An advertising plan specifies goals, details steps to achieve those goals and identifies ways to measure progress towards those goals.
This is an outline for a strategic advertising plan. And it differs from a standard or tactical plan in scope.
A strategic plan is comprehensive, covering every aspect of an advertising program, from goals to measurement. A tactical plan can be a simple as a "to do" list for a few days or weeks.
The three parts of an advertising plan:
1) What do we want to accomplish? Our objectives or goals.
2) How will we reach those goals? What will we do, and what will it cost, to achieve our objectives.
3) How do we measure results? How do we determine whether we have accomplished our objectives?
Beyond those big three categories common to most advertising plans, the exact nature and details can very significantly depending on the purpose of the plan.
- The annual advertising plan prepared internally for a Fortune 500 company to characterize and project the brand. In this case, you're likely to see a power point presentation of the "big picture" issues regarding budgets, creative and direct response themes, special events, and evaluation tools.
- A new business pitch from an ad agency to a regional bank with six branches. In this case, the advertising plan is a persuasive document. It should be visually informative and creative, with an emphasis on anticipated results and benefits from the activities outlined in the plan.
- An internal working plan for the first three months of a direct response launch campaign for new software app from a medium sized tech company. In this case the ad plan will be a work in progress, with a rough initial outline, and only the first few weeks in detail. This plan is flexible and experimental - initial test results from direct mail, email, and digital / social media will influence the plan week by week.
- A monthly plan for a small to mid sized retail or manufacturing company. This plan would look more like a "to do" list of regular advertising activities - email newsletter, direct mail and social media posts - along with a few experimental activities such as in-house video production.
The best advertising plans are flexible, experimental, and only as detailed as they need to be.
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Categories to consider in an advertising plan:
Background / overview
What is the history of advertising for this company leading up to this plan? What are the chief challenges for this plan or advertising campaign? What are the big opportunities in the market?
Duration of the plan / review dates
Is this a launch campaign that will last three months? Or is this an annual plan, with a "review and recommendation" every three months?
What are the bad guys up to? Is there a trend towards price cutting? How do competitor products or services compare? Us ad folks want to know.
Your advertising goal can be as simple as one clearly defined objective:
- Convince marcom managers that AdCracker will help them create more effective advertising, faster, and that now is the best time to buy.
Or you may wish to broaden your list to include several advertising objectives, and even include marketing objectives.
- Achieve 50% brand recognition with target audience as defined by the ability to 1) recognize our logo and 2) describe at least one of our products, and 3) associate “quality products” when prompted for brand characteristics.
- Achieve a 2% response rate and sales of $500 per 100 direct mail packages within 30 days of drop.
- Achieve an average lifetime value of $1,500 on each customer within five years.
Recommended advertising activities
This could be the longest, most detailed aspect of the plan. It might be organized month by month. It could be organized by media. Or it could be organized by target audience. A few examples:
- Launch 30 sec TVC in top 10 US urban markets to introduce our new HealthTracker app and new brand character, HyperT.
- Email to current customers with upgrade offer, save 50% off retail on the new app.
- Test three largest social media platforms with small space ads, brand page, and daily social media outreach program. Focus on top 10 urban markets in US plus five international test cities: Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New Delhi, and Sydney.
- Sponsor health related activities, such as weekend walk / runs, in 10 urban markets with advertising and table / booths featuring computer app simulation and free HealthTracker 30 day trial.
- And so on.
Optional, or conditional, advertising activities
Why not just include these in the recommended section of the advertising plan? There are several reasons. First, you may not know how much flexibility there is in the client's budget. So a set of optional advertising activities gives that client choices for additional investment.
Also, one or more of your recommended advertising activities might work surprisingly well. In that case, you would have a plan to take advantage of that opportunity.
Non-advertising and creative media options
This category can include anything that will help achieve your goals that doesn't fall within traditional, paid advertising.
- Special events
- Trade shows
- Customer relations
- Social media campaigns, from Twitter to YouTube
- Ambient and unconventional media
- Content with informational or entertainment value.
- Current best practices in the soft creative skills, from insights to briefs, branding to direct.
- Thousands of contemporary examples ads in traditional, digital and social media.
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Target markets / audiences: B2B & B2C
The traditional consumer B2C audience profile covers:
- Who are they? Age, gender mix, income and education. Demographics.
- Where are they located, where do they spend time? Be sure to consider both real and digital worlds.
- What do they think about the product or product category? Always good to know as a starting point for your conversation.
- What's important about this audience for this campaign? This is the "everything else" question. It can cover everything from lifestyle to political opinions.
A traditional business B2B audience profile covers:
- Business type, size and location. The basics: who are they, where are they, what do they do?
- Purchaser / influencer. Identify the person or group who make and influence buying decisions.
Be sure to go beyond a job title to include what is important to this person in their role. Is this a manager who is cautious about making a bad decision? Is this an owner or senior manager who sees the big business picture?
What is the main thing we going to say, to offer, to our target audience, to get them to think what we want, to feel what we want, or do what we want? A few examples:
- Save on brokerage fees with TD Waterhouse, and get access to exclusive independent research.
- This could be the last battery your car will ever need..
- America's favorite skylight is a less expensive than you think – and it adds value to your home in three specific ways.
You should not dictate a specific creative approach in the advertising plan. In fact, you may not want to include a creative strategy at all. But if you do, here are some of the very general strategic issues you could discuss.
- How are we going to present the message? Through a celebrity? A brand character?
- What brand characteristics should be, must be, communicated? For example, is the brand personality friendly? Or humorous? Or competitive?
- How will we position this product or service in relation to competitors?
- Are we going to have an offer, if so, what will it be?
Large, international advertising projects require a separate media plan. For medium or small campaigns, media selection can be included as an addendum or as part of the advertising activities on your plan.
The simple approach to media strategy is to identify your target audience, then find the best media, and the best time, to reach that audience.
A detailed approach to media strategy is not so simple, and involves the following:
- Identify both the digital and traditional media currently consumed by your audience.
- Identify trends with your audience, such as trending radio, web or digital media.
- Identify unconventional media options, such as ambient or live action flash entertainment.
Keep in mind that you will get the best return on your advertising investment during the decision making and buying cycle.
For example, retail stores get a better return on their advertising investment during the holiday season in the US, and during Chinese New Year in China.
That also means it costs more to buy customers during off seasons and during economic downturns.
There's a maxim in direct marketing, "It's not what you spend, but what you pocket that matters." And that's true. So keep in mind that sometimes spending more will earn more. Sometimes. And so far, no one has an equation that perfectly predicts what you should spend to achieve the best possible return on your advertising dollar.
Some budgeting methods:
- Task method of budgeting. Spend what it takes to do the job - to create and fund the campaign - and do it right.
- Annual allocation. Start with a base, which could be anywhere from 1,000 to 100 million, and increase it by x percent each year.
- Percent of sales. Aggressive marketers, especially in consumer markets, can spend 20% to 30 % of sales on advertising and marketing, or more.
In a business to business environment, 10% of sales would be considered aggressive, on average.
How will you track sales? How will you link sales to advertising? Who, in your company or with the client, will do that?
Direct response advertising can be easy to track, to link advertisements to click and then to sales.
Branding focused campaigns may not be easy or even possible to link to sales, certainly not with precision. Keep that in mind when you set your initial objectives.
Post-launch customer feedback:
This is simple to do, and super effective. Unfortunately, few companies do it.
Objective: find out what new customers really think, the folks who bought the product or signed up for the service.
You can send out a email survey or hire a research firm to conduct focus groups.
You can also just pick up the phone. Call ten or 50 customers. Ask them,
- Why did you buy?
- What do you like the most about the service?
- What would you like to see improved?
Now you know exactly what to consider for copy points. And if the client is smart, they know exactly how to improve their service. Plus, you might end up with material for a superb testimonial campaign.
Creating a communication loop between customer and company is always a good thing to do. So just, you know, do it.
- For mid to large sized companies, the hierarchy of "plans" are: 1) Company business plan 2) marketing plan 3) advertising plan. All good corporate citizens should make certain that the goals and budgets for all plans are aligned.