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Write a marketing plan that you’ll actually use…

May 12, 2010

John D. Rockefeller said “Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.” While most businesses do some form of marketing, not all are doing so consistently or cost-effectively, directed at the right audience,  or with a relevant message for the given audience(s). One of the primary reasons we’ve found is that the business simply doesn’t have a marketing plan in place. Another common mistake is that the business invested in a marketing plan, but created one that was too long and/or obfuscated be taken seriously or used in practical application. As a result, companies tend to find themselves frustrated with marketing and giving up altogether or constantly throwing good money after bad.

Marketing plans are written as part of an overall business plan or as a stand-alone document. Unfortunately, they are also typically dozens of pages long and considered difficult and time-consuming to write (much less read), or too abstract to be relevant for day-to-day use. For most of the businesses we meet, small and/or new nonprofits, we find that the simpler and more concise the plan,  the more effective it is. This is because it is more likely to be used for planning, execution, measurement and analysis of the company’s marketing.

Without exception, when collaborating with our clients on their marketing plans, we push for brevity, clarity, granularity and accountability.

Brevity—With the exception of the analysis sections of the plan, most sections can articulate what is necessary in only a few paragraphs and the occasional bulleted list.

Clarity—Perhaps this seems obvious, but what we mean is be specific and use language that a sixth-grader can understand. Your boss and the board will be far more impressed with positive results you get in the long-run if your team shares a common understanding of the plan and can execute, than if all those fancy “B school” words lead to confusion and disregard for the plan.

Granularity—While we don’t argue that one try to detail every step of the plan for an entire year, we do recommend that the major steps and dependencies be captured for each executional element of the plan. For example, a detailed advertising flight calendar isn’t appropriate, but a step indicating the creation of an ad plan is.

Accountability—Each identified step of the plan should also include the name of the person (not the department) who has accepted responsible for completion of the step. This will not only help ensure progress toward the plan, but will aid in subsequent measurement as to the effectiveness of the plan.

The basic elements of the plan will more or less remain the same, and there’s no shortage of resources available online or offline for writing business plans. The basics will typically include: Executive Summary, Situation and SWOT  Analysis, Strategy, Execution, Financials & Controls. What’s missing or buried within another section is a detailed system of measurement and contingency. We’ll reserve discussion of these elements for a later post.

Hopefully for now, our suggestions of brevity, clarity, granularity and accountability well help more businesses write a marketing plan that you’ll actually use.

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