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Five Ways to Create a Strong Marketing Plan for 2014

The start of a new year is a logical time to update your marketing plan.  Here are five pieces of advice from my book Breakthrough Marketing Plans.

1.  Invest the TimePlotting the Course to Better Marketing Plansl

All too many marketers don’t create a marketing plan.  They are so busy executing programs and responding to emails that they never sit down and actually lay out the priorities for the upcoming year.

It is easy to see how this happens.  There is no law that requires you to write a plan.  Many companies do not have a formal planning process.

Failing to create a plan, however, is a huge missed opportunity.  Without a document that lays out the priorities, the marketing effort quickly becomes a series of tactical moves.  The focus is tactics, not strategy.  Spending often gets fragmented and results are disappointing.

Creating a marketing plan is an important part of being a marketing leader.  Invest some time early in 2014 to be sure you plan is tight and people are on board.

2.  Identify Your Top One or Two Goals

Having too many goals is always a problem.  The simplest way to create an unfocused plan is to begin with nine or ten goals; trying to achieve ten things at the same time is impossible.

The first step when creating a plan is to define the goals that matter.  These should be specific and measurable and you should have just one or two.  For many organizations, at least one of these will be a financial goal.  For example, we need profits to increase by 10% in 2014.

If you find yourself with many goals, you probably are confusing goals and initiatives.  Goals are the outcome.  Initiatives are how you will deliver it.

One note:  feel free to use the words goals and objectives interchangeably. The words mean the same thing. Some people try to draw a distinction between a goal and an objective but this inevitably leads to confusion. They are the same thing.

3.  Focus on Action

A marketing plan is a recommendation:  this is what we should go and do over the coming period.  As a result, it should be all about activity.  There should be many verbs:  drive, build, launch, invest, begin, research, test, develop, introduce.

A marketing plan is not the place to review everything you know about your business.  It is the place to take all of that knowledge and turn it into action.

All too many marketing plans get bogged down in data and analysis.  The situation analysis section in particular tends to become a hopeless collection of insights and information, all interesting but not particularly relevant.

My advice:  drop the situation analysis section entirely and focus on the recommendations.

4.  Remember:  Initiatives before Tactics

There is an important difference between an initiative and a tactic.  The initiative explains how you will achieve the goal.  The tactic is the specific program.

Before getting into tactics, you need to determine the initiatives.  You can’t evaluate a specific program until you know what you are trying to achieve.  Social media, for example, is a tactic.  Before you debate the merits of launching a new Facebook program you should consider what you are trying to achieve.

A strategic initiative might be:  “Increase extended usage among heavy users.” Tactics then would support this effort.  For example, you might create a new recipe program or form a partnership with another brand to drive a new use.

It is tempting to start with tactics since these are specific and real.  It is important to step back, first, and think about initiatives.

5.  Keep It Short

A good marketing plan should be short.  If you are writing it as a presentation, it should be perhaps 10 to 20 pages.  You need to lay out the goals, initiatives, and tactics, and then explain why it all makes sense.  You also need some financials.

There is simply no reason to create a one hundred page marketing plan.  Creating a long plan takes time and few people will even read it.  It also is very difficult to update, which is a problem since things never go precisely as planned.  A marketing plan is a living document; you can and should update it frequently as the year unfolds.

Creating a good marketing plan is not difficult but it takes time, attention, and thought.

My advice: spend time early in 2014 on your plan.  It will set you up for a successful year.

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About Tim Calkins

Guest contributor Tim Calkins is clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is the author of "Breakthrough Marketing Plans" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and "Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies Use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He began his career at Kraft Foods, where he spent eleven years managing brands including Miracle Whip, Parkay and Taco Bell.

One Response to "Five Ways to Create a Strong Marketing Plan for 2014"

  • Bob Trinka
    February 14, 2014 - 14:32 Reply

    Tim, this is a great ‘short list.’ Thanks

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