Marketing Planning:

How to Set the Right Direction for Your Business

By Beth Ann Burkey Lombardi

Since Ted Levitt announced that meeting customers’ needs supersedes all else in Marketing Myopia (Theodore Levitt,"Marketing Myopia," Harvard Business Review 38 (July-August 1960): 24-47.), the “marketing guru” label has transferred through the years. For a while, Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence, et. al.) held the crown, then Seth Goldin began making millions on his purple cows. What’s behind them all? What is central to each? Good ol’ marketing basics, and I am convinced that the best marketing plans stay close to the basics—the ABCs of sound marketing. You can study the masters, read textbooks and keep up with breaking trends, but life lessons that work trump all of that. Here’s what works for me:

  1. The marketing plan is developed from the company’s strategic plan. The marketing plan supports the strategies and directions that are defined in the company’s strategic plan, determining which elements of the marketing mix will be used and how they will be used to achieve prescribed goals.

  2. Define a marketing plan by what it isn’t. The marketing plan is not an advertising plan, a business development plan or a sales plan. Although it is often the victim of those mistaken identities. I like to use the analogy of a wheel. Advertising, sales, social media, business development, public relations, market research, media planning, product pricing, distribution, customer support, internal and external communications, sales strategy and community development are spokes in the marketing wheel. They are the elements of the marketing mix. The smart marketing plan is an integrated marketing plan that effectively and seamlessly brings all of the elements of the marketing mix together to achieve the company’s strategic goals and objectives.

  3. Bigger isn’t . . . I have a six-pound bank marketing plan that was prepared by a highly paid, overrated consulting firm. The thing is as dusty today as it was shortly after it rolled out brand-spanking new only to overwhelm and confound management. It looked handsome and noble and was useless except perhaps as a door jam. Less is best, and the best marketing plans are heavy on situation analysis and straight-to-the-point on action steps.

  4. Reminder: Your employees will have to implement the marketing plan. Begin the marketing planning process devoted to the mantra: I will develop a realistic and manageable marketing plan that will not be too cumbersome to communicate. Employee buy-in will be essential to achieve goals, so start early in the planning process. An important element of marketing leadership, performance management, gets the organization and its people to live up to the promise of the strategic vision and the integrated marketing plan.

  5. Building your marketing plan. Here are the basics: Situation Analysis (Where are we?); Objectives (Where do we want to be?); Strategies/Action Steps (How are we going to get there?); Follow-up and tracking (Did we get there; and if not, why?); Budgets; Exhibits. Honestly, all of the lofty ideas and trendy new buzzwords fit nicely into these categories.

  6. Quick fixes are important. When I did my first marketing plan, fresh from academia and the artificial aspirations of creating the “perfect marketing plan,” I would have told you that you have to follow the process step-by-step to achieve total marketing perfection. You don’t. In the real world, the business keeps running while you strive to assemble the world’s best marketing plan.

    Nothing can be on hold while your team sits contemplating visions, niches, digital science, search engine optimization and more. Use the quick fix. For example, if you know that you need a new, updated product video right away, get it done! Obvious action steps must be developed while the marketing plan is being developed. That’s the real world of profit and loss . . . of business.

  7. Be brutally honest. Your competitors will be, and they will find and attack your weaknesses unless you can honestly self-assess and preempt them.