“If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.” This old proverb makes a lot of sense. The best way to conserve resources and optimize results in any endeavor is to set a goal and then follow a well-researched and carefully plotted route to get there. This is especially true for small business marketers who have limited budgets to create marketing initiatives that will achieve ambitious corporate objectives. A carefully executed marketing plan serves as the blueprint for the creation of marketing process.
Identify Your Planning Profile
Experience shows that an organization’s attitude to the planning process and the importance generally placed on it fit into one of the following categories.
- Passive. Organizations that don’t actively engage in marketing planning are defaulting on their obligation to actively promote the growth of their organizations. By accepting the status quo as their blueprint for the future, these organizations are fated to be reactors, rather than market leaders.
- Regressive. Well-established organizations are often satisfied to live on the glory of yesteryear. In these organizations, planning focuses on making sure that everything is done just as it has always been done.
- Preservationist. Organizations that have reached a reasonable level of success often focus on maintaining their current status rather than going on to the next level. They resist any attempts to ‘rock the boat’ and avoid any changes that will be “disruptive” to their current environment.
- Progressive. Growth-oriented organizations that seek market leadership explore all possible approaches and opportunities to create the relevant marketplace differentiation that will lead to future success.
One Size Does Not Fit All
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything,” said General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Because the planning process is so important, we recommend that every organization take the time to develop their own planning style and make it a part of their culture.
Far too many organizations try to conform their marketing plans to pro forma templates borrowed from textbooks or colleagues. This approach usually produces a well-meaning academic document, when what is needed is a compelling discussion of how to effectively implement marketing initiatives that will enable the organization to most cost-effectively achieve its goals.
The most important building block for a successful planning process is the organization’s own mission statement. It provides an unswerving focal point and can serve as a litmus test to determine the appropriateness, relevance and feasibility of issues and initiatives proposed during the planning process.
In far too many organizations, however, the mission statement has lost its viability as guiding light and a planning tool. Why? Because the organization has hijacked the mission statement for use primarily as a public relations vehicle. The result is generally a generic statement that does not address the firm’s unique culture and values. While this approach may help PR efforts, it does nothing to reflect an organization’s culture, values and focus or inform its marketing efforts.
Research: The Foundation of the Marketing Planning Process
An effective marketing plan must reflect not only an organization’s own capabilities and objectives, but also the realities of the marketplace. Therefore, the marketing planning process begins with a focused internal and external information-gathering initiative that explores
- Market Environment. The economic, regulatory and industry conditions and trends that will impact marketing efforts and market receptivity.
- Competitors. Marketplace positioning and tactical initiatives of companies with the same, similar or tangential products and services for the same target markets.
- Customers. Demographic characteristics, purchase behaviors and other relevant information on current and past accounts that will provide insights on best targets for future prospecting.
- Target Markets. Segment characteristics, receptivity to offerings, cost of entry and competitive pressures.
- Profitability. Broken out by markets, distribution channels and products/services.
- Marketing Accountability. Applicable benchmarks and success criteria.
- Marketplace Opportunities. Feasibility studies, identification of unmet market needs, identification of dissatisfaction with existing providers, etc.
Marketing Planning Pitfalls to Avoid
Here are some commonly heard statements that indicate that the planning process is doomed to failure.
“We’ll worry about what we want to do later.”
Without the requisite research, analysis and prioritization, this “ready, fire, aim” approach results in a hastily assembled plan that does not reflect the organization’s needs, resources, objectives or marketplace circumstances. With no pragmatic, proactive planning, the organization will most probably find itself playing “catch up” and reacting to marketplace events and competitive innovations.
“Just find out what the sales force wants.”
Financial services marketers are too often over-influenced by the sales force, a body with goals and priorities that are generally not in total alignment with those of the organization as a whole.
“We don’t need customer research, we know what we need to do.”
The fundamental goal of good marketing is to find the best way to make a connection with the target market. Yet numerous organizations approach marketing planning from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Marketing approaches that don’t reflect the customer’s perspective will most likely be ignored by the customer.
“If we try to set priorities now we’ll never get this plan approved.”
An effective plan must contain clear directives to allocate limited resources to those areas that can potentially produce the greatest returns.
“Our job is just to get new customers in the door.”
A plan that does not include up sale, cross sale and resale initiatives to create incremental business from existing customers is not making best use of the dollars spent to acquire those customers.
The Bottom Line
The marketing planning process provides an organization with the opportunity to set goals and plot a course that will help it achieve a differentiated market leadership position. A carefully researched, customized marketing plan can, if systematically implemented, serve as the backbone for an organization’s marketing activities. It is worth every bit of the effort that it takes to get it right — the first time.
Recommended Books on How to Create a Marketing Plan:
- Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth
- Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them
- The Marketing Plan Handbook, 3rd Edition
- The Successful Marketing Plan: How to Create Dynamic, Results Oriented Marketing, 4th Edition
- The Marketing Plan: How to Prepare and Implement It
Jay Nagdeman is President of Suasion Resources, a specialized organization that provides marketing consulting services to financial services firms. For over 25 years, Suasion has helped firms supercharge their marketing efforts and successfully uncover growth opportunities & seize competitive advantages. http://www.suasionresources.com