1. No-one does
Completing every section outlined in a ‘How to Write a Marketing Plan’ book in detail, with research, would probably take you until next fiscal year. You don’t need to cover every aspect in exhaustive detail. Instead, you need to apply the appropriate level of rigour for your business. You need enough information to give everyone involved a solid sense of where they need to concentrate their efforts this year, and the outcomes expected as a result.
Knowing what the appropriate level of detail is for your business will come with practice, but as a guide, concentrate on your biggest pain points and the activities you already know are your key selling tools. At the very least, you need a clear value proposition, an income and expenditure forecast and a marketing calendar.
2. It’s all inter-related
The process of writing a marketing plan can seem overwhelming because all the steps are intertwined with other stages of business planning, or even cyclical. For example, your marketing spend should be in proportion to your turnover which is related to sales forecasts which are impacted by marketing spend.
However, if you start with the overall vision and strategic goals for the business (then distil them into ‘provide X to Y in location Z’) and work systematically from there, you’ll find that the stages unfold fairly logically. You’ll probably need to put some assumptions in place first and then revisit them – much like completing a tricky Sudoku: ‘If I put a 9 in there, what will happen to the numbers around it?’
At Arrow, we leverage the VSEM model for strategic alignment (Vision, Strategy, Execution, Metrics): you ensure each priority supports the one above it, and then pursue that focus in each area of the business (including Marketing).
3. You know it all
Rule 1.01 of creating a marketing plan is to set out your definitions: ‘What are your products and services?’ ‘Who are your customers?’ ‘What are your sales channels?’… and it’s tempting to feel like this is a waste of time, merely documenting the apparent. Depending on the complexity of the business, you may also have facts like annual sales, top customers, and revenue per channel available off the top of your head, so this data gathering really seems worthless.
However, the value of putting all the basic facts in one place can’t be over-stated. Using a template such as a Business Model Canvas, you can see the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the business in one place and the process of making decisions and adding-on departmental plans becomes much easier. Note, it’s sometimes the items you don’t put on your canvas which are important – confirming the type of business you are not will help you develop effective plans.
This process also provides a chance to challenge some of these facts: are the customers you spend most of your time on actually your most profitable? Is your most focussed-upon channel actually bringing-in most of your sales? Just because you have always done things a certain way, is that still the most effective behaviour for now?
4. You don’t know anything
It may seem daunting to try and build a picture of your industry and your competitors when everyone keeps their cards close to their chest. How are you supposed to know their sales figures? And their key channels? Or their marketing spend? How can you know the overall size of your industry if no-one produces reports? Or it’s a new industry, or narrow niche?
If you’re new to the planning process, there will be gaps in your internal knowledge too because you haven’t been collecting the data. To gather it after the event may be impossible or prohibitively time consuming.
In these instances, you’ll need to use some assumptions. Make an effort to gain the facts but if they’re not forthcoming then use your common sense combined with what you do know and make a note in your plan of what has been assumed and how you arrived there. Also make a note of how you can gather the missing data going forwards and build that into your day-to-day processes. You can therefore tighten up the planning process each year with the satisfying result of improved clarity each time.
5. You’re trying to finish it
An annual planning process resulting in a pile of documents on the Chief Executive’s desk is now completely outdated. A company should have its 5-year view of the world which is critical for articulating the vision, but other planning documents should be reviewed on a quarterly or monthly basis to stay on track and in-line with the pace of change. As channels, competitors, markets, trends, prices, and technology change; it should be part of your strategic rhythm to incorporate adjustments to the plan, react, and meet the agreed targets.
With the right day-to-day processes in place for collecting data, each part of the marketing plan can be tested, to see if the expected results are being obtained, and if not, the plan adjusted based on what has been learned.
6. Everyone has an opinion
Colleagues from different areas of the business or even within sales and marketing probably all have opinions on what’s going right and wrong and what should be changed in the coming year, particularly in terms of financial elements. This is understandable and every opinion may have merit as each person is viewing the business through a different lens, but you’re unlikely to meet budget if you try to do them all.
The solution is to apply objective measures: rank the proposed options in terms of strategic alignment, likelihood and magnitude of success, and cost. You can then test these assumptions as you progress through the year and adjust the plan if required. The following year, you’ll have actual data to back up some of your options.
7. You have a day job
Once you’re in the habit of marketing planning, the annual process becomes a fairly painless amalgamation of the incremental monthly processes. However, if you’re starting from scratch, it can be hard to make room in your established routine for the work required.
One approach is to follow the adage of ‘eating an elephant one bite at a time’ – divide the time you have between now and your deadline into weeks and divide up the marketing planning activities into the same number. Block out the time each week for you and your team to complete the scheduled work. By the time your deadline arrives you’ll understand the environment, the business model, the historic results, and therefore the tools you should choose to unlock next-level performance.
Another approach is the same you apply if you don’t have time to clean your house or service your pool: get someone else to do it. Marketing plans are one of our bread-and-butter services at Arrow – we have the templates and methods ready to go, and the stages of work laid out. We’ll gather data, chair meetings, provide analysis and propose execution priorities on your behalf. You walk away with a marketing plan and calendar that the business can afford, and which is 100% aligned to making your vision a reality. Please give us a call if you’d like to discuss your needs.