- Distinguish between strategic and operational plans: the strategic plan – most usually for a 3 or 5-year period, should always precede the development of the operational (1-year) plan. That way, long-term considerations – including PESTLE factors – are looked at before focusing attention on the coming financial year. The operational plan takes the first year of the strategic plan as its starting point and drills down into the detail of how the overall objectives will be fulfilled and the strategy executed.
- State the key assumptions affecting success or failure: no one knows for certain what the future will look like during the life of the plan’s execution, but it is vital to make clear any critical assumptions that have been made – for example, an interest rate change, a new piece of legislation, a competitor’s move, the completion of a new factory on time, etc. Ideally, put forward alternative (costed) outline contingencies for possible scenarios that are different rom the primary assumptions. A much smoother transition can then be made to the changed reality if necessary.
- Assess alternative strategies: there is invariably more than one way to achieve an objective. One of the best signs of a skilled marketer is the appropriate assessment of alternative combinations of marketing tools to achieve a desired outcome; this can only happen if the start-point is the objective, rather than a fixation on a particular executional tool, which is then post-rationalised.
- Relate sales forecasts to a marketplace model: too many forecasts are little more than optimistic aspirations, or extrapolations based upon past data, that ignore the realities of a dynamic marketplace. Construct, and then continue to improve, the best possible model of the marketplace(s) in which you compete, factoring in both external factors and competitive moves, so that forecasts are based upon a full assessment of the environment in which they will have to be met.
- Avoid terms such as ‘improve’, ‘increase’ and ‘maximise’ in objectives: marketing plans are substantially the justification for requested investments to achieve objectives. That justification requires a quantitative assessment (however limited the data) of the desired outcome following the investment being proposed. It is little surprise that Finance Directors will reject any proposal that is not accompanied by a properly quantified outcome, with evidence to support it, and consequently treat the marketing budget as a ‘cost’.
- Avoid vague, imprecise terms such as ‘quality’, ‘value for money’ and ‘strong image’: a marketing plan includes details of how a brand positioning is to be executed across the marketing mix. If this positioning is expressed in terms such as these it, in effect, does not exist; inevitably, this will lead to a failure to establish, reinforce, or grow the brand in question. The use of such terms betrays an inability to identify and focus the role for the brand in the marketplace: so, determine the precise nature of the image desired, explain in what way the brand represents value for money, and what kind of quality it is offering.
- Monitor and measure achievement: this links back to the need for quantified objectives. Establish how the key objectives/KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are to be measured at the same time as they are set, and the metrics to be used. Introducing this rigour will increase the likelihood of plans being approved, demonstrate control over the budgeted activities, and help develop an evidence-based case.
- Keep plans succinct: it is wise to keep a marketing plan, particularly in a word-processed format, to no more than 20 pages. However, this needs to be backed up with all the relevant supporting evidence for easy access.