Coming up with a blueprint

An advertising plan is part of a bigger picture called a marketing plan. It is a 'to do' list, a guide-to-action used to help a business achieve smaller goals toward a larger, long-term goal. For example, an advertising plan may be created for a few months to a year, whereas an overall marketing strategy may aim to corner a portion of the market in five years. You’ll find that there are lots of questions involved in creating an advertising plan. We’ve collected the most important ones here for you. There are three parts to how to create an advertising plan:

1. What do you want to accomplish? Your objectives.
2. How will you reach those objectives? What will you do, and what will it cost, to achieve your objectives?
3. How do you measure results? How do you determine whether you have accomplished your objectives?

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1. Overview

What are the key drivers behind your advertising plan? What are the main challenges and the big opportunities in the market? Recalling and refining this information will determine the direction of your advertising plan.

2. Duration

Is this a launch campaign that will last three months? Or is this an annual plan with a 'review and recommendation' policy every three months? It is important to set a time-frame as it will affect the budget and resources required for your plan.

3. Competitive analysis

Take some time to study your competitors. What are your competitors up to? Is there a trend towards price-cutting? How do competitor products or services compare to yours? Where are your competitors advertising? All this data will help you identify your key differentiating factors, and plan how you can stand out from your competitors.

4. Advertising objectives

Ask yourself what you would like to achieve with your campaign. Your advertising objective can be as simple as one clearly defined objective, or you can broaden your list to include several objectives. The objective(s) you have in mind need to be written down ahead of time. Be realistic and concrete about what you would like to achieve. If you are a new business, you may need to work on brand awareness before moving on to boosting sales. If your goal is increased sales, ask yourself concrete questions like: How many units of your product will you need to sell to within a specific time frame?

5. Advertising activities

This is probably the longest and most detailed aspect of your plan. It may be organised by month, by media, or by target audience. Using a spreadsheet or calendar program, identify the peak sales periods and seasonal opportunities for your business throughout a given year. This could be major shopping holidays like the New Year or the back-to-school season. Tap into popular national timeframes to boost your business. Develop a weekly and monthly plan that break down the year’s advertising activities.

6. Target audience

Don’t take for granted that you know your customer. Other than demographics, you should also know your customer psychographics. Run surveys to find out what your customers think about your products or services, what makes your product truly attractive, and what keeps them coming back to you. Study the people who are using your products or services now and the people you want to attract. Identify habits: What advertising channels does your target demographic frequent? It is a good practice to factor this time and cost into your advertising budget. All this data will support your advertising decisions.

7. Creative strategy

This is the fun part. Come up with an advertising pitch that you believe will promote your goals. Think about how you are going to present your key message, what brand characteristics should be, or must be, communicated, how you will position your product or service in relation to competitors, and if you are going to have a sales promotion. Discuss this brief with the creative team that will eventually produce your ad. If you don’t have an in-house team, choose a creative agency carefully by studying their portfolios to know if they can achieve what you have in mind. The creative strategy you decide on will greatly influence public perception of your product or business.

8. Media strategy

Now that you’ve figured out whom you want to reach and what you want to communicate, it’s time to pick out the media to reach them. The simple approach is to identify the best media and the best time that effectively reach your target audience. 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, and during Chinese New Year. Your ads do not need to run all at once throughout the year—they can run according to your calendar. List the mixture of print publications, radio, television, online, and other advertising avenues that you believe will best fit your demographic and goals in advance. If you book ad space early, you will get more time to work on developing your ad.

9. Advertising budget

Make a list of all your advertising activities, their cost, and any other related expenses. This will usually include buying ad space and hiring a creative agency to make your ad. Come up with an annual budget for your advertising plan. You may spend more during some months and less during others, but you should always work within a set annual budget.

10. Evaluation metrics

Create reports of sales and incoming leads that come from your advertising activities. Establish metrics to evaluate your advertising activities, so that you can calculate the return on investment (ROI) at the end of your campaign. It has never been easier to track leads from traditional media: You could provide special landing pages for new leads, use discount codes and scannable coupons, or track an increase of new customers or calls to your location.