Strategic planning is a critical component of good management and governance and it contributes to an organization’s stability and growth. A company’s strategic plan acts as a blueprint to guide its activities or direction and to provide a basis for setting priorities, allocating resources, monitoring progress and assessing results and impacts against its pre-described goals. It’s easy to forget that a company is a thing that needs designed, built and led.
According to Wikipedia in order to determine the direction of the organization, it is necessary to understand its current position and the possible avenues through which it can pursue a particular course of action.
The marketing plan is born from the strategic business plan.
Once the company has defined its strategic direction and has agreed company-wide goals, a strategic marketing plan is required to guide corporate marketing activities for the next 3-5 years. However, a marketing plan is of no use without a marketing strategy, which lays the foundation for a good plan.
Benchmarks for Success
When faced with the daunting task of writing a strategic marketing plan, one of the first steps to consider as you approach the project is to ask yourself, “What deems this project a success?” Once you determine the benchmarks for your particular plan, use them to guide your marketing planning activities throughout the plan development process. Everything you do should work toward your goals for success – this will keep you focused and on track. Of course these will vary by company and project, but some examples to illustrate may include things like:
• Delivering a plan approved by the company and its Board of Directors
• Developing a plan that provides insight into future opportunities and challenges
• Delivering a plan that articulates the next steps for implementing actionable recommendations
In project management 101, we learn about the four elements that drive project success: scope, timeline, resources and budget. The most important benchmark of success is getting the balance right between these interrelated elements and managing each of them effectively – project success is dependent upon it.
Scope and Key Questions
When laying out the scope of the project, some considerations may include elements such as:
- Updating the situational analysis
- Reviewing programs and target markets
- Updating the competitive set and their offerings
- Evaluating recent marketing initiatives
- Articulating an integrated and evolved brand strategy
- Identifying the objectives, strategies, tactics and metrics for the marketing plan
Another good practice in the marketing planning process is to develop a list of key questions that you wish to address within the marketing plan. These questions will be born from each of the elements within the scope and provide guidance for your tasks. For example if you are addressing the brand strategy within the scope for a company with multiple brands, perhaps a key question might be, “How does XYZ Company best integrate multiple brands and programs within the corporate brand?”
Approach and Planning Models
There are many approaches to strategic planning and the approach selected depends on the purpose of the plan, whether strategic planning has previously been done, the culture of the organization, and the speed of change in the organization’s external environment. Oftentimes an integrated approach is used. The different planning models include:
Vision-Based or Goals-Based Planning – based on specific organizational goals or corporate vision
Issues-Based Planning – addressing current or major organizational issues
Alignment Model – aligning toward company’s mission by fine-tuning strategies
Scenario Planning – useful in identifying strategic goals and issues
Organic Planning – non-linear, self-organizing planning model referencing common values and current processes
Real-Time Planning – continuous planning done in real-time to address current conditions and environments
The approach to a strategic plan should assume cooperative effort between the company’s Board and/or staff/management perhaps with a special strategic planning committee of Board members and staff taking responsibility for the effort, with a project leader to manage the process and develop the actual plan.
I was recently asked to develop a strategic marketing planning approach for a Tourism Association looking to re-vamp their outdated marketing plan to guide their corporate and program marketing activities for the next 5 fiscal years.
I proposed that the first stage would be to gain consensus on an appropriate planning model, subsequently setting the strategic direction and developing an actionable plan.
Based on background detail gathered about the organization and its environment, I recommended an integrated approach, which included the following key drivers:
- Goal-based approach tying everything back to objectives against specific target audiences, with clear metrics for measuring success;
- Real-time planning to clarify mission, vision and values and to clarify current, major priorities based on audiences, research studies, program evaluations, and environmental scans;
- Alignment of existing strategy to mission and vision, identifying what is working well, what needs adjustment, and future considerations
My approach to their marketing planning request:
• Get acquainted with the company. Understand the business model, revenue development strategy, financial resources & support, and company culture
• Establish strategic goals and methods to achieve them, discuss potential objectives, audiences, and strategies
• Carry out an internal and external environmental scan reviewing target audiences, stakeholders, competitors, programs, SWOT assessment and brand perceptions
• Identify critical success factors necessary to the future and continued success of the organization
• Identify key issues, questions and choices to be addressed as part of the strategic plan
• Review/update company values, vision, mission and mandates
• Agree upon key strategies to reach the goals and address key issues identified through the environmental scan, and specify criteria for evaluating and choosing among strategies
• Develop an action plan that addresses goals and specific objectives and work plans on an annual basis
• Finalize a written strategic plan that summarizes the results and decisions of the strategic planning process with built in procedures for monitoring and modifying strategies based on changes to the organization or external environment
Strategic marketing planning could take anywhere from 3-12 months or longer depending on the scope of the project and the budget is totally dependent on time, scope and resources (internal/external).
I leave you with a few final thoughts and tips:
- Breaking the project into phases or manageable chunks will help set and manage expectations of superiors in addition to increasing motivation of the doer and minimizing the overwhelm that may develop when looking at the massive size and importance of the task at hand.
- Building checkpoints and major milestones into the planning process will help not only with timekeeping but will focus your thought process and activities (which will also tame the budget).
- Consider a project check-in quarter-way and halfway through the project to ensure that you are still on track with current objectives. This also affords the opportunity to re-align based on revised or new goals uncovered during the initial phases of the project.
Thoughtful and intentional marketing planning is integral to business success. By following a proven process, you increase your chances of reaching your goals and objectives. If you don’t have the expertise, time or resources to do this internally, I’m here to help. Hiring a marketing consultant to help with your marketing planning will free up your time to work on other business critical activities. Get in touch – I’d love to hear from you.