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Written by Lisa Shepherd
on April 17, 2017

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I’ve been writing strategic marketing plans for small and mid-size companies for over a decade.  About three years ago, I completely overhauled how I do it.  The process I’d been using for all those years was tried and true.  But it was also tired.  It took too long.  It cost too much.  There had to be a better way.

My favorite business rule-of-thumb was the answer:  the 80 / 20 rule. Eighty percent of the value of most business processes is derived from twenty percent of the effort.  When it comes to marketing planning, most of the value comes from a few key areas.  And when it comes to the Marketing Plan (the actionable document that is created through the planning process), I know from years of watching companies implement their marketing plans (or not implement them), that a good marketing plan doesn’t have to be complex.  In fact, the less complex, the more likely it is to be implemented. 

So I took a major axe to my marketing planning process, and my framework for strategic marketing plans.  I identified the 5 essential areas that good marketing plans have.  This is the process and framework that my company Mezzanine now uses when we work with B2B companies. If you want to put together a strategic marketing plan that is likely to deliver solid results, here are five things to cover, and forget everything else:

1. Strategy

When I say this word to mid-market business leaders, they often grimace. Eye rolling may even be involved. “How long is that going to take?” is usually their response. But strategy doesn’t have to be complicated or take forever. Stick to a few practical questions to clarify and confirm your company’s strategy: 

  1. Define your target market. Who are you selling to, exactly?
  2. Determine your positioning. Are you the premium offering? The low-cost player? The service-oriented company? You can’t be all things to all people; choose your differentiator.
  3. Determine your messaging. Implement your positioning by clearly conveying why customers should buy from you.

Defining your marketing strategy is NOT about reinventing the wheel. It’s about capturing what’s already in the heads of your team. In my experience, most companies that have been in business for a while already know their strategy.  But they have rarely written it down and identified how the actions they will take every day, every week and every month will bring that strategy to life.  You know what your business is and who it serves – but do you take actions that take you in that direction, and do you avoid actions that will lead you away from it?  The first step in good marketing is to distill your marketing strategy so that the rest of your plan can detail how your company will implement it. 

2. Tactics

This is the toughest area to decide on.  There are dozens of marketing tactics, from sales collateral to tradeshows to advertising, webinars, social media and on and on.  Which tactics are right for your business depends on several factors.  Here are a few of the considerations when choosing tactics:  

  • The industry you operate in
  • The target market you’re pursuing
  • The position your company has and wants to have in the market
  • How much marketing you’ve been doing
  • What your competitors are doing
  • Your budget

There isn’t a quick answer for choosing tactics. Read more on tactics here.  There is one steadfast rule however – if you’re newer in marketing, choose.

3. Calendar

The third essential component of a simple, successful, strategic marketing plan is the Calendar.  Most companies overestimate what can be done in marketing.  I compare it to renovating a house.  If you’re ever undertaken a major renovation, you know that your inexpert opinion of how long things will take is often vastly different than the experts’ opinions of how long it will take.  

My suggestion – when you’re building a marketing plan, double the amount of time you think things will take.  That way, you won’t get caught out if you’ve underestimated.  There’s no better way to waste marketing dollars than to fall behind with marketing tactics. You’ll either spend much more to keep things on schedule, or you’ll fail to implement a sizable portion of your plan.  

The first year will be your learning curve. Use it to see how long things take in actual practice, and you’ll have a template for a better calendar the following year.

4. Budget

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a committed marketing budget for the year. If marketers don’t know what their budget is and how long it will last, they can’t plan anything significant. So set a budget and stick to it. Don’t take it away if the going gets tough.

And be realistic about how much tactics actually cost. Committing to your marketing budget is the same as committing to your marketing. It will show your team you support them, which will give them the confidence they need to succeed.

5. Metrics

What gets measured gets done.  Measurement is essential to successful marketing.  But like the calendar, metrics can be tricky in year one. Set five key marketing metrics to measure regularly. Combine activity metrics (e.g. sending out one email a month) with results metrics (leads per email), and you’ll get a clear picture of the returns you’re getting on your marketing spend.

Address these five areas, and you’ll have a solid strategic marketing plan. The secret to success is to keep it simple. Then check back on the plan regularly, and you’ll see your marketing get better year over year.