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Strategic Planning

A Telling Tale

Several years ago there was a high-power marketing summit in San Francisco. The best and brightest ad agency “names” were all in attendance – including the creators of the great American ad campaigns of the era. The atmosphere was collegial; and why wouldn’t it be?

It was the annual meeting of marketing’s Mutual Admiration Society  (Flashy Ad-Guy/Gal Chapter). The meeting was going swimmingly; that is until a plucky young speaker approached the dais and provoked the audience with one simple question: “What is strategic planning?”

An easy question? After all, these were the best advertising brains in the country. There were a few chuckles in the room; and then, nervous titters. But no one raised a hand. The question-mark lingered in the air. Finally, a brave soul attempted an answer, mumbling, something like, “It’s putting together a plan – strategically…”

The speaker recognized the answer as simple word reversal; an easy parlor game for any ad practitioner. There were a few chuckles, but the attempt fell flat. Then, after a hideously long pause (especially considering the cumulative creative brainpower present), a shiny star in the back of the room boldly offered: “It’s research.”

You could have heard an olive drop into a martini glass as the attendees waited for the provocateur at the podium to acknowledge the proffer. Silence – and then, a faint smile from the speaker; one that implied, “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

So, “What is planning?”

At its heart, planning is research and strategy – a discomfort zone for many communications professionals. In fact, there are marketing practitioners that would rather predict the future with tea leaves than do even the most basic market research. It’s a shame really; because today, with the power of the web, it’s never been easier to understand market conditions.

Planning is more important than ever before. Periodically, most every client today faces an urgent strategic marketing decision that can affect the future of the company for years to come. Frequently, though, these marketing decisions are made “spur of the moment,” without having an opportunity to study the situation in depth – voiding the possibility of making the best decisions.

A better approach is to perform an annual comprehensive review of markets and opportunities and then make long-term strategic decisions without the distractions of day-to-day marketing and sales activities. With a real plan, daily marketing decisions fit into the company’s overall strategic marketing goals.

It’s important for a strategic marketing planning process to look at the company from the customer’s point-of-view by asking questions that have a long time horizon, such as:

  • What needs or problems cause customers to consider buying from our company?
  • What improvements in the customer’s personal or business life can we enable or improve?
  • Which customer market segments are attracted to our company or products?
  • Which customer motivations or values lead people to decide to purchase our products?
  • What changes or trends in our customer base are affecting their general interest or attraction to products like ours?

Strategic vs. Tactical Marketing Plans

What makes a strategic marketing plan different from a more tactical marketing communications plan? The key difference is the focus on meshing customer situations with overall company direction.

For consumer marketers, this means using geographic and demographic segmentation, as well as psychographic segmentation (i.e., values, attitudes, lifestyles), and product usage motivations.

For example, the aging U.S. population creates a general increase in demand for a wide range of products. It also creates market niches that are large enough to make product development and marketing worthwhile.

Without a strategic marketing plan a company could waste resources – or miss an opportunity.

What’s the cost of missing an opportunity? Of course, it’s impossible to know at the time the opportunity is missed, but later it becomes clear when a competitor opens a new factory or enters a new market — and their revenue grows faster than your own.

In other words, the annual cost of a strategic marketing plan review is minor compared to the revenue, market share, and profitability it can generate.

The same shifts can also reduce demand for other products.

Instead of increasing advertising or sales efforts, it might be better to abandon a declining market.

The Strategic Marketing Plan – A Simple Outline

The strategic marketing plan process typically has three stages:

1. Segment the market

  • Geographic
  • Demographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavior

2. Profile the market segments

  • Revenue potential
  • Market share potential
  • Profitability potential

3. Develop a market segment marketing strategy

  • Market leader or product line extension
  • Mass marketing or targeted marketing
  • Direct or indirect sales

After analyzing market segments, customer interests, and the purchase process, it’s time to create the strategic marketing plan. The strategic marketing plan document usually includes:

  • Situation Analysis – Where is the company now?
    1. Market Characteristics
    2. Key Success Factors
    3. Competition and Product Comparisons
    4. Technology Considerations
    5. Problems and Opportunities
  • Marketing Objectives – Where does management want the company to go?
    1. Product Profile
    2. Target Market
    3. Target Volume in Dollars and/or Units
  • Marketing Strategies – What should the company do to achieve its objectives?
    1. Product Strategy
    2. Pricing Strategy
    3. Promotion Strategy
    4. Distribution Strategy
    5. Marketing Strategy Projection

How to Use a Strategic Marketing Plan

Once a company’s leadership has approved the strategic marketing plan it’s time to take the next step — create the tactical marketing programs and projects needed to implement the plan.

These tactical programs usually include:

  • Product Development Plan
  • Marketing Communications Plan
  • Sales Development Plan
  • Customer Service Plan

Benefiting from a Strategic Marketing Plan

The top-down process of developing a strategic marketing plan helps insure that all tactical marketing programs support the company’s goals and objectives, as well as convey a consistent message to customers.

This approach improves company efficiency in all areas, which helps improve revenue and market share growth, and minimizes expenses — all of which lead to higher profitability.

Level Marketing can help:

  • Research customer attitudes toward your company, your product category, and your competition.
  • Evaluate the attractiveness of potential target markets
  • Determine the competitive strengths and weaknesses of your company and your competitors
  • Develop marketing communications strategies for each target market
  • Implement communications strategies and tactics
  • Design the metrics to measure performance

Are you ready to be more strategic in your marketing efforts?
Contact Level Marketing to get started.