Marketers spend the organization’s money on a range of activities in order to fulfil objectives, the most important of which are normally to achieve specified levels of sales, revenue and/or profit. This expenditure has to be accounted for in a plan, which should in turn try to demonstrate why the company’s resources are being utilised in the optimum way to achieve the objectives.
Marketing planning is a logical progression from understanding what is happening (and why), determining what should be happening, considering alternative approaches, developing a detailed plan of action, to then implementing the plan and measuring results. The basic process should always be the same, but the time taken to complete it, and the contents of a resulting plan, will vary according to the complexity and importance of the situation.
The acknowledged guru of marketing planning, Malcolm McDonald, has defined it thus: “Marketing planning is simply a logical sequence and a series of activities leading to the setting of marketing objectives and the formulation of plans for achieving them.”
Marketing planning is designed to give structure to the decision-making process involved in the development of a marketing strategy, and fulfils a number of important roles:
- Helping to cope with dynamic change
- Establishing objectives and strategies
- Securing resources and commitment from elsewhere in the organization
- Clarifying roles
- Facilitating the monitoring of progress.
More importantly than all of these, however, the planning process should be used to identify and create competitive advantage, without which a commercial organization will have no long-term future.
It is also important to note the difference between a strategic, long-term plan, and the operational plan for the coming year. Long-range planning periods are typically 3 or 5 years, but can be more or less depending upon the nature of the business and sector. The production of the long-range plan must precede that of the operational plan; the latter picks up the first year of the former and develops it into much more detail. Ideally the long-range strategic plan should be revisited at the start of the planning process each year, with a new out-year being added and the current year being removed, but the actuals year-to-date being used for comparison purposes.
In smaller organizations there may be only one marketing plan for the whole business, which should constitute a significant part of the overall business plan. In larger organizations, however, there is likely to be a marketing plan for individual brands, which may feed into category or divisional plans. Ultimately, again, they will feed into an overall company marketing plan. Many CEOs would agree with Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, when he said that “marketing strategy is business strategy”.
It is clear from what has been stated above that a vital aspect of the planning process is to secure buy-in from both senior management but also other functions. The best marketing plans are therefore produced by cross-functional teams, particularly including finance and sales, but also with input from production, procurement, R&D, HR, etc.
In summary, the marketing plan sets out a series of well-argued recommendations for how the business should progress over the planning period to achieve the agreed objectives. The recommended strategies and tactics will be based upon an extensive understanding of the internal and external environments and the conclusions drawn from that understanding. The planning process is an important occasion for the marketer to demonstrate their acumen and skill as the finished plan must make clear what is being recommended, rather than being a collection of ideas for further discussion.
The key steps in marketing planning are typically as follows:
- Understand where you are (what’s happening and why?)
- Market research, data
- Auditing market, environment and organization
- Establish key issues and opportunities (linking the audit to the plan)
- Activity review – what worked, what did not, and why
- SWOT analysis
- Develop the overall strategy
- Determine target market segments
- Assess brand portfolio
- Assess brand positioning
- Build competitive advantage by adding value
- Assess product/service portfolio
- Prepare the long-range plan (i.e. the strategic plan = where do we want to be and how will we get there?)
- Key objectives and strategies
- Prepare the operational (1-year) plan (how will we make it happen?)
- Objectives and strategies
- Plans (detailing activities using the marketing mix)
- Budgets and evaluation
- Recheck alignment of plans to corporate strategy and objectives
See here for a diagrammatic representation of the process.
There is inevitably a degree of iteration, particularly in relation to steps 3-6, which are not necessarily strictly linear in terms of progression. Detail on what a marketing plan should contain can be found here.