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When a marketing plan is not a marketing plan

14-July-2017
14-July-2017 13:29
in Marketing
by Rob Sheffield

Image associated with blog when a marketing plan is not a marketing plan

This might seem a strange question. It was one that came to mind recently when talking to a client. As the conversation went on, it became apparent that what they considered a marketing plan was not the same as what I considered a marketing plan.

There are three elements to a marketing plan:

  1. Strategy - summary of business plan, objectives, broad outline of how you’re going to achieve them through your sales and marketing strategy
  2. Plan - detailed activity plan with budgets, timelines, suppliers needed
  3. Review - regular points at which you review, analyse, refine the marketing activity plan

The activity plan - number 2 - is the most common type of plan I see. However, if it doesn’t follow on from number 1, the marketing strategy, it’s not really a “marketing plan”. Since they may or may not link with, and therefore help you achieve, your business plan and objectives, they run the risk of being ineffective.

So, when is a marketing plan not a marketing plan? Here are three ways.

When your marketing plan is a list of activities

When I talk to businesses, many of them tell me they already have a marketing plan. But, delving a bit further, what they actually have is a list of marketing activities that they have committed to undertake - a blog once a week, LI posts and status updates, a customer newsletter, speaking at an industry conference, organising their own events.

Without the thinking and planning behind this activity plan, you might as well throw a random list of activities in the air and just do those things that fall in front of you. They might be the right activities, but if you're not linking them what you're selling, why and to whom, you won't know.

There are some questions I ask businesses which will show whether they need to get more strategic first. This helps to find out what the context of the plan is. For instance: 

  • What business plan and objectives do you have and how does your marketing strategy and plan help to achieve them?
  • What do you have in place that makes sure your customers continue to love you?
  • What marketing do you need which motivates interested people to becoming a paying customer?
  • What activities do you need to undertake which help to build awareness and interest with the right prospects?
  • Who are these ideal clients, what are they thinking along their buying journey and how do you reach them? 

So, answer these first, then build your activity plan.  Answering these questions will in turn achieve two things:

  1. Make the best use of the people, time and money resources you have and
  2. Ensure that you achieve the impact and return on investment you want your marketing to have, and that you're both identifying and filling in any gaps.

When your marketing plan doesn't support the customer's journey

There are 6 tasks of marketing (as explained in this blog over on the Watertight Marketing website), each one linked to a different stage of the customer's journey. Each task also links to what the customer is thinking at that stage, so the marketing needs to respond to that thinking.  Their thinking = your marketing.

6 tasks of marketing 

Your marketing activity plan therefore should reflect both the relevant task and the customer's thinking at each stage.

For instance, let's take Interest, where the task is to be relevant. Make sure your website, blogs, Linked In posts, Tweets, seminars, are all talking about the issues and challenges your clients face. In this way you're being relevant.

The risk of not having done this thinking is that your marketing could be missing a step. And if you haven't got in place marketing activity for one or more steps, your customers could - horror - go to one of your competitors whose marketing does chime with what they're thinking at that point. 

Related blog: How watertight is your marketing?

When your marketing plan doesn't have in mind your ideal client

It may sound obvious, but more businesses than you think have not done the in-depth thinking to really, understand who their ideal customer is, and build up a profile which will inform their marketing.

Only last week I was chatting to an MD of a business which had grown for growth's sake - chasing sales to meet ambitious targets. However, what they're beginning to find is that many of these clients are not the kind they want. These customers look for the best deal on products and services, and shop around each time. So there's little chance of them turning into long-term clients, which is exactly the kind of relationship this business wants. 

Thinking about who your ideal client is, will involve considering: 

  • Demographics - typical age, gender, family status
  • Attitudes - what's their approach and how do they feel towards what you're selling?
  • Pains and gains - what challenges do they have and what might they receive by using your product or service?
  • What emotional needs are you fulfilling?
  • What logical needs are you supporting?
  • Who are your competitors and how does what you offer differ?

Once you understand more about your prospective clients, and the problem you are aiming to solve for them, then it's easier to work out your messages, where you might find your prospects to build relationships and how they might like to interact with you.

This understanding also helps you to pinpoint what the 'right' work is that will both motivate you and give you the income you're aiming for.

The three things that make a marketing plan a marketing plan

  1. Business objectives and plan first, strategic marketing thinking next, then your marketing activity plan, linking activities directly back to what you want to achieve.
  2. A clear idea of your customer’s buying journey – what that looks like, how long it takes, what they think along the way and how your marketing tempts them forward.
  3. Articulate who your ideal client is, what makes them attractive and what the triggers are that would make them warm to your approach.

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