Calendar Contemporary Digital Device ConceptsThe new year is fast approaching, and many organizations are busy compiling their annual marketing plans. Many hours are spent on dissecting data, dreaming up ideas, and putting together thick decks. Often, the marketer’s hard work will get a moment in the spotlight in the form of a presentation to the executive team. Unfortunately for many organizations, that’s where the marketing plan will begin its slow death-by-indifference, all the way to the point of irrelevance.

Why does this happen? The usual cause is one of two reasons:

1. The plan that’s been created is not aligned with business objectives for the upcoming year, or,
2. There is no framework within which to operationalize the plan for the day-to-day activities of the marketing team.

In this blog post, we will examine the first reason and provide ideas on how to make your marketing plan relevant for your business. In an upcoming post we’ll take up the second reason, and elaborate on how to place the plan at the center of marketing activities during the year.

Some of the ideas presented here are adapted from the book “Breakthrough Marketing Plans” by Tim Calkins, which I wholeheartedly recommend for detailed insight into planning.

As outlined in the book, there are three components in a good plan:

1. Business Objectives: What do you want to get done?
2. Marketing Initiatives: How are you going to do it?
3. Marketing Tactics: What exactly are you going to do?

Here’s a representation of how these components are related:

Business Objective Marketing Initiative Marketing Tactics Objective 1 Initiative 1A

  • Tactic 1
  • Tactic 2

Initiative 1B

  • Tactic 1
  • Tactic 2

Objective 2 Initiative 2A

  • Tactic 1
  • Tactic 2

Initiative 2B

  • Tactic 1
  • Tactic 2

In this post, we will cover the first two components: business objectives and marketing initiatives. They make up the strategic portion of marketing planning process and are formulated during the planning period. Let us look at each one in detail.

Business Objectives

Business People In MeetingBusiness objectives are formulated as a product of the annual business planning process, which should involve all key executives from various facets of the business. This allows the business objectives to be debated and widely accepted, serving as a solid foundation for creating the marketing plan.

If your company does not have a formal business planning process, it is a great opportunity for the CMO to proactively make the topic “next year business planning” a part of agenda in an executive staff meeting. In either case, you are trying to achieve a general buy-in for the business objectives across the company. Once you have that, you can map marketing initiatives to agreed-on business objectives, reducing potential pushback to marketing plan later in the process.

Formulation of the business objectives should be based on a solid understanding of business fundamentals and trends. This requires data analysis, and thorough customer and market research. Many organizations tend to go overboard on this task; good judgment is needed to identify the essential analysis and to avoid the busywork.

A well-conceived annual business objective has the following characteristics:

1. It should be measurable, and
2. It should be time-specific.

Also, ideally there should be a maximum of three business objectives for the year. One of them should be related to sales targets. The other two objectives could reflect a change in direction or focus for the business in the upcoming year.

Below are some examples of well-conceived business objectives:

  • Reach $200 million in new sales in 2015
  • Increase market share to 20% by Q2 of 2015
  • Expand operating margin by 10% in 2015
  • Improve customer satisfaction by 5% in each quarter of 2015
  • Launch XYZ product in Q1 and achieve 10K in unit sales in 2015

The key metric underlying each business objective should be determined and benchmarks set at the beginning of the year. Create a dashboard showing the metrics as the year progresses, which helps everybody to understand the progress business is (or isn’t) making on the key objectives.

Marketing Initiatives

Marketing initiatives translate business objectives to the domain of marketing. As mentioned earlier, a marketing initiative can be described as “How are you going to achieve the business objective?” Therefore, initiatives are always action-oriented, and have a clear link to the business objective they support. Similarly to business objectives, marketing initiatives should be measurable and time-specific.

It is a good practice to restrict marketing initiatives per business objective to a maximum of three. Note that marketing initiatives should be spread out through different quarters of the year. This means there will be only a subset of marketing initiatives to focus on a given quarter. This allows the entire marketing department to focus on a few marketing initiatives at a time, thus actually helping to move the needle.

Below are examples of well-written marketing initiatives:

  • Enter Japanese market and achieve 5% awareness in target segment in first six months
  • Increase referrals from customers to 1,000 per quarter by Q4 2015
  • Build an affiliate network as new marketing channel in Q3 2015
  • Increase brand equity in our target market by 20% by end of 2015

It is important to keep marketing initiatives on a strategic level than tactical. For example, securing a presence in XYZ tradeshow is not a marketing initiative, but rather a tactic.

The key metrics related to each marketing initiative should also be in a dashboard secondary to the key metrics for business objectives. This allows everybody to figure out which marketing initiative is leading and lagging in supporting the relevant business objective.

Planning Initiatives for the Year

Once the marketing initiatives are identified, the next step is to identify which time periods they will be performed. Some considerations for this task include resource availability, competitive factors, and seasonality. Below is a representation of what your output from this exercise might look like:

Business Objective Marketing Initiative Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Objective 1 Initiative 1A Initiative 1B Initiative 1C Objective 2 Initiative 2A Initiative 2A Initiative 2B Objective 3 Initiative 3A Initiative 3B Initiative 3C

Once you perform this step, you have a clear outlook on marketing’s activities over the year to support the business objectives. Now you have a solid foundation to build a tactical plan and bring the marketing plan to life. We will discuss this topic in an upcoming post.