3 Approaches to Marketing Planning by Bobette Kyle

It’s that time of year again ? marketing plan season! The tools you use to develop your plan will depend on your experience level, your work style, and whether you have an already established planning process. Whatever your preference, establishing business goals, general strategies and specific marketing techniques is critical to the long-range health of your business. Here are some insights into three marketing plan development styles, with tools to support each approach:

1. The Freestyle Approach

2. The “I Need a Structured Starting Place” Approach

3. The “Take Me Through It Step By Step” Approach

Disclosure: While my intent is to help you through the planning process and give a balanced view of each approach, the links in this article are self-serving. After all, a girl’s gotta eat. 😉

The Freestyle Approach to Marketing Plans

Of the three approaches to planning, this will provide you with the broadest view of marketing planning as well as the most up-to-date marketing tactics and programs. It involves researching the marketing plan process by finding material online then writing a plan based on what you’ve learned. In fact, the entire marketing plan section of WebSiteMarketingPlan.com is devoted to those wanting to understand the planning process and research marketing programs.


The biggest advantage of this approach is the availability of free or nearly free information. A lot of good information can be found on the open Web, including a variety of sample marketing plans and outlines.

Because processes range from relatively simple, one-day marketing plans to those that produce more elaborate documents you are likely to find a level of detail that fits your needs.


The biggest disadvantage of this approach is the same as the major advantage ? wide availability of information. You may spend many hours reading and sifting through material and still be unsure how to apply it to your specific business.

Quality can also vary. Planning processes tend to include similar elements, but specific details can be sparse or not applicable to your situation.

Timeliness can be an issue as well. Marketing plan books written five or 10 years ago are useful for the planning processes and general strategies they provide. The specifics of implementation, however, are dated. Older material will not include, for example, recent developments in social networking, video, or online audio.

Finally, there is no support system connected with this approach. You may get a question answered here and there, but for the most part it’s up to you to work through the process on your own.

The “I Need a Structured Starting Place” Marketing Planning Approach

If Freestyle is too time consuming, you may prefer a bit more structured approach. Purchasing an informational package of marketing planning tools can help focus your efforts by providing you with a finite process and set of materials to work with.


The obvious advantage of this planning approach is the support materials. For relatively few dollars you will save a tremendous amount of time. Plus, you simply cannot find a consistent set of comprehensive tools using the piecemeal Freestyle approach.

A toolset is structured enough to help you through the process, but gives you enough freedom to develop your own formats and style.


On the downside, although this approach is more structured than Freestyle, it can still be a bit overwhelming. It takes a while to become familiar with the files and figure out what to do with them.

Because technology advances so quickly, any set of tools will be somewhat behind the times. The planning process is well covered, but real-time is the only way to stay current on new techniques.

The “Take Me Through It Step By Step” Marketing Plan Approach

For some, nothing can replace being guided through a start-to-finish process. At least one marketing planning software ? Marketing Plan Pro 11.0 powered by Duct Tape Marketing (review here) ? can deliver on that experience. Work step-by-step through the software and you will have a complete marketing plan document when you reach the final step.

Marketing Plan Pro is the most comprehensive, easy to understand marketing plan software I have come across. Topic-specific help is always one click away through multiple examples and background information on marketing and analytic techniques. This software makes the process painless, allowing you to focus on plan specifics. The new version (11.0) does this even better than the previous version (9.0), letting you decide — through a choice of three options when beginning the plan ? how comprehensive your plan will be: 30-minute (a way to get your strategic thoughts down on paper), Basic (a simpler, scaled down version of a detailed plan), and Standard (a full-blown, detailed marketing plan).


The biggest advantage to software is the support system. Not only does it help you, step-by-step, through the process of developing a strategic marketing plan, it also provides extensive help. Marketing Plan Pro 11.0, for example, includes one-click audio help from John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing author) for each task in the plan development process. Plus, there’s access to extensive online information and seminars for both software operation and John’s brand of marketing planning. You get information by using the less structured approaches but little ? if any ? support system. Figuring out details is largely up to you.

Another huge advantage to using software is availability of multiple examples at each step of the planning process. With the other two approaches, if you want several examples to learn from you must find them yourself.


If you have any kind of budget, software cost will not be a concern (Marketing Plan Pro, for example, is about $180). If your budget is mostly nonexistent, cost can be an issue compared to the first two approaches. The previously mentioned Marketing Builder, for example, is about half the cost of Marketing Plan Pro. The decision is no different from many business decisions: more money buys you a better support system and saves you time. Less money means more time.

Like the previous approach, you will have to take time to research the most up-to-date technology and marketing programs, with one major different. Most likely, you will have to look no further than the links provided in the software’s resources section.

My Recommendations

Any of these three approaches to marketing planning, if diligently applied, will help grow your business. The best approach for you depends on (a) your personal “time vs. money” equation and (b) your preferred level of guidance. If you have a lot of time and very little money, go with Freestyle. If your major need is to save time when developing spreadsheets/tables and writing the plan, then consider the second approach. If you work best with a structured process or have any budget at all, go with the step-by-step software approach. Whichever approach you chose, implement the programs throughout the year and you will reap great rewards.