Writing a marketing plan
In our daily rush to complete all the “urgent” items on our to do list, we often have to re-prioritize or de-prioritize those items that are “important”, but not urgent. Unfortunately, marketing planning—or, more specifically, developing a coherent marketing plan—often falls into that category. And while annual marketing planning is typically part of the annual budgeting process, the plan is usually a list of tried-and-true marketing tactics (i.e. tactics that were done last year and probably the year before), with dollars attached. It is rare that the plan will include results from the prior year, any evaluation of what worked or what didn’t in the prior year, or goals for the coming year.
We all know the benefits of creating a marketing plan: it creates a path from our current state to our desired state; it facilitates communication and collaboration with other departments and business lines; it gets all stakeholders on the same page, speaking the same language; it identifies resources needed to meet business objectives; and it helps mitigate risk. One benefit that we often overlook, however, is that a marketing plan provides a tool to get all the activities of the institution synchronized and working together and facilitates a consistent customer experience across all interactions and touch points.
But taking the time to sit down and write a marketing plan can seem like a daunting task- especially if you don’t have a plan template to work from to jump-start the process and overcome writer’s block.
What follows is an outline I have used over the years that I have found very helpful in developing marketing plans (if you are interested, a PowerPoint version of this template can be downloaded.)
The first section helps align the marketing plan with the mission, vision, values, and brand promise of the company, as well as helps serve as a “litmus test” for all marketing activities:
product development, pricing, distribution, and promotion. If an activity is not consistent with the corporate mission, vision, values, or brand promise it can jeopardize the brand’s (if not the company’s) equity and/or integrity, so it is worth “validating” the activity before proceeding.
The second section, Situation Analysis, provides an opportunity to assess the current situation with the customers and the competition, as well as conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis of the company itself. An in-depth Situation Analysis, including a SWOT analysis, enables you to more effectively develop programs that will stand out in the current environment.
The next step is to gather business objectives and sales metrics from each of the business lines that Marketing supports. Doing so allows you to not only establish open communications with the business line, but also identify concrete objectives and metrics that can be leveraged to drive and define marketing objectives and initiatives.
A common inclination at this point is to create a large number of marketing initiatives. In this particular case however, the mantra should be “fewer things, better”. Try to limit your marketing initiatives to three to five per business objective. Focus your thinking and your efforts on programs that matter. Those that you think will move the needle. Don’t just regurgitate what you have done in the past.
As you translate the business objectives into marketing objectives, keep in mind there are three ways to drive “growth”: acquisition – finding new customers; retention – reducing the number of customers that you lose; and cross-selling – selling to existing customers; and. Marketing initiatives should focus on all three areas – think ARC.
Once the ARC goals (objectives) are established and you start to articulate marketing strategies and tactics to reach those goals, it’s time to be as specific as possible and consider the full range of marketing channels and communication alternatives. This presents another opportunity to collaborate with the sales channel to ensure all activities and communications are aligned.
Now that the tactics have been determined, you are ready to roll up all the activities into an activity calendar and summarized budget.
All of this may seem like a time-consuming task, but the time invested upfront in pulling this information together will save you many times over on the back end during program development. Give it a try and let me know what you think (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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