tackle (pun intended) a new marketing plan.
The ecommerce store wants to lure in (yes, we’re proud of that one … ) 500 additional customers between the ages of 35-45 years old 8 weeks before Black Friday. The marketing plan is to attract 500 new customers and the marketing strategy includes the ways in which the business will meet the goal (such as by creating a social media campaign that contains X amount of Facebook ads which will cost X amount of dollars, etc.).
How are marketing strategies and plans similar?
Marketing strategies and plans are similar because they both work together to drive a business or company forward, and they both promote a brand. Together, strategies and plans help a business create a forward-looking approach to planning and success. A marketing strategy is the “how” behind the work, whereas the marketing plan is the “what” and “when” behind the work. Both work in unison to effectively create the overarching goals a company strives to reach.
How are marketing strategies and plans different?
While marketing strategies and marketing plans are oftentimes used interchangeably, they are two distinct elements.
A marketing strategy focuses on how your business will achieve a particular goal. It’s the “how” and the “why” behind your marketing efforts and includes what you’ll deliver, who you’ll deliver it to, and how you’ll deliver it. A good marketing strategy takes market research into account and is designed to promote a product or service and make a profit. From campaigns to channels to content, the strategy contains the ways in which a business will move forward toward a designated goal. It’s important to note that marketing strategies are usually long-term approaches to planning.
On the other hand, a marketing plan contains one or more marketing strategies and acts as the guiding roadmap (or, like we said, blueprint or recipe) that a business follows. It’s the “what” you’ll do, where you’ll do it, when you’ll implement it, and how you’ll track your success. The plan provides guidance for the business (and team) for how the marketing strategies will be implemented and put into motion.
To simplify, a marketing strategy is the “how” and “why,” and a marketing plan is the “what” and “when.”
How to Write a Marketing Plan
How do you write a marketing plan sample?
Now that we’ve gone over what a marketing plan is, why your ecommerce business needs one, and the differences between a marketing plan versus a marketing strategy, it’s time to get into the (as promised) nitty-gritty details on how to actually write an effective marketing plan.
Step #1: Name the objective. Step numero uno is to lay out your objective. What is the goal your ecommerce business is aiming to accomplish or achieve? Are you looking to sell 300 pairs of your limited-edition narwhal graphic socks? Are you trying to attract 150 additional viewers for your educational webinar next month? Are you aiming to up your online store’s game in the world of SEO? Listing your objective (or objectives) sets the stage for what’s to come further down the line.
Step #2: Explain who it’s for. Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as an audience persona, marketing persona, or a customer persona) is a fictional person you’re aiming to engage with. Ultimately, they represent your ideal customer and a portion of your audience. Creating a buyer persona helps your business understand its customer’s experiences, needs, and behaviors so that you can connect with them on more personalized levels. Creating buyer personas consists of three steps:
- Do your homework. Audience research is where the buyer persona magic begins. Log into your current ecommerce customer database (bonus points if you’re using Drip ECRM), and collect all of the dirty details on your current customers—channel in on their buying behavior, interests, locations, age, activities, life stage, and whatever other information you can gather.
Be sure to hit up your store’s website analytics and social media analytics—both can provide detailed information on who’s interacting with your store. If you want to take your buyer persona data collection a step further, you can also create form fields on your website or social media sites to collect targeted personal information (we’re not talking creepy info like “hey, what’s your social,” but practical information like, “what do you like about my store’s product?”).
- Segment your specimens. Once you’ve collected your data, group the commonalities. There are lots of different ways to group the data, and areas can include demographics, behaviors (how customers interact with your website, how they interact with your brand), their preferred methods of communication (social media, email), and more.
- Create your personas. Once you have a few different groups, consider each group to be a different persona. Give each persona life—a name, a job title, a house, whatever you’d like!—and start personalizing your content (such as personalized emails) for those different personas. Having a persona helps you get into the mindset of your different customers so that your marketing messaging resonates with each group. For example, instead of one batch-and-blast generic email, write separate emails for your different personas. The email going to middle-aged dads (persona Jim) should be very different than your email going to current college students (persona Britney).
Step #3: Create a budget. Whether you’re running a large, well-established ecommerce store or you’re new to the biz and just launched shop last month, businesses large and small should make budgeting a priority. Putting together a budget for your marketing plan helps you lay out the yeas and nays of what you can afford. It also helps you identify which goals you can afford to tackle first.
Step #4: Conduct a SWOT analysis. While it might sound like you’re calling on a hostage-rescue law enforcement team, SWOT refers to assessing your ecommerce store’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it should help to provide you with an objective view of your business. Consider the following questions about each SWOT topic:
Strengths: What does your company do well? What processes are successful? What advantages do you have over your competition? What resources do you have? What is unique or proprietary about your store? What is your most reliable source of financial growth?
Weaknesses: What is your biggest financial weakness? What areas of your business need improvement? Have any online customer reviews been negative? Are there things that your store needs to be competitive? Remember, these weaknesses should all be factors that are in your control so you can improve on them over the course of your marketing plan.
Opportunities: Is your market or niche growing? Are there areas where you can expand? Are you able to do something or offer something your competitors can’t? Identify where your store stands out in the industry, and run with the possibilities.
Threats: Is consumer behavior changing (away from your product)? Are there any market trends that could impact your business? Is changing technology a threat to your business, e.g., AI, drone shipping, digital payments? Remember, threats are external factors that are outside of your control, but uncovering them now is a good way prepare and plan instead of being blindsided.
Step #5: Check in on your competitors. If you’re looking to get ahead in the ecommerce world, keeping tabs on what your competitors are up to is a must. While we don’t recommend you launch a full-out espionage war on your competition (sorry, you’ll have to save your 007 dentonite toothpaste and radioactive lint for another day), we do recommend you keep a GoldenEye on your competitors’ social media sites, websites, and overall marketing tactics (blogs, e-newsletters, videos, etc.). Heck, if you really want to get up close and personal with your competition, you can even sign up to receive emails from their store and get a feel for how they’re treating their customers (and how you could do it better).
Step #6: Determine what your business can do better than its competitors. What makes your brand truly unique? Knowing its Unique Selling Proposition (USP is a factor that you—the ecommerce store seller—presents as the reason that your product or service is different and better than that of your competitor’s) and using it to your marketing advantage is a sure-fire way to establish yourself in the online world. Define what makes your business unique and communicate it across your website, social media sites, in your emails, and beyond. Sometimes you might not have a technical or functional USP, and that’s why it’s important to emphasize the experiential or benefit-focused USP.
Step #7: Define your strategies. From types of content (blogs, e-books, how-to videos), to content creation (the volume you’ll generate), to methods of communication (your website, email, postal mail, SMS text messages, etc.) and social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), decide which strategies you’ll use to hit your overarching goal. If your budget is tight, try to focus on the two or three strategies that work best for your business. Spreading your budget (and marketing team) too thin could result in wasted dollars and little return.
Step #8: Keep tabs on your progress. As soon as your marketing plan gets up and running, be sure to track your progress and monitor your results. Track customer responses, measure your incoming sales, and identify the positives (and the negatives) to continue gaining ground. If you start noticing trends that are steering way off the path of your marketing plan, it’s time to jump in an identify the problem so that you can optimize and refine your plan.
Best Examples of a Marketing Plan
What does a successful marketing plan look like?
Psssst … want to know the deluxe secrets to what makes a marketing plan successful? Besides being sure to implement steps 1-8 into your marketing plan (defined in the previous section), here are a few other marketing activities you can put a little extra focus on to ensure ultimate success.
Deluxe Secret #1: Keep your goal in sight. The best way to get your marketing plan off the ground and running is to define short-term and long-term goals. Marketing goals help to keep your business charging down the path toward future success, and they should be attainable to reach and realistic, but not overly easy. Sometimes you might not reach your goal, but a fail doesn’t necessarily equal a total flop. Some of the best successes come out of revamped fails, so stay focused and be willing to adapt.
Deluxe Secret #2: Shine the limelight on your audience. Knowing who your customers are and what they care about is the most reliable way to get your store’s message across. In the ecommerce industry, customers are craving a personalized shopping experience.
Did you know that over 90% of people are more likely to shop with brands that remember and recognize them with custom content? Don’t be the online business that sells just to sell. Take the time to understand your customer’s needs and behaviors. Know their preferred methods of communication (email, SMS text, social media), identify their shopping behaviors (are they more likely to purchase after receiving a personalized abandoned cart email or a coupon?), and interact with them in meaningful ways with spot-on messages.
Deluxe Secret #3: Dive into the details of your marketing strategy. Remember when we mentioned that strategies are the “how” in your marketing plan? On this note, how will you leverage your ecommerce business against other online businesses? How will you market your goods and services differently than your competitors? From social media ads, personalized email campaigns, postal mail, advertising, search engine optimization—in the ecommerce world of today, there are lots of marketing channels to choose from when it comes to building your business and spreading brand awareness. Know who your audience is, who your competitors are, how the market is changing, and stay aligned with your goals.
Deluxe Secret #4: Create meaningful/personalized content. Get this: Approximately 72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that are tailored to their interests. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Custom content is the way to a shopper’s heart. Whether that content marketing means emails with product recommendations, tailored ads that remind a shopper what they forgot in their cart, or postcards that come through the mail, if you want to create a meaningful brand experience for your customers, make sure the content aligns with the members of your audience.
Deluxe Secret #5: Measure your success. Open rates for emails, social media followers, abandoned carts, product comments, revenue per subscriber, click-through rates—there are a lot of stats to consider when monitoring the overall health of your online store. A successful marketing plan should include tracking and data gathering so that you can analyze what’s going right and implement adjustments wherever necessary.
Deluxe Secret #6: Allow for flexibility. It’s important to remember that a marketing plan shouldn’t serve as a “be-all, end-all” guide for your ecommerce business. Unless you’re a darn good fortune teller and can predict the future with 100% accuracy, you should think of your marketing plan as being a working document that can change with the ebb and flow of the ecommerce business world.
What is the best ecommerce marketing plan?
You’re probably reading this blog because you own an ecommerce store. On this note, you’re probably ready for us to answer this million-dollar question: What’s the best ecommerce marketing plan out there?
Well, at the end of the day, an ecommerce marketing plan really isn’t much different than any other business plan. While every business has different and unique selling points and needs, all business marketing boils down to three main objectives: 1) to promote a brand, 2) to acquire new customers, and 3) to maintain current customers.
While an ecommerce store lives and breathes in the online universe, creating a marketing plan for a digital store should still follow the eight essential steps mentioned earlier in this blog. An objective should be laid out and it should be noted who the objective is for or who it will be aimed at. Money exists in both the real world and the online world, so creating and adhering to a budget is a must. A SWOT analysis helps to provide an objective view of your business, so it’s important to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
The competition is just as fierce (and businesses are always trying to make a buck) online as it is in the brick-and-mortar business world, so be mindful of your opponents and capitalize on what your shop can do better than the competition. It’s important to define the ways in which you will carry out your ecommerce marketing plan (communication methods, type of content, etc.), and no plan is ever complete without a way to gauge and measure its success.
Now Is the Time to Plan Your Ecommerce Future
Creating an effective marketing plan for your ecommerce business is an essential step toward owning and running a successful online shop. While it might seem overwhelming or tedious at first, this planning process is essential toward reaching your goals.
Not only will you have an outline of what it is you’re looking to accomplish, but you’ll also have a solid plan in place to follow, update, and refer back to with confidence if you ever find yourself in the Bermuda Triangle of the ecommerce business world.