Go Back to the Future and Write Your Marketing Plan

This blog post was originally published on Content Marketing Institute Blog January 14, 2014.

In the olden days of marketing, we talked about positioning statements, the 4 Ps, marketing plans, branding, etc.  Some pundits and bloggers might claim that these old style concepts and practices are obsolete and have been replaced with content marketing, social media, marketing automation, SEO, SEM and so on.  I suggest these so-called old style, obsolete concepts, strategies and tactics are more important than ever.  As professional marketers, I suggest we go back to the future and embrace the fundamentals before we begin to use the modern tools like content marketing.
[picture credit www.livingdesignhome.com]
Embarking upon a plan to ‘do content marketing’ or ‘do social media’ without first preparing a proper marketing plan is like building a house with no blueprint.  Adding rooms (marketing tactics) on a whim without an understanding of how each room supports the overall structure (business goals), the purpose of each room (objectives) and how you will decide if the room is successful (measurement) is a recipe for disaster at worst and poor performance at best.
We as professional marketers are all excited about content marketing.  We are itching to get started creating great content we know will launch our business onto the next great growth trajectory.  The momentum and the enthusiasm are great.   However, I suggest holding on to our horses for just a moment before jumping in while we consider the broader marketing plan.  Before you get started with creating content or launching any type of marketing activity it is critically important to have completed your marketing plan.  Why, you may ask, must I take precious time and utilize my already stretched resources to write down a plan.  Isn’t that a bit old fashioned?  Yes, it is old fashioned and at the same time, more important than ever in this modern marketing age.  The marketing plan, 4 Ps, positioning, et al have likely been around for 1000s of years in one form or another.  We must travel back to the future.  The reason these concepts have endured is because they fundamentally support the exchange of goods.  In spite of our modern marketing technology, the basics of business have not changed since the dawn of the first civilization in Mesopotamia.  We are still exchanging products or services for some type of consideration.  Whether we were a merchant pedaling our wares in the Middle Ages or we are selling access to a SaaS service today, there is fundamentally no difference.  It is an exchange.  Success of either the Middle Ages merchant or the modern SaaS vendor depends on awareness of the offering and establishment of value in the minds of the prospective buyer. In other words, it depends on marketing (assuming the sales function is a subset of a broad definition of marketing).
Consider the 4 major parts of a good marketing plan as discussed below.  This discussion is not meant to be comprehensive education about how to create a marketing plan,  It is a starter discussion to show how important it is to have a proper, written marketing plan.  It is a simple framework of the components of a good marketing plan.
Definition of a Marketing Plan
A marketing plan is a comprehensive document that summarizes marketplace knowledge and the strategies and steps to be taken in achieving the objectives set marketing managers for a particular period.[1]
What a Marketing Plan is Not
A marketing plan is not a spreadsheet of activities.  It’s not an editorial calendar.  It’s not a list of campaigns.  It’s not a budget or set of goals. It’s not something you think you have in your head.
These are the 4 essential topics that must be covered in your marketing plan before proceeding with any marketing activities such as content marketing, social media, direct mail, email promotion, nurturing, web sites, landing pages, PPC, et al:
1.      Assess the Current Situation
·         What resources are available?
·         Analyze and summarize your market space(s).
·         Analyze internal strengths and weaknesses.
·         Analyze external opportunities and threats.
·         Assess the competition and competitive environment.
·         Assess the macro environment; social, economic, political, technological
·         Identify critical issues
2.      Describe the Marketing Strategy
·         Mission and vision
·         Business objectives
·         Marketing objectives
·         Target market description
·         Positioning statement
·         Value proposition
3.      Marketing Program
·         Product
·         Pricing strategy
·         Channels
·         Promotion
4.      Controls and measurement
·         Financials
·         Critical success factors
·         Key performance indicators
·         Technology and platforms
It is interesting to note that ‘content marketing’ could come under number 3, as a means of promotion.  It could also (and probably should) fall under number 2 as the foundation to the overall marketing strategy. 
Many marketers and firms will claim they have the marketing plan in their head or within the tribal knowledge of the organization.  Not good enough.  Many firms will have several disparate pieces of a marketing plan spread throughout the organization with the sales department, product managers, marketing department, executive leadership team, strategic business planners or other such places.  In order for Marketing to do its job, Marketing must create and own a proper marketing plan first and foremost. One of the real tangible benefits of writing a proper plan is in the forced collaboration between the stakeholders.  This collaboration helps to align the various functions.  The process of writing the plan also positions the marketing department and personnel as valid business participants as opposed to being perceived as a service center reacting to one request after another.
It may be the case where a firm requires multiple marketing plans for multiple units such as business units, geographic regions, product groups or other classifications depending on your firm’s business plan.
One last point, creating the Marketing Plan is not just an exercise to be done once and then put on the virtual shelf.  It is a living, dynamic document which should be referred to on a regular basis and updated as conditions or situations change.
I leave you with a challenge.  See if you can find a written marketing plan at your organization.  If you find one that is current, dynamic and being used as a daily reference upon which to base marketing decisions, bravo!  If you can’t find it or if you hear people tell you it is all in their head, step back and begin to craft a proper plan today before you do anything else.
For more information about creating a proper marketing plan, I recommend ‘The Marketing Plan Handbook (4th Edition) by Marian Burk Wood.


[1]The Marketing Plan Handbook, Marian Burk Wood
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