The creation of a marketing plan needs to be integrated into the overall planning process for the organization, not least because in a business that properly understands the strategic role of marketing it will be one of the key drivers of the overall corporate planning process.
The flow chart shows a typical process for the development and implementation of the marketing plan over a year. A copy of The Annual Planning Process is available to download (to download right-click/save as on a PC; on a Mac press Apple/S).
Some months before the next iteration of the marketing plan is required a full audit of the available relevant internal and external data should be undertaken, culminating in the development of SWOTs to assimilate the findings from the audit and to drive the development of the plan. This stage will also be informed by the corporate mission and objectives, which will also be informing the development of the marketing objectives.
The key components of the brand strategy – segmentation, targeting and positioning – should not need to be changed substantially during the annual planning process. Assuming the strategy is a robust one, developed with a full understanding of the long-term dynamics of the markets in which the brand competes, and which is proven to be working, then it will probably need no more than a tweak in a normal year. Only if there is a considerable change to be taken into account – such as competitive initiatives, major technological changes, a substantial weakening in the relevance of the brand proposition, for instance – does a complete review of the brand strategy need to take place.
The marketing objectives are the key drivers for the marketing plan, setting out in terms of revenue, volume, margin and/or market share, what the plan is setting out to achieve and by when. The marketing strategies lay out how certain, relevant, elements of the marketing mix are to be used to achieve these objectives. Note that this is the heart of the plan, where the case for a particular course of action needs to be properly argued (and the case as to why obvious alternatives have been rejected presented); the calibre of thinking behind the plan will be obvious at this stage.
The detailed plans set out how the strategies will be implemented in more detail in order to achieve the objectives. This will include setting out the timings of the planned activities, as well as responsibilities, and will be accompanied by a marketing budget. The implementation phase follows approval of the plan and includes the whole of the year to which the plan pertains. Adjustments may need to be made during the planning period to reflect changed circumstances (a good plan will have anticipated some of these, with remedial courses of action).
The final stage of the annual planning process, before it begins again, is to evaluate achievement against objectives, using appropriate metrics and KPIs. One of the intrinsic problems with the annual planning cycle is that the following year’s plan must be prepared before the current year is complete – typically after about 9 months have elapsed. Estimates must therefore be made as to how the remainder of the current year will pan out. However, by then the full year’s data for the previous year will now be available to feed into the evaluation and audit process.
NB: The separate document, Components of the Planning Process, provides more detail around the elements of the plan preparation.