The principles of what makes a good marketing plan are the same whether you are an owner-run business like me, SME, or a global corporation. The aim of this piece is not to get into the nitty gritty of exactly what to include and how build a plan. If you want to know how to do that, seek out resources geared towards execution. The Marketing Meetup (Joe Glover) and Marketing Examples (Harry Dry) are both ace.
I am not a marketing planner, but I have seen hundreds of them during my career as a marketing effectiveness consultant. On a basic level, a marketing plan is my checklist for which data I need to collect to conduct analysis. On a deeper level, well-developed plans also tell me what was intended from each execution - useful context to compare to what really happened.
Clear strategic objectives, clear tactical goals and consistency are the secret sauce.
A good marketing plan follows from a businesses’ strategic objectives. If a key business goal is to launch a new product or service this year, then it makes sense to have a launch campaign on the marketing plan. If the business needs to grow by x% this year, then the marketing needs to be focused on campaigns that will contribute.
The biggest weakness that I have seen in marketing plans are when business goals and marketing plans are not aligned. I see this more in very large businesses with departments. Often then, it is different people building business and marketing plans with not enough communication going on.
The thing about strategic objectives is that they do not change that often. If your goal is to make £x revenue this year, that remains true regardless of what else is going on, because it has likely been set at that level because it ensures that costs are covered, plus a bit of a margin. Marketing is one of the levers you can use.
Cue global pandemic that creates external shocks maybe to both supply and demand. Have your strategic objectives changed? (– probably not, you still have the same costs initially, at least in the short term.) You may tweak the tone and amount of marketing if demand drops. You need to look for different levers to marketing.
But the strategic objective stays on the plan, even if marketing’s ability to contribute to it is impeded in the short term. The danger of removing it from the marketing plan, or lowering it, is that you lose sight of the bigger aims and so risk being on the backfoot during recovery, shooting for too low a contribution from marketing.
It also helps you to work out what types of marketing you need to be doing. Going back to that launch example. Details of what you are launching leads you to selecting a target audience. Which in turn leads to selection of the marketing platforms where this target audience are most likely to be.
There is more than one element to most marketing plans. Even my tiny business has two: a strand for marketing to people I already know; and another for getting in front of new audiences. Although both are contributing to the same strategic goal (revenue) where I communicate, how often and what I say is different for each. I market on several platforms for each that work together to cover several bases.
I have marketing goals for each little bit. Then I regularly collect some simple measures that help me to track how close I am to each goal. Because I look at each bit separately quite frequently, I find out what is working (and not) quite quickly. That helps me to adjust as I go and avoids a nasty surprise at the end of the year.
It is more important the smaller you are. Most of my marketing relies on social media somehow. I have no control over the algorithms, so when they change, I want to know soon. It still applies if you do not do any paid marketing. You are still paying in terms of time spent creating content and posting, even if you rely on organic reach.
Of course, it is trickier for larger businesses with more complicated marketing plans. A common question is how to set goals for different elements. To do that, you need to have an idea of what £x in a specific marketing channel should achieve. You can do that by analysis of your past activities or use benchmarks for similar businesses.
This is important in a couple of ways. Firstly, just having a marketing plan is not enough. You need to deliver on it consistently for it to be able to deliver its aims. On the one hand, being a single person business gives you an advantage in that there is only your own consistency to keep up. Conversely, it is all on you.
Now I have put my measurement hat on. If you want to be able to measure if your marketing has worked (whether that be by simple charting or fancy analysis) you need to do each bit for a decent amount of time to give yourself a fair shot at that. Because 1. Marketing is never the only thing happening 2. Some types of marketing take a while to work 3. More experience to measure tends to increase accuracy.
There is also a bit of a conflict here in terms of best practice for measurement and marketing execution. Measurement purists will tell you to separate your activities out so that it is easier to disentangle the elements. Marketing practitioners rightly advocate phasing activities together to increase the splash.
A pragmatic compromise is usually to measure what you planned as the best campaign execution. Some activities may not have been able to be disentangled. One of the recommendations may be to reserve a small portion of budget to test one of those activities in isolation. To increase what you know in the long run.
Having strategic business objectives attached to a marketing plan helps to ensure that the business and marketing plan are in alignment, even if the marketing plan needs to shift in the short term. It also keeps a focus on what the marketing needs to do for the business which can help with how to build the marketing plan.
Attaching smaller tactical goals to each of the elements in the marketing plan is useful because it allows you to more quickly identify how each element is working and to adjust, as necessary. The right measure to look at for each element will depend on what that element is trying to achieve.
No matter how good a theoretical marketing plan is it can only achieve its potential if it is executed on consistently. Consistency is also important for measurement.
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© Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2021