4 Questions to Jump-Start Your Annual Marketing Plan

As a member of your institution’s marketing team, you play a vital role in implementing the strategic plan that guides decision making over a multi-year period. An annual marketing plan can help shape the efficacy of your team’s contribution. A good plan guides your marketing efforts over the year, providing coherence and clarity to your day-to-day efforts. Especially if your marketing team has never crafted a formal plan, creating a comprehensive document can feel intimidating.

The precise content of any given annual marketing plan will vary. The most effective ones, however, all do two important things: (1) answer foundational questions to clarify the task before you and distill your core messages, and (2) present a list of specific goals and strategies to communicate that message effectively. While you may find yourself turning to those specific goals and strategies when planning your monthly and weekly to-do lists, the answers to these four foundational questions are what will shape your efforts and determine your team’s success. If you’ve never created a higher education marketing plan before, the first two questions will be essential. If you are refining past efforts, be sure to give fresh attention to the final two.


Each college or university has a core identity that sets them apart. The many facets of your school—history, faculty, students, location, campus—all contribute to this identity. It can be helpful here to review what distinguishes you from competing institutions. As you begin to craft your marketing plan, you want to articulate your particular identity by distilling all its parts to their essence. The result—whether winsome portrait or bold autobiographical statement—will be the touchstone for the creation of a unified marketing voice. That voice controls tone, message, and design. You want to match the vision the school has for itself in the strategic plan while providing the human center that unifies your marketing materials across traditional and digital platforms.


You know understanding your audience is essential to successful communication. Your marketing plan is a good place to rehearse the key insights you have into the various audiences you encounter during your year. Higher education marketing demands that you engage a variety of audiences. What are the target personas for your prospective students? What differentiates alumni from other potential donors? An effective plan will not only list your primary and secondary audiences, but also distinguish key expectations for each.


A precise view of your school’s internal and external situation should inform your planning. A good place to begin is in reviewing past efforts. What progress has the institution as a whole made toward the goals in the strategic plan? What were your marketing successes last year? What about the flops? You may consider making a table of strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats. You’ll want to incorporate details that provide an awareness of the marketing situation facing the school this year—not last year and not sometime in the future.


The answers to the first three questions will guide you to the vital step of determining your core messages for this year. To craft these, you’ll consider which messages, proceeding from your school’s identity to your primary audiences, are needed to communicate your strengths, address your weaknesses, and seize your opportunities. What you need to say probably includes something about the kind of person your education produces, the work your faculty is doing, and the contribution made by your institution to your community. By looking for unifying elements and relying on the articulation of identity you’ve already established, you can limit this list to 6-8 items. As you move into drafting the rest of your marketing plan, you will find that the tactics by which you plan to meet specific goals all stem from these core messages.

In providing cohesive answers to these four questions, your marketing plan can play a powerful role in guiding your team throughout the year as you work to recruit students and faculty, engage alumni and donors, and tell the story of your school’s success.

Are you on track to create an efficacious marketing plan for your school? Reach out today to learn how we can help you make it happen.