Surprisingly, many midsize and large companies don’t have marketing plans. They might have lists of projects they want to do, like videos, ads, social media posts or new websites. But there’s no understanding of how those projects will help achieve the company’s goals or how to prioritize them.
In my twenty years of working in marketing and advertising, I’ve learned an important truth: companies that follow marketing plans have a competitive advantage. They operate more efficiently and have a clearer vision of what they want to accomplish, how they’ll do it and what it will cost.
If you’re committed to more strategic marketing for your company, here are seven things you should know about marketing plans in order to effectively implement this new initiative.
1. Effective plans only need two parts.
2. It doesn’t need to be lengthy.
The most useful plans are concise. You can communicate key information in six pages of bullet points and brief sentences. Long narratives are counterproductive. The tactical dashboard is usually an additional three to five legal-sized pages that detail key information.
3. The process is as important as the plan.
While the plan itself should be short, you need to be willing to spend some time developing it. Leaders and managers with roles in the implementation of various parts of the plan should be involved. This is an effective way to get team buy-in, build consensus and get your staff working together.
My process starts with a group planning session. This is led by a facilitation team that probes to uncover all pertinent information, keeps discussions on track and takes notes. The facilitators should be from outside your company. This encourages unbiased thinking and provides objective marketing expertise. It usually takes two additional, short sessions to complete the planning process, ending with a presentation of the final plan and a discussion about implementation.
4. Reference it regularly.
Your plan should be used and reviewed on an ongoing basis. I suggest monthly or quarterly team meetings to assess progress and success. I keep my company’s marketing plan posted in clear view as a continual reminder to stay focused. Most entrepreneurs I know are easily distracted — myself included. Put structure in place to keep the plan relevant and hold your team accountable.
5. It’s meant to be updated.
Your plan should keep you and your team focused, preventing you from chasing every new marketing opportunity that presents itself. However, it’s not meant to be a static document. Situations change, additional information becomes available and some opportunities truly are too good to pass up.
The insights and decisions your team made during the planning process will help you filter and prioritize new information throughout the year so that you can adjust the plan accordingly to take advantage of great opportunities. Additionally, your plan should be redone annually in order to allow for greater review and adjustments.
6. It’s a culture-building tool.
Besides improving a company’s branding, advertising, public relations and sales efforts, sharing your marketing plan with new employees helps them understand the company and their roles in its initiatives. It may not be appropriate to share the entire plan with all employees (everyone doesn’t need budget details). But sharing your goals, current situations, SWOT, competitors, target audiences, brand position and such will help employees understand the company and how it’s implementing its mission.
7. It generates excitement and improves performance.
Throughout several decades, I’ve helped companies — large and small — develop their first marketing plans. Without exception, everyone from the CEO to the sales team to the marketing manager has been excited and energized by the process and its deliverables.
A marketing plan has the powerful effect of improving engagement, communication, teamwork and performance. Key employees know what goals and results are expected because they participated in setting them. They have a vested interest in the plan’s implementation and success, and by reviewing it quarterly, they are motivated to stay on track. Understanding a company’s priorities gives employees clarity on how they should work together to achieve goals day in and day out, and the marketing plan gives them actionable guidance on how to do it.
After a few planning sessions, you can have more clarity and confidence than ever before on how to move your company’s marketing forward — and maybe even newfound enthusiasm and cooperation from your team to boot!