Bruce Clark, Associate Professor of Marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, wrote a lengthy blog post titled What’s a “Marketing Plan”? And what is it good for?

« Last week, as part of a curriculum review inside my department, I decided to ask Twitter what it thought of marketing plans. Should I be teaching this concept? … 35K views and 3K engagements later, I want to try to summarize some of what I learned and some of my own thinking here. »

«In a world that seems to be dominated by short-termism and incessant communications, formulating a plan requires that someone stop and think. Whatever plan you have should help you acquire and organize information to think in a meaningful way. Outlines, frameworks, and checklists can all help ensure that you have covered the important questions. Several respondents suggested that diagnosis of key issues is one of the most useful outputs of a plan. »

« A good plan motivates alignment around the common direction… One former student of mine told me they shared their marketing plans with both suppliers and distributors to help everyone work together on delivering value to customers. »

« I’ve come to the view that the term “marketing plan” itself is part of the problem. It implies this is a plan for the marketing department. @MarketingNickE observed that marketing plans can be self-siloing if they appear to be divorced from the rest of the organization. Rather than “Marketing Plan,” I think we’d be better served by calling it the “Customer Plan.” The organization as a whole needs to serve customers in a way that provides value to the customer and the organization. Some of that happens inside the marketing department, some of it happens outside the marketing department. »

« @mdbergman36 advocated for explicit contingency planning around key uncertainties and risks. Scenario planning may be helpful in this regard. If a contingency occurs, you change, if not, you don’t. »

Frameworks

« At a broad level, I think the SOSTAC approach is fine. [Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Action and Control] »

« Similarly, if you like the old school Situation Analysis, Segmentation-Targeting-Positioning, Marketing Mix approach, god bless. These frameworks help you gather and organize information, and even if you don’t show someone a SWOT or 4Ps, they can help you ensure thinking, direction, and alignment. »

« If you’d like a somewhat different organization and language, here’s an alternative I’ve used:

    1. Analysis

1.1. Context. These are the macro-environmental factors that characterize the market conditions in which your firm and industry operate. What is going on in the wide world beyond your industry? I like a straight PESTEL analysis here: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, and Legal. There are many resources for this kind of analysis online.

1.2. Category. Your company or business unit typically operates in a category characterized by a set of competitors, and a set of collaborators (e.g., distributors, suppliers, complementary providers) who bring a particular set of solutions to market. What is going on in this category? I’m not a big fan of Porter’s Five Forces analysis — too static — but if you like that framework, it fits here.

1.3. Customer. What’s the state of your current customer base? Who might represent attractive new customers?

1.4. Company. How is your organization performing within its category and context? What are its resources and capabilities? What are its larger strategic concerns?

    1. Direction

2.1. Diagnosis. Given the analysis, what really needs to be addressed here? A number of respondents talked about the importance of this step, and I like to break it out because it otherwise can be too easy to head straight to the first solution that comes to mind.

Generically, look for two things that often suggest key issues.

Change. Change can represent threats or opportunities for different firms. Thinking about how each of the four analysis areas are changing can identify key areas for action.

Gaps. To the extent the four analysis areas are disconnected from one another, this suggests gaps that may need to be closed. If your company is disconnected from customers, that’s pretty obviously a problem, but other gaps can be interesting as well. What if your whole category is out of step? If your category is tainted (e.g., airlines in the age of climate change), how does your company break free of this? On the other hand, sometimes a company out of step with the category can be the problem. If it’s important for a company to be seen as a legitimate member of an industry (e.g. an accredited hospital), closing company-category gaps may be necessary.

2.2. Aspiration. A brief general statement of how the issue should be resolved and a specific statement of what success would look like. “Launch a new offering in the Asia-Pacific market, with a goal of one million units sold by the end of year 2.” There’s no problem with being a bit vague with the direction, but how would I know this worked two years from now?

    1. Plan

Marketing creates, communicates, and delivers value to a customer. The plan should specify each of these areas.

3.1. The Offer. What’s the combination of benefits and price (the value proposition) that we want to have in the marketplace? What problem does this solve for a customer? Why would they buy this offering rather than a different one? This combines the typical Product and Price P’s (and as one respondent observed, gets us away from calling everything a Product). Branding issues may be relevant here, and in general competitive advantage should be addressed. This section should also highlight revenue streams and unit economics.

3.2. Communication. How are we going to communicate with customers? What messages do we want to convey how?

3.3. Delivery. Operations, Distribution, and Support. What has to happen to put value in the hands of the customer? This would have been the old “Place” P, but I like highlighting operations and support as well. Someone has to produce the offering, and in many cases post-sale support is a forgotten child.

3.4. Action Plan. AARTM as suggested previously. [Actions, Actors, Resources, Timelines, Metrics] Under metrics, specify both short- and long-term. Long-term should reflect the aspiration. Short-term should be intermediate indicators that we are headed in the right direction. Reach or distribution penetration within a certain time period would be an example of this. It’s going to be awfully hard to sell something if we have not reached enough people or are not in enough shops.

3.5. Financials. Plans should make an effort at both a budget and an income statement for a relevant period of time. Senior management will reasonably want to know how much you are going to spend, what you plan to spend it on, and what kind of return may be expected. I will observe, ahem, that this was the least discussed aspect of marketing plans in the Twitter thread. I think that is a mistake.  »

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