I was recently asked this question by a (non-marketer) friend and I believe the answer is yes.
Pretty much regardless of the importance of the plan or the industry core specificities, the plan structures will be the same. Those are heavily documented in the marketing literature so I will not get into much details in this post. What I am proposing to share is a high-level, easily digestible, framework that anyone could apply to its particular need.
As always in marketing, it all start with 3 key points…
At an abstract level a marketing plan always has the following sections:
- The Analysis
- The Strategy
- The Execution
1. The Analysis
One way of thinking about the analysis is that, similar to the mind sweep in GTD, this is the section where using –depending on the situation- a mix of quantitative and qualitative tools, market research and gut feel, brainstorm and rigorous analysis, you will gather in one place all the elements necessary to make the key decisions that will inform your choices of goals, focus area, strategies and execution.
A few key elements about this section:
- This is where tools like the Porter 5 forces, BCG growth-share matrix, GE matrix, etc will be used to analyze a situation
- Segmentation will be needed in most cases very early in this analysis as each segments will have different dynamics, needs, pattern, timelines, constrains, potential… One simple way to explain segmentation is to think of it as the subset of customers that purchase the same product or services (or roughly the same) with the same purchasing behavior and customer profile.
- The analysis needs to finish with a SWOT or something equivalent of your liking. This step is very important as it will help you crystallize the key elements that will inform the next steps: goals and strategies. One way of thinking about the SWOT analysis is that if your analysis is a funnel with many insights and data coming in, your SWOT is the end (the small section) of this funnel, a summary of the elements you decided to keep to make your decision. The next step, defining your goals, is then pretty straight forward:
- Build on your strengths (S) to capitalize on the opportunities (O)
- Tackle your weaknesses for the ones that need to be improved. Forget the others.
- Identify which threats (T) are the most dangerous and decide on mitigation strategies for those ones.
2. The Strategy
The strategy section is really made of 3 independent sections:
- The goals: Based on your SWOT you need to decide what are your top goals, what you are trying to achieve with this strategic marketing plan
- The Strategies: For each goal you need to develop one or more strategies (more than 3 per goal probably mean you have over-extended yourself or are not clear about what is really going to work). You probably need to build several strategies and select the best one(s) based on criteria that will change depending on the situation (cost, resources, timeline, risks….)
- The Tactics: Each strategy will be associated with one or more tactic, the actual activity you will carry out to execute this strategy.
What can happen as you are trying to rationalize this section is that:
- You will need to prioritize which goals, strategies and tactics are the most important
- You will realize that a given strategy can influence several goals
- You will also see that a given tactic can influence several strategies.
An example of the latter would be a trade-show participation that would, for instance, both help the “generate more new leads” strategy and the “show industry leadership” one.
Amongst the classic tools to inform tactic development is the 4P model. I use an extended 6P framework for the high-tech B2B markets. Another one is the AIDA model, or its variations for your specific market and value chain. One last example would be to approach these by asking questions around breath vs. depth vs. tiered strategies for the given goal and have a toolbox of activities to chose depending on this choice., See here for an example of going through this process in 5th “P” (for Partners) of the 6P framework.
From a graphical metaphor standpoint, this will be also a funnel, but starting narrow with a few goals and expanding as strategies and tactics get defined.
3. The Execution
The execution part is where tactics needs to be translated into clear and actionable activities. This is also where reality kicks in as this is where the marketer will have to:
- Define clear and specific metrics to gauge of the activities’ success
- Potentially combine, simplify or eliminate activities as getting into the detailed implementation exposes resources constraints or other blockers that forces re-prioritization.
- It’s also where continuous monitoring of these results, fine tuning, adaptation and overall real-life sanity checks will need to take place.
One way of picturing this phase can be as a shape starting as wide as the strategy one then staying as wide as the end of the strategy funnel (if all tactics are executed and are distinct), or narrowing, boiling down to a narrower set of core metrics and implementation aspects, down to potentially a bare-bone set of activities.
What I just shared is nothing new or ground breaking in any way shape or form. It’s just a way for a newcomers to the process of strategic marketing planning to grasp, at high-level, the conceptual phases on this process.
This process can, depending on the situation be extremely simple, such as 5 bullets points from analysis to executions and metrics, up to tens of pages (or more) of analysis and planning. In both cases, and anything in between, the high-level phases will remain the same.