As a professional who has chosen marketing strategy as a career discipline, I must admit that I still have a tendency to cringe at the word “strategic” as much as anyone. The word “strategy” is so often misused to represent everything from tactics to a dressed up budget to lofty, but impractical corporate vision statements. Add “strategic planning” to the mix and you will literally have an endless number of descriptors for what exactly the term means. This is one of the reasons that “plan” can end up feeling like a four letter word when those annual planning meetings start to pop up on your calendar. But trust me, it doesn’t have to be that way. Planning doesn’t have to be painful.
What exactly is a “strategic plan?”
I’ve seen numbered lists labeled “strategic plan” hanging on poster boards in the hallways of corporate offices. I’ve received Excel spreadsheets with a budget and a few half-sentence notes in my inbox displaying the same title. I’ve seen (and have been begrudgingly involved in the creation of) 100+ page strategic planning documents that are created over weeks, delivered, then never referenced again. Part of the hesitation around planning is that we seem to all have a different definition of a plan.
For our team at LaneTerralever, a plan is a high-level guide for our decision making throughout the course of a campaign. Yes, this includes a budget, timelines and tactics. However, the purpose of a plan is to guide our activities and decisions throughout the year. Not to document every possible outcome. The key to proper planning is to deliver an integrated, understandable plan that includes just enough information and no more. Prior to even compiling a plan for a client, the LaneTerralever team roadmaps what that plan is composed of. This allows the client to see, first-hand, the marketing plan’s framework and what the strategic planning team will be diving into.
What are the right elements of a marketing plan?
Without a clear framework for creating a strategic marketing plan, you may end up with a budget document, a set of tactics, or a creative theme delivered as the plan for the year, the campaign or the product launch. For us, a marketing plan is a collection of the following elements, delivered in the simplest possible format that achieves a clear, common understanding between all stakeholders:
- Goals: These should start with the high-level business goals ($60 million in sales, 72% market share, 40% profit margin, etc.), then marketing goals ($220 cost per acquisition, unaided brand awareness of 88%, 400 new leads, etc.), then get down to tactical or channel metrics ($7 cost per click on paid search, lead form conversion rate of 11%, 80% increase in organic search volume, etc.). Business and marketing goals should be defined upfront with exact metrics, dates and how they will be measured. Tactical and channel metrics can be defined later on in the process.
- Market Landscape: This will include the current outlook of the industry as a whole, what the competitive landscape looks like and where your brand currently stands.
- Customer segmentation: Who are we targeting? What makes each group of these customers unique? How do they purchase products in your category? What matters to them?
- Positioning: How your brand is differentiated from competition and the answer to the question, “where can we win?”
- Messaging: How you will express that brand positioning in a way that will appeal to your customers and entice them to take an action. This will be heavily influenced by your customer segmentation and positioning.
- Tactical Plan: This is another element of the “how we win” question. This will include what channels to use, the intended purpose of each of those channels, and how you can beat your competition on those channels. This will be defined based on the previous five elements of the plan and is as much about deciding what not to do as it is about deciding what to do.
- Budget: This is the culmination of all of the previous inputs and is really a math equation at this point. What is the most optimal way to allocate our funds to achieve our goals based on what we know about our industry, audience, position and channels?
- Timing: Beyond just how you will run your media based on micro-campaigns, seasonality, product launches and other factors, the timeline will also include how you plan to monitor and analyze data to constantly optimize and refine the plan throughout its life.
And you’re done. Planning doesn’t have to be nearly as hard or painful as many organizations make it. Our strategic planning team at LaneTerralever simplifies this process, ensuring that it is done in a timely and efficient manner that will deliver just the right depth of plan to align all parties and reach your goals. If you are interested in talking to us about your next marketing plan, drop us a line here.