The debate over the ‘ideal’ marketing plan rages on and there is some discussion that any plan in today’s fast-changing environment is of little value anyway. This is not a new idea. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during WWII famously said, “Plans are worthless but planning is everything”1. Much earlier, Sun Tzu in the Art of War suggested, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favorable position in actual warfare.”2
So, why plan? Some thoughts:
- Secure internal agreement to a budget (or appropriation, as P&G used to call it) that marketing is seeking to spend against a forecast of volume and marketing margin associated with the plan.
- Alert the supply chain/Procurement of likely requirements in the months ahead.
- Secure the input and agreement of key stakeholders like the Sales Dept.
- Outline key risks and environmental/internal assumptions that could drive higher or lower business results with a view to mitigating or preparing for these outcomes.
- Confirm that alignment exists between the annual plan and any strategic plan for the same brand/business and the larger corporate mission and vision.
- Secure top management’s commitment to the resourcing of the plan beyond just ‘money’ issues such as sales force deployment, human resources and external lobbying efforts.
As with any communication, it’s always a good idea to start the writing process by defining;
- your goals,
- the audience,
- their current state of knowledge/awareness of the issues involved,
- the ‘end state’ of their knowledge/awareness/commitment that is required to achieve the goals,
- their ‘stake’/contribution to the plan,
- any other barriers and considerations,
And then (and only then): the best way to close this gap.
In the context of the annual (or launch) Marketing Plan, all of this can be summarized as two key questions, “Where to play?” and “How to win?”.
“Where to play?” includes a prioritized definition of the business opportunities, in the context of the external environment, our current business, goals, resources and appetite for risk/return. “How to win?” focuses on the strategies, plans and ongoing efforts required to deliver the agreed goals.
Usually, there are portfolio considerations as well. It would be difficult to justify the same amount of planning effort/attention to all products within a company’s portfolio. The level of effort should be directly proportional to the impact (short/long term) that is expected from a ‘marketing intervention’.
With this in mind, the kinds of issues that could be addressed in a comprehensive marketing plan are as follows:
1. Executive Summary
Typically written last, a good Exec Summary will include a table of key performance targets plus historical trends to provide context. A five-year picture is quite common: the previous fiscal, current fiscal (Latest Estimate vs. Plan) plus three forward years. The budget required will be highlighted, the overall ‘theme’ of the plan plus a brief overview of Strategic Imperatives (see below).
2. Market/Product Definition
This is a definition of the overall market plus the segment(s) that the brand competes in with a brief description of the brand itself (key target customer(s), basis by which it competes).
3. Situation Analysis
This is a summary of macroeconomic and microeconomic factors that most affect the business. Typical sub-sections can include:
‘P.E.S.T.L.E.D.’ Analysis – specifically an analysis of Political-Economic-Socio-cultural-Technological-Legal-Environmental-Demographic factors. In my experience, Socio-cultural factors are often the weakest part and too often the whole exercise is focused on the past rather than the future. The summary of this section is often called the ‘Market Drivers’. These factors typically affect all companies/brands in the market: “the tide floats all boats”.
The microeconomic sections include market/market segments, competition, customers, and company (internal) factors. Each one of these could be quite detailed. For example:
- Market/market segments – historical trends, key characteristics and outlook. Segments should include both the one(s) currently targeted as well as potential, new segments.
- Customers – a profile of buyers-users-influencers; how they interact with the brand, each other and the environment. This is arguably the most important section of the micro analysis. A Customer Chain, Brand Mapping by attributes, Benefit Ladder and Customer (Patient) Journey analyses may all be useful. Remember: marketing is the internal repository of knowledge of and advocate for the customer. At a minimum, usage and purchasing habits, prevailing attitudes and unmet needs must be defined.
- Competition – includes a S.W.O.T. (we prefer to conduct a ‘Strategic S.W.O.T.’) analysis and ‘divining’ a competitive marketing plan/P&L may be useful. Often, SWOTs are simply a ‘cut and paste’ from a previous plan and too general/qualitative and, therefore, a waste of space but they do not have to be! Another typical shortfall is to focus only on current, direct competitors without considering ‘substitutes’ (viz Michael Porter’s 5 Forces).
- Company – internal capabilities/ limitations. These might include field sales issues, reputational strengths and weaknesses, supply chain limitations, etc.
The summary of the micro section is often called the ‘Business Drivers’ and can be thought of as the ‘levers’ available to accelerate our business growth.
4. Business Review Key Learning
Marketing Plans usually pay too little attention to the painful (or profitable) lessons from the past. This can happen when marketing personnel are moved too often or when the marketing plan exists outside a regular (cyclical) review of what’s happening on the business. This section should summarize the key learning from the past year(s) experience that impacts our future opportunities. Product Lifecycle and portfolio management considerations could also be analysed.
5. Opportunity Analysis
This ‘so what?’ summary arising from the Situation Analysis consists of a prioritized list of opportunities and a brief rationale.
6. Key Issues & Assumptions
Key Issues are the threats, barriers or obstacles that must be overcome to achieve our goals. Key Assumptions should be specified for any business influence where there is a range of possible outcomes that directly affect the business. Examples include market growth, regulatory approvals, competitive activity, and consumer adoption. Issues and assumptions can be both macro and micro factors and flow from the Situation Analysis. They appear again later in the plan as part of the Strategic Imperatives as well as part of a Risk Analysis.
Some organizations make a distinction between ‘goals’ and objectives’. I will call them all goals and they generally need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). It can be helpful to sub-divide them into three types as follows:
- Brand Vision – An aspirational statement that describes where we would like the business to be in 3-5 years.
- Long-term Goals – Key goals over 3-5 years that, if achieved, would deliver the vision. This could include major product launches, commercializing new claims or the implementation/fruition of other longer-term strategies.
- Operational Goals – These are the goals that focus on the planning period, typically, a 12-month period and can include sales (value/volume), market share, marketing contribution, distribution levels, usage/awareness penetration, etc. ‘Source of volume’ is an important analysis that justifies how the business will grow. Specific goals can also be included in the Sub-strategies section later on. Milestones and KPIs are two more sub-types of operational goals we will examine later in the plan.
8. Strategic Imperatives
This important section of the plan outlines the 3-4 ‘must-do’ marketing initiatives that are key to delivering the brand’s operational and long-term goals. They can be thought of as key or critical success factors. A long ‘laundry list’ is not helpful, will dilute focus and usually signals that marketing is not sure what truly will drive the business forward. Such statements include elements of Opportunity, Goals, and Key Issues but minimal tactical details. Example: “Brand X must leverage its superior efficacy vs. Competitor Y and address its weak awareness by increasing field sales coverage and promotional focus among high-prescribing specialists”.
9. Marketing Strategy
Sometimes called the Core Marketing Strategy, this is the anchor or umbrella strategy that guides all sub-strategies and action plans. It sets out the brand’s Positioning (or Value Proposition, Brand Essence, USP, etc.) It is worth a significant investment of time and effort to develop since it should rarely change, year to year. The best marketing strategies are written in clear, plain language – slogans and headlines come later. There should be ‘no surprises’ in that all of these elements will have been supported by the analysis provided in previous sections of the plan. Typical elements include:
- Target Customer(s) – priority Users, Buyers and Influencers
- Basis of competitive advantage – the most compelling differences versus specific, targeted competitors. Naming the competitor(s) is almost always helpful to create focus.
- Focus of effort – where should most of our marketing/sales investment be focused? ‘Following the money’ is always a good litmus test to define/confirm our most important strategies.
Example: “Brand X will target high-income women aged 18-40 and the healthcare professionals that influence them who are current brand users of high-end, anti-aging skincare products including Competitors Y and Z. Communication will focus on Brand X’s unique liposome delivery system that delivers superior penetration of its anti-aging ingredient Z, clinically proven to smooth facial fine wrinkles and maintain radiant, brighter-looking skin. Marketing/sales efforts will focus on generating 21-day trials among consumers and professional endorsement among high-prescribing dermatologists and aesthetic doctors.”
10. Sub-Strategies & Action Plans
This is the Marketing Mix or so-called ‘4 Ps’ which are all subordinate to the Marketing Strategy just described. The number and complexity of these sub-strategies will vary by brand but most should include:
- Focus/Type – Examples: Pricing, Field Selling, NPD, Social Media, Channels, Key Accounts, Thought Leaders, Market Shaping (Development), etc.
- Overall direction – Example: “Maintain a 20% price premium versus key Competitor Y”
- Rationale – basis for the direction. Example: “This premium is supported by Brand X’s superior cleaning action vs. Competitor Y [described in more detail in the Marketing Strategy] and which is supported by consumer research as a justifiable price premium among target consumers”.
- Specific operational goals – these would relate to the activity such as “Review market and business conditions during third quarter and develop pricing plan for Jan. 1 implementation”
- Budget- any spending directly attributable to the activity
- Action Plan including Milestones – the ‘who does what, when’ details. Milestones are intermediate steps that track development progress. Spending for important sub-strategies may be broken down by quarter, month as in, for example, a Promotion Plan (or Calendar). Exhibits can provide more implementation details.
- Monitoring – all important sub-strategies require monitoring to track implementation and impact. Most marketers are familiar with ‘lagging indicators’ such as sales, market share and distribution levels but as the term implies, these metrics (while important) often take months to materialize and likely are the result of multiple sub-strategies. The plan also needs to specify ‘leading indicators’ that monitor specific sub-strategy implementation and impact. Examples could include: new SKU listings among Key Accounts, attendance at a pre-launch medical meeting, clicks/’stickiness’ metrics on a website, etc. This is another reason to conduct regular business reviews on every priority brand!
11. Risk Analysis & Contingency Plans
Every plan carries upside/downside risk, which should have been identified in the Key Issues & Assumptions section earlier. This section should focus on the higher probability/higher impact scenarios that the business could face. In many instances, the plan should identify the steps already taken to mitigate risk. For example, if a new item is being launched and there is some supply risk them we might consider a rolling launch, by region, to ensure there is sufficient stock. In other cases, contingency plans (the ‘Plan B’) will need to be quite detailed if the impact is high with limited lead-time to respond. In other scenarios, it may be sufficient to provide only an outline of a general response with the details to be worked out if and when needed.
Supplemental items that could be considered as exhibits include:
- More detailed forecasts
- Summaries of important, recent market research findings
- Action Plan details such as a Promotion Calendar
- Contracts/Tender-RFP Calendar
The annual Marketing Plan should be seen as part of a comprehensive, ongoing review of the business. It needs to link to short-term as well and long-term trends and considerations. At its heart it is a ‘selling’ document but it must be built on a solid foundation of thorough analyses. It is an ideal opportunity to seek broad-based input among internal stakeholders which will ultimately build commitment to its implementation. Will it ever be executed exactly as planned? Unlikely. The conclusion? The ‘final’ plan probably never exists and is less valuable, in any case, than the process of developing it!
We offer a full range of marketing assessment and training programs that build on the concepts described in this plan outline through our affiliation with Innovara Inc. Programs typically run 2-4 days with customisable content and include: Essentials of Product Management, Marketing Plan in Action, Advanced Strategic Marketing, Building Brand Leaders and World Class Launch. Contact us for more information.
1 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower (viewed 2018.04.05)
2 https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3200649-s-nzi-b-ngf?page=8 (viewed 2018.04.05)