We have all felt overwhelmed at work. Maybe it was when you were starting a new job or getting up to speed on a big project your boss asked you to lead. No matter the circumstance, that overwhelmed feeling can usually be resolved by creating a plan — knowing how and when you will accomplish your tasks.

Plans are especially powerful tools for teams with tight deadlines. And that is why they are essential for marketing teams — because they are always working toward a launch. Marketing programs and campaigns are often timed to coincide with other key company activities and to drive the business. Creating meaningful growth is an enormous responsibility, which is why you need a plan for how you will make it happen.

Yet so many marketing teams are still working without a strategic plan. I know this because I spoke to many marketing managers as our team at Aha! prepared to launch our new marketing planning software. From those conversations, I can tell you that many folks are stuck in react mode — battling requests rather than thinking through why they are doing all that work in the first place. Maybe you can relate.

The answer to that running-without-thinking mentality is to create a strategic marketing plan. It will align your team around actual business goals and keep everyone accountable to a schedule. Working through the plan will also help the team understand how activities are prioritized — clarifying exactly what tasks need to be done next (and which ones can wait for later).

So, how do you build a plan that can have this kind of impact? Here are six steps for creating a strategic marketing plan:


The first step is understanding high-level marketing and business goals. These should serve as the foundation of your plan. You can then group work based on the goal it supports. This will help the team see the strategy behind every one of your activities — which will prevent teammates’ getting bogged down in tasks that will not make an impact. Goals will also help you understand if the programs and campaigns you launch are on track.


Marketing plans are useless without dates. So include key dates for major programs and campaigns. You can break out by phases of work or deliverables. Depending on the team structure and the complexity of your work, you may want to break your timeline down by days, weeks, fiscal quarters, or half years.


Within each of your programs and campaigns, you need to define the activities — all the work that will go into making those programs and campaigns happen. Activities are highly dependent on what kind of product or service you are marketing and may include things like blog posts, digital advertisements, or email newsletters.


Where are you engaging with customers and reaching out to prospective ones? You should identify these channels in your marketing plan. Your channels might include a variety of platforms, such as social media, advertising networks, and affiliates. Detailing these will help you see where the team is focusing its attention.


It can be difficult to keep track of the budgets for your programs and campaigns. Rather than paging through dozens of spreadsheets, make budgets part of your marketing plan. As work progresses, you will be able to track actual results against projections. This way, you can measure return on investment and make informed decisions.


The best marketing plans are holistic. Yours should include input from marketing teammates as well as cross-functional colleagues from product, sales, and engineering. The ability to visualize how all the activities fit together — and how delays in any of them impact future work — unites everyone under a master timeline.

Of course, every plan should be flexible. Even the best plans will need to be adapted depending on the performance of your programs and campaigns. No matter how you adjust your plan, the important thing is that you have a strong one in place.