Creating Your Marketing Plan

It is that time of year again. It is the time when your marketing and communication plans are due. Typically, you list a set of tried and true tactics, assign a cost estimate, and maybe add a little social media for good measure. But, have you ever thought strategically about the underlying structure of your plan? Are your choices consistent with a strategy, or are they simply a mish mash of things that your organization has always done?

3 STRATEGIC APPROACHES

Once a community has successfully identified the industries it believes will prosper in their business climate, the next step is to target these industries with messaging that closely matches the needs of the companies within that industry. There are 3 structural targeting strategies you can consider, including:

Niche/concentration marketing – This approach targets one particular, well-defined group of companies (a niche) within the overall industry.

You transform your community’s promise into a sales presentation tailored for each company’s unique needs.

Small communities that have relatively limited budgets and, therefore, cannot afford to reach the volume of companies pursued by larger MSAs can target niche markets effectively.

The main disadvantage of this approach is that the potential for job growth may be limited, and the probability of overall success can be negatively impacted if industry growth is adversely affected by the economy.

Mass/undifferentiated marketing – This approach focuses on transforming your community’s promise into a single communication campaign that is shared with all industries. The strategy is based on the assumption that, capital investment decision maker’s needs are very similar, if not identical, across selected industries.

The main benefit for a community is that it can create economies of scale for marketing efforts. Message consistency helps deliver a minimum threshold level of frequency required to break through the clutter and capture the attention/interest of industry executives considering a capital investment.

The main disadvantage of mass marketing is that the reasons to believe (proof points) your community’s promise may vary across industries. For example, the Service Industry and Manufacturing Industry both are interested in cost effectively reaching customers, but an executive in the Service Industry may be more interested in your community’s telecommunications capability while an executive in the Manufacturing Industry may place greater importance on your community’s traditional transportation infrastructure (road, rail, air, water).

Differentiated/selective marketing – In this approach you transform your community’s promise into a unique communication campaign for each targeted industry.

By tailoring messaging to meet an industry’s needs more closely, you are likely to generate a greater degree of message relevancy for executives in that industry.

The differentiated approach also allows your community to spread risks, so your capital attraction efforts will be less affected by changes in the economic climate.

The main disadvantages of this approach are the potential for message confusion since to achieve threshold minimum reach and frequency often requires the use of general media channels (e.g. CEO magazines, Wall Street Journal, etc.), and the overhead cost associated with developing and sustaining multiple campaigns.

DISCUSSION

The key to long-term success in marketing is to understand why the choices you make are right for the objectives you are trying to achieve. I often see marketers pursue tactical options with no concept of whom they are reaching or how the tactic contributes to their overall communication mix. This ‘blissful ignorance’ is the root cause of ‘one off’ advertisement placements (which I hate) and wasted effort on disjointed tactics.

Everything in your marketing and communication plan should be justified, or it shouldn’t be included.

When I was working at P&G, the justification required a documented positive return on investment. We tested everything through controlled market studies to ensure our tactical choices were smart before national expansion. My experience in economic development has taught me limited budgets make it hard to calculate an ROI value for every tactic. In fact, I have discovered sometimes the cost of qualification is greater than the cost of execution.  From talking with other economic development professionals, it seems the tendency is to just try a tactic and hope for the best. But, I believe you should always be able to at least articulate WHY you believe the tactic is strategically right and describe the LOGIC behind how you’d expect it to deliver a positive return on investment. If you can do both, then the probability you are making a good tactical choice increases dramatically.  Test your own plan. Take each tactic and see if you can rationalize its use on this basis. If not, reconsider investing in the tactic. Also, challenge yourself to define a valid in-process measure (e.g. clicks) to at least determine if the tactic is directionally delivering what you would expect.

For example, many communities support newsletters. Creating and maintaining a newsletter is a lot of work. They are typically delivered electronically; so out-of-pocket cost is often buried in the Agency services fee. Or, if the newsletter is an in-house production, the cost is buried in the overhead expense. Either way, there is a real cost. The concept of a newsletter is good. Strategically it is a reasonable way to communicate news about your community. But, what is the subscription level required for the newsletter to really make a difference in the marketing of your community? Would you be happy with a subscriber base of 30,000? If your community has a population of 300,000 maybe your answer would be yes. But, what if you were talking about a state with a population of 19,000,000? Using number f subscribers as your in-process measure puts you in a position to evaluate whether it makes sense to continue investing in creating a deploying a newsletter.

Here is one more example that may be more controversial. Every year your organization funds a booth exhibit at a national industry convention. You believe attendance is a good thing because it positions your community as a ‘player’. And, you believe your community will be perceived negatively if it doesn’t exhibit. You’ve been attending the same show for three years. Everybody thinks the visibility is a good thing and will lobby against a decision to cut attending the show from your marketing plan. Yet, you cannot confidently point to a single lead that came from the show that you converted into a capital investment. WHY do you believe attendance is a smart tactical choice? What is the LOGIC behind the positive ROI you’d expect? How many meetings are scheduled in your marketing plan? Can you legitimately justify attendance?

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WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

Which tactics do you execute where in your heart-of-hearts you really question their effectiveness? Which tactics would you like insight into how to effectively measure results? Which tactics have you discovered to be a waste of money and would recommend colleagues stay away from? Can you share any insights into how you measure some common tactics?

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5 Comments so far

  1. Steve Farfsing

    November 10, 2011

    Hi Ed,
    I don’t want to state the obvious but three ways, volume of leads into the qualification cycle, length of time in the qualification cycle, and the quality of those entering the qualification cycle. One problem – most companies don’t have a qualification cycle.

    example – we run an ad and get web hits, easy to measure… right? But how many move into sales qualification? How do we follow the qualification pipeline and measure effort and time? How and where to we capture the critical fit criteria on the company, the individual, and the project?

    This is the point where sales and marketing don’t match up but there is hope!
    Best Regards
    Steve Farfsing

  2. Mike Keller

    November 12, 2011

    Ed, I would like to propose that instead of measuring our marketing tactics we should re-think our marketing strategies. Successful companies are having “conversations” with their customers via social networks. Companies no long control their brand image in today’s economy. Customers are determining your brand image. Social networks provide a powerful feedback loop to those organizations that participate in these conversations. The reality is that the conversations about your brand are going to take place. Do you want to participate in these conversations?

    I encourage all marketing professions to read “The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution” by Brian Solis.

  3. Ken Moore

    November 14, 2011

    I agree with many things that have been said but…after over a decade creating and directing marketing campaigns, I have come to realize that the most often made errors is not setting goals. When we sit down with a client we define what a successful campaign is to them. We do not allow for it to be some far off mythical unicorn. “I want 10 new leads a week” says client… our job then becomes to create those.. define his market, establish budget and deliver the message. if client gets 10 leads a week.. then mission accomplished. Do not allow yourself to get caught in vague.

  4. John Mereness

    November 14, 2011

    Ed, here you go as to measuring:

    Look to Sales ! Thereafter, recognition that eventually leads to a sale/donation/usage/etc. (depends on your goal). Both Mike and Steve raise solid points.

    P.S. I have had the pleasure of several years of pain working with Ault Park Concours and our advertising, social media, and related. The proper mix is difficult and I rarely find two people with the same opinion (which also hinders progress). Great news though is we are always exploring and there are some solid things in the works – stay tuned.

    John – I like your thoughts on to measure the tactical success of your marketing plan. If you haven’t already, please consider copying and pasting your feedback as a comment to the original blog post. I believe it will add to the educational value of the conversation and even more people will benefit from your perspective. Thanks in advance. To make it easy, here is a link to the original blog post – http://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2011/11/creating-your-marketing-plan/

    View/reply to this message

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