A few months ago I wrote a post on developing a strategic marketing plan. It covered what it is, why it’s important to your marketing, and the elements you need to create a basic strategic marketing plan.
I feel like planning is incredibly important.
If aren’t familiar with my background, I used to work in human resources at Intel. While I wouldn’t want to go back, I’m grateful for my time there. Working at Intel was like going to school.
At Intel, we always made decisions with data. More on that another time, but the other thing we did at Intel was plan.
In January, my group would spend a week planning for the following year. So, in January 2022, we would be planning for 2023.
I understand that this might not work for every business but it worked for us.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with you.
A couple of weeks after writing my strategic marketing plan post, I took part in a chat about planning.
There is always something new that can be learned and it gave me some things to think about. Ideas I might be able to incorporate into my own planning process to make it better.
It also forced me to think about why I plan the way I do.
As I mulled it over, I thought it would be interesting to give some insight of what I’m thinking when it comes to creating a strategic marketing plan.
I’m not going to dive into every detail but I will tell you that everything I’m talking about (and even what I’m not) informs your marketing.
Let’s get started.
Is Planning for the Year Still a Good Idea?
I like to plan for the year. I’ve seen people say that this isn’t a good idea anymore and cite the pandemic. I certainly take their point.
You could also throw my words back at me because I have said that change in the world of marketing is accelerating.
Given these two things you might wonder why I’m sticking with a planning model that looks at a year timeframe.
The world doesn’t change that dramatically in the course of a year to make planning for a year high risk.
Yes, there was a pandemic but how often does something like this happen? This was the first pandemic in about 100 years.
While there are changes that occur in marketing and new trends that might emerge, there isn’t the type of change that makes planning a year out an issue.
Besides, many of the new trends are things that most people will step back and watch, maybe dipping a toe in the water to get a feel for things before really committing.
This takes time and you can still do these things if you have a plan.
If you are so inclined you can even put in your plan something like, “Explore new marketing channels in the next year” or “allocate 5% of our marketing activities to explore new channels.”
A plan should also help you look at the big picture and connect it to the small picture.
Looking out over the next year helps focus you on where you want your business to be.
It’s looking at where you want to be (the big picture) and determining how you are going to get there.
These are the objectives and the tactics that are part of the small picture which connect to the big picture.
It doesn’t matter whether you look at it top to bottom or bottom top. The important thing is everything connects and builds.
Here is an example to help you see how this works.
The Alabama Crimson Tide football team is competing with the goal of winning a national championship every year.
This is the big goal or the big picture.
It’s the last thing that can happen which means if your Nick Saban, you need to break this down because you don’t declare yourself the national champion.
What are the things they need to happen in order to win a national championship?
They have to qualify to play in the championship game but you can’t do that without first getting into the college football playoff.
To get into the playoff they likely have to win their conference championship which means they have to win their division first. If they don’t win their division, they can’t get into the championship game.
They also need to avoid losing in one of their non-conference games.
They need to win both their non-conference and conference schedule.
The best way a team can achieve this is by focusing on each game as it comes. This is the small picture.
If you told your team that you were focusing on each game and ignoring the bigger picture they start to wonder why they were playing the games each week.
There is always a larger purpose. You need something to shoot for.
Bringing this back to your marketing plan, you might be thinking, “Can’t I just focus on each quarter?”
You can but a year is made of four quarters so aquarter isn’t the big picture. A year is the big picture.
However, I take the point and this is why I suggest that organizations sit down and create Rocks every quarter. Rocks are those things that you are going to place focus on during the quarter.
Think of them as your goals for the quarter.
You would focus on 3-5 Rocks during the quarter for your marketing and they directly tie back to your yearly goals.
When the next quarter comes, you will determine your Rocks for that quarter.
Outside of a basic marketing plan, I like to look out for several years anyway.
This is to have people think about what they would like the business to look like in the future.
If you start with A and want to be at D in three years, you need to think about how you might get there and starts with what you will do this year.
A plan isn’t written in stone. There are some things that could change which could cause you to tweak your goals and your plan.
Marketing is an experiment, your tactics may change or need to be adjusted as well.
But, making tweaks based on the environment around you and adjusting tactics are part of the game.
There are also many things that won’t change and that’s the reason you should plan for the year.
Marketing Doesn’t Exist in a Vaccum
You would think that marketers would be really good at marketing their own businesses but that’s not always the case.
I, and others I’ve talked with, are not always the best at following the same advice we give to our clients.
I’ve said this many times before but marketing and communication don’t exist in a vacuum. They are business processes that have a specific function for your organization.
This isn’t any different than payroll, human resources, customer service, or sales. They all exist to support your business in some way.
Marketing and communication serve your business, not the other way around.
Too many people in my industry forget this sometimes.
If you don’t know who you are and and where you want to go you’ll likely find yourself in trouble. I’m talking about your values, your mission, your goals, and the audience you are trying to reach.
You need to know these things (and actually live them) or it’s going to be really hard to create and execute marketing and communication that resonates.
This might seem obvious but you would be surprised how often businesses miss one or more of these things.
Usually, it’s because they are so interested in taking action that they ignore the process of understanding the reasons why they are marketing in the place.
This means understanding and clarifying the goals for your business.
Your business and your marketing are connected. If you are unclear on the business side, you will be unclear on the marketing side as well.
This will lead to marketing that gets, at best, subpar results.
I recently completed my strategic marketing plan for 2022 and the first thing I started with was business goals.
I then looked at each business goal and determined if marketing and communication could help reach that goal. If the answer was yes, I created marketing goals that tied to those business goals.
I then created marketing objectives that tied directly to the marketing goals.
The tactics that I’m using tie back to the objectives.
It’s all connected.
A tactic helps meet an objective which helps meet a marketing goal which helps meet a business goal.
Because, ultimately, marketing exists to help you reach your business goals.
If you treat marketing as existing in a vacuum, it will create friction and conflict that will make it harder to get to where you need to be.
Identify the Good the Bad and Ugly
A good planning session will force you to think about the current environment and think about those things that might be a problem.
It will also help you identify possibilities and what your organization does well.
I like to start by having companies focus on what their obstacles are.
If you don’t have a big budget for marketing, then that can be an obstacle for the marketing plan you are creating.
You plan has to be scaled to reflect the budget you have.
This is only one example but it does point to the need to be completely honest.
If you’re not, you will only be hurting yourself.
I also like to do a SWOT which is strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Strengths and weaknesses are internal while opportunities and threats are external.
A strength would be something that your organization is really good at.
It could be anything from leadership, your culture, a product, or the way you execute.
Weaknesses are the things you’re not so good at.
A weakness could be you’re not very strategic, struggle to execute, or even have something to do with your marketing.
While strengths will help you excel, weaknesses will trip you up.
Next are your opportunities.
Opportunities are those things that would be potentially good for your business.
There are always opportunities. The question whether you should pursue them or not but identifying them is a good start.
An opportunity could be a new market in which you aren’t currently doing business or it could be a a new market segment in which it could be easy to enter.
Last are threats. These are those things that could have a detrimental impact on your business.
A threat to be a pandemic or a recession. It could also be something such as a new product that could make your product obsolete.
Opportunities provide avenues to improve your business while threats could destory it.
I’m not asking you to invent things for any of these exercises. I’m just asking you to be thoughtful and honest.
While the process I go through is the same, the plan that is being created is custom to the business I’m working with.
No two businesses, even those in the same space, are going to operate in exactly the same way.
You will have different missions, visions, cultures, and ideas where you want to go.
This is why I like to learn as much as I can about a business before I get into the marketing plan. Everything about your business is going to impact how you do your marketing.
I don’t like the idea that somebody, be it an agency or freelancer, walks in with the same prescription that they would give out to anybody.
Doctors don’t give out the same prescription for every single case.
Plus, If everybody is doing the same thing, you aren’t likely to get very far.
A prescription can great if it is trying to solve a specific problem. It won’t work as well if it’s being applied to multiple issues.
Think about your life and business career in terms of others. Did you take the exact same path as somebody else?
I know I didn’t. I used to see it as a weakness but now I understand it’s a strength.
It’s rare that a business takes the same path as another to get where they are.
So why would you want a vanilla plan that is just a blueprint of what everybody else is doing when you need something tailored for you?
You don’t just need any plan, you need the right plan to help you get where you need to be and that can only happen with a custom plan.
Why do You Benchmark?
You need to know where you are currently at so you can determine where you need to be to meet your goals.
If you are training to run a marathon but you are only able to run a maximum of eight miles, you know that you are 16 miles short. You can then start thinking about how you can get to 9, 10, 12, 14 miles.
If your business revenue is currently $500,000 then it’s unrealistic to think that next year it’s going to be $5 million.
When you benchmark you are creating a baseline. It’s a snapshot of where you currently are.
If you aren’t measuring anything your basically running your business in the dark.
Revenue is usually the metric that most people look at and with good reason. Money is the lifeblood of every business regardless of the type and the industry.
If your business isn’t making money, it won’t survive.
Of course, you know it’s not as simple as this.
A business can be making plenty of revenue and be struggling. That’s another topic.
The bottom line is you need to see how everything is doing.
When you have your baseline, you can see how much improvement there has been.
This applies to everything you do in marketing.
Let’s look at an example.
You hire an agency for $5,000 a month to improve your marketing efforts.
When you benchmark at the beginning of the engagement you know the baseline of where you’re currently at so you know how well the agency is performing.
You have 2,000 email subscribers. If at the end of six months, the number of email subscribers has only gone up by 10 people, is that worth the $5,000 a month your spending?
Probably not but if you didn’t know the baseline in the first place, you might think the agency you hired is doing a great job.
The bottom line is that you benchmark so you can see where you are currently at and also understand the impact of the marketing you do.
And the Rest
I’ve skipped over some things I do when I plan.
I haven’t talked about mission and vision statements or the values your business has.
I didn’t talk about revenue, where you want to be in the future, brand personas or voice, strategy, objectives, or tactics.
It’s not because they aren’t important but because I’ve talked about them elsewhere. Some in stand-alone posts but also in the strategic marketing plan post that I mentioned and linked to in the introduction.
Suffice to say, like everything else here, they all inform your marketing.
They also connect your business to the marketing and thus to who you are really trying to connect with: prospects and customers.
After all, that’s why you market in the first place, right?