Digital Marketing

How to Create a Marketing Communications Plan Template


When considering marketing communications within the corporate and marketing strategies of an organization, it is necessary to emphasize the long-term and integrated nature of those communications. This requires the consideration of communication objectives which may not be achieved for several years, such as brand loyalty or attitude change, rather than a simple focus on the short term, such as sales figures for the next event. This chapter highlights the long-term nature of developing successful communications plans and stresses the need to utilize and integrate a wide variety of tools, techniques and media within the plan.

Integrated marketing communications

Communication is the process whereby thoughts are conveyed and meaning is shared between individuals or organizations. A general model of communication is given in Figure 1.1. This model recognizes the possibility of the receiver taking a different meaning from the communication than that intended by the sender due to the encoding/decoding process and the ‘noise’ associated with the process. This emphasizes the need for careful planning and control of the communication process, as even highly controllable communication methods, such as personalized direct marketing, need to be carefully monitored to determine their effects on the receiver.

Marketing Communications Planning

(date) and the functional consequences of using the product (e.g. entertainment). The higher levels are the emotional components consisting of psychosocial consequences or personal emotional outcomes (e.g. ‘made me forget my worries’) and personal values or major goals and ideals (e.g. self-esteem, peace of mind, love). Communication that operates on all levels is likely to be more effective in building a longer-term change in attitude and behaviour.

Importance of a planning process

In order to gain competitive advantage and to ensure added value for the customer, the communication process needs to be planned in a systematic and controlled manner. With an ever-increasing choice of communication methods and ways of combining these, it is vital that any decisions made are based on accurate, up-to-date and relevant information.

The planning of any process allows management to assess the risks and returns of any course of action before deciding upon it. If marketing communications are developed in an ad hoc, fragmented manner, then they will be difficult to monitor in terms of objectives, budget and return. The risks involved, therefore, in investing relatively large amounts of time, expertise and financial resources can be minimized by careful planning and their investment justified by the meeting of clearly defined objectives measured through carefully planned evaluation procedures.

Marketing communications planning

Models of communications planning generally tend to be based on the planning framework of situation analysis, objective setting, strategy development, budgeting, implementation and control (Cooper, 1997; Smith et al.

This model usefully splits promotional strategies into pull (aimed at end customers), push (aimed at intermediaries) and profile (reaching a range of target groups). The key elements of Fill’s (2002) marketing communications planning framework are:

  • context analysis
  • marketing objectives and positioning
  • marketing communications strategy
  • development of the promotional mix
  • implementation
  • evaluating and monitoring performance.

Overview of marketing communications planning Situation analysis

The initial stages in any planning cycle are to gain an understanding of the current position and the context within which the plan will operate. This involves the gathering, analysis and interpretation of information from a wide range of sources.

The most important area to research is the organization’s stakeholders with whom it will be communicating. An in-depth understanding is needed of each group’s current attitudes to, opinions of and beliefs about the organization, its brands and its events. Knowledge of purchase behaviour and each group’s views of competing products will also be needed. Specific information is required on their reactions to past and future communications campaigns, their media preferences etc.

Objective setting

Once a thorough understanding of the stakeholders, external environment and the organizational context has been gained, it is then possible to set communications objectives for the campaign. These will often be the first part of a written marketing communications plan and will be used to steer the rest of the process. Communications objectives will be set within the framework of wider marketing objectives of the organization and these in turn will have been set to achieve the corporate objectives.


Deciding on the audiences, or recipients, of marketing communications needs to be done at an early stage in the planning process. It may be necessary for this to be done both before and after objective setting. As the communications plan is likely to be set within the context of a marketing plan, target groups may well have been identified as part of the overall marketing strategy. If this is the case then these ‘predetermined audiences’ need to be focused on in the research stage and described in detail in the situation analysis.

Positioning and message strategies

In order to ensure the consistency and integration required, it is necessary to determine overarching strategies for positioning and for the communications message.

Positioning refers to the image in the mind of the audience of the organization, its brand, its events or its services relative to their image of competing products

The message strategy is developed from the positioning statement to provide a consistent and repeated image to the target audiences. Again this will be adapted in form and style for each target group, but the overall message will remain the same

The strategic options available will be partly determined by the organization’s competitive position (market leader, challenger, follower or nicher), the product or industry life cycle (introduction, growth, maturity or decline), the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the external environment. However, the most important determining factor should always be the needs and preferences of stakeholders.

Method and media strategies

The adaptation of the overall message to meet the needs of each target audience is achieved through the manipulation of the wide variety of communication methods and media available to the marketer.

Communications budget

Any communication campaign will be set within certain organizational constraints. These constraints will include the managerial style of the organization in terms of risk-taking, innovativeness and creative freedom and of course the willingness to commit financial resources. The determination of the budget for an integrated marketing communications campaign can be contentious as a quantifiable financial return on investment can be difficult to prove in accountancy terms. This difficulty again emphasizes the importance of having measurable objectives, as the achievement of these objectives can justify the original resources invested and can also be used to secure future budgets.

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