Whether you are writing a business plan for a new venture or in the throws of growing an existing business, a marketing plan is essential for attracting clients. A well designed and properly executed marketing plan can mean the difference between a profitable business with healthy sales or a business that never gets off the ground. Sustained profitability is achieved when combined with strategic marketing, consistent sales, smart financial systems and a great team. While strategy is important in every aspect of business, the digital marketing plan is the heart of any business.

Sad truth: a business can have a mediocre product with killer marketing and thrive, while a business with an exceptional product and poor marketing can fail.

Designing a digital marketing plan that attracts the core demographic you want to target begins with research. Once you know your brand inside and out, your vision and what you want to achieve with your company, it’s time to think about who is going to buy what you have to offer. Whether you are selling your specialty services or coming up with the next great mobile app, you need to have a keen understanding about who your target market is. Aside from age, sex and geography, you need to know what makes them buy into a brand.

Start by finding a few people who embody your ideal client (ie: they love what you are doing already and they aren’t your mom). Ask them every question you can about their desires, passions and problems. Have them list their 5 favorite brands in a number of different categories. Look for patterns in your fans because these are the touch points that will help guide you.

Did they go to college? Do they watch TV? What shows are their favorites? Do they eat out or make their own food at home? Do they drink Starbucks coffee or organic green tea from a local shop? What do they love to do with their time? How often are they on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube? Are they on Google+? Do they prefer videos, blog posts or Instagram photos? What do they think about world affairs? Politics? Obviously you want to ask questions that relate to your product category, but the more information you can get, the better!

If you are asking for an hour of time for these people to give you their information, make sure you are giving them something worth while in exchange, at the very least… a Starbucks gift card for $25!

Your goal with market research is to know exactly WHO you are dealing with in order to attract them with your brand messaging. Once you understand who you are trying to attract and what language and imagery they will respond to, you can create the content that they will identify with.

Your digital marketing plan should include a promotion strategy for delivering your brand messaging. Within this strategy, you will outline tactics that can include digital press releases, social networking, sponsored Twitter chats, online ads, Google Hangouts, mobile ads, mobile apps, blog posts, viral videos, influencer campaigns, brand ambassador programs, podcasts, in-person events and more.

The amount of market saturation that you can achieve will be influenced by your budget, which is why designing your marketing plan with phases is important. If your funds are limited, you may want to start with more cost effective strategies like blog posts (with keywords and interesting titles), social networking, digital press releases and Google Hangouts and add on as your brand grows.

Consistency is key to build momentum and trust with your audience, so having an editorial calendar that outlines each tactic with set deadlines will keep you organized and engaged. As your brand visibility increases and sales roll in, you can begin phase 2 of your plan, which might include a small amount of online ads, a viral video campaign and tweet chats that you sponsor. Whatever phase you are in, keep it simple, trackable and scalable so you can pull back or increase volume if need be.

As you reach each new stage of brand development, you will be watching clicks, likes, impressions, favorites, mentions, views and engagement to see what content is attracting the most attention. Follower numbers are important if you are looking for investors, but they are not necessarily an indicator of value. With each tactic you implement from your marketing plan, pay attention to what gets results and do more of that.

In the digital age, brands that are most appealing to audiences are not only engaged in promoting their own messaging, they are heavily involved in educating, entertaining and interacting with their audience.

Powerful digital brands understand that marketing is not only about reaching your own goals, but helping others to achieve theirs. Brand partnerships, joint ventures, social good and influencer programs where brands benefit from leveraging one another’s audiences are becoming more common. Whether you build this collaborative model into your marketing plan or suggest it as a tactic to use in the future, the win-win is a model that will always attract more eyeballs, which may lead to an increase in sales.

No matter how big or small your business is, a marketing plan that guides you toward your brand vision is an essential part of your success. Design your plan by starting small and staying within your budget, but plan for growth and incorporate new tactics as your brand expands and new opportunities present themselves. Stick to your plan, but remain flexible so that you can adjust your sails if the market shifts or a new demographic opens up to your brand.

Marketing is the fun part of business because it allows you to be creative and to get involved with how your offerings help others. Creating a marketing plan may seem like a big undertaking, but once you outline how everything unfolds, it allows you to focus on activating your programs and growing your brand.

In episode #19 of Mass Amplify Show, Mark Schaefer shares some simple but powerful thoughts about digital marketing, based on his bestselling book The Content Code: