Thoughts About Strategic Marketing Planning

Strategic planning is essential to any good business. But very often marketing simply becomes a small segment of the strategic plan. Perhaps it may encompass several paragraphs, some comments on advertising programs, even results of some consumer research and effective promotions. But the essential thing that many companies do not recognize is that their strategic plan IS marketing. Their entire business revolves around marketing.

Consequently, you need to consider a separate strategic marketing plan.

When is a good time to start and on what cycle should you review the plan? The time to start is right now, today, this minute. You can make the annual cycle anything you want, but you need to start the plan right now, if you do not have one already. And in many cases you may, but here is the difference between a marketing plan and a strategic marketing plan.

A strategic marketing plan incorporates every aspect of your company…purchasing, finance, transportation, shipping, sales, warehousing, import/export, consumer and customer relations and human resources into one organized, goal-focused document. More often than not, that goal will be measured in terms of increased sales and profits over a 3, 4 or 5-year time frame. The details of how you do it are incorporated in your basic marketing plan.

A good strategic plan is a very comprehensive document, so let’s just take the end product and see what comes first. The approach is not a hard and fast one, but here is a good way to organize the plan.

Start with the customer. Everything you know. How do they see your products or services and how to they see your company? Is it the image that you expected and if not, do you understand what you represent to your customers and the market at large. Some products do not depend a great deal on their company image. Others do. If you are from GE and you are calling on a business, you’ll probably have an easier time getting an appointment than a smaller unrecognized company. But if you are a local service with an outstanding reputation, you may simply be known as Guido, not AAA Tailoring.

The next thing to do is take a look at the numbers and make sure you know how you get them. Look at your competition’s numbers as best you can. Where do theirs come from? Once you have looked back a few years and reviewed your growth pattern…prices, profits, which products are moving best, you can sit down with a pretty good idea of who you are.

Now you look at the market. What has happened over the last several years and what factors will affect the next several years. Have some companies gone out of business? Why? You don’t want to make the same mistakes. Have new businesses entered your market? Who are they and what niche did they see that you didn’t or that you didn’t want to take on?

So, here is what you are; here is the market over the next several years and here is the competition. Where do you want to go and can you realistically get there in that time? This is business. Not psychic satisfaction. It’s about the numbers. Can you hit the numbers that you want or need? The strategic marketing plan lays out the route to that point.

We’ll make this simple. The market is 100. Right now you have 10 and another company has 20, another 10, several, let’s say five have 5. The remaining 35 is shared between another set of about 30 companies.

After examining everything, you determine that you have a number of factors that will allow you, with some investment, to pick up another 10% of the market over 3 years. That is a great objective. You would be matching the leader in your industry. More security as well as greater profitability from increased leverage. Of course, we have made this exceptionally simple in the example. But two things will be the same in most cases.

First, after a complete analysis of your company, the market and your competitors, you will be very confident during the planning process. The answers at most decision points will be relatively obvious. Second, the goal will virtually determine itself. The factors surrounding the decision will point you in the right direction. Having said that, the actual decision will be that of the CEO, or a joint decision of top executives, CEO plus Board of Directors. But it will be clear and reasonably the same, not a lot of different and dissenting ideas.

Remember, if you do a careful analysis of all the factors involved, circumstances will dictate much of the direction you want to go. There should not be many discussions about where do we want to be, whom do we want to target or how do we want to be considered? If the question in the board room becomes: “where do we want to go” in terms of market segments or geographic territories…then you haven’t done enough work on the front end.

Of course the next step is to take a look at a couple of strategic marketing plan outlines to see how they fit your operation. There are any number of excellent marketing plan formats on the Internet. We will provide several in the next few weeks, so you may find the one that works for your business right here. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions you have and we’ll find good resources to answer them for you.

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