Hopefully the resources on this site will help marketers in preparing better marketing plans, but good plans cannot be created without an understanding by the individual – and the organization employing them – of the true role and nature of marketing.
Huge numbers of marketing ‘plans’ actually consist of little more than a timetabled list (or ‘action plan’) of activities, with some costings against them. Without any rationale, or developed strategy to support it, this is no more than a ‘to-do’ list, however. Such plans exist because they are created by individuals with no real understanding of marketing themselves, and then approved by managers with even less understanding. Activities are frequently chosen on the basis of personal whim, or persuasive argument by an external agency with a partial interest, and in all likelihood repeated from year to year. Any evaluation is likely to consist of checking that the activities were executed in the manner prescribed, but outcomes are ignored – other than some inferred effect on increased (or otherwise) sales.
The breakthrough must come from understanding marketing as a strategic discipline, concerned above all by the need to understand and meet the needs of different groups of customers. This is a completely different mind-set to one where marketing as a concept is seen as being about ‘marketing to’ people – i.e. trying to sell them something that you happen to make or provide. The vital change in thinking is not complicated, but does require some effort: once achieved, however, it becomes the driver for how the individual approaches everything to do with strategy and marketing within the organization, including the production of the marketing plan. Taking on the mantle of being the voice of the customer within the organization is one of huge significance, even if it takes a long time for this to be appreciated (and it may take a move to a new organization to find that recognition).
Using the customer as the driver has a beneficial effect the whole way through the planning process. At the outset, it raises key questions: ‘Do we actually know the customer – what she/he needs, feels, desires, dislikes, etc.?’ In turn, this will require the development of appropriate research tools, however rudimentary, to begin to provide some answers. Answering these questions begins to help formulate strategic decisions as to where opportunities lie, about appropriate products and services, how they should be priced, provided and distributed, and what – and in what way – you should be communicating with customers. Knowing what you need to achieve, and being able to set appropriate objectives, enables appropriate choices to be made about the tools to use, and what you need to spend on them, rather than just unthinkingly deploying fashionable tools and channels.
The plan of action will no longer be a fairly random list of preferred activities, but a considered response, with well-argued justification, to strategic requirements for the brand. The evaluation will use metrics that enable a consideration of what the planned activities actually achieved in terms of outcomes, and how they impacted on the achievement of the objectives. This assessment will also tie the outcomes back to the desired changes in customer behaviour and beliefs. In time, this type of analysis also helps build confidence – particularly with the finance function – that the investments being made in marketing activities have a real financial payback.