The analogical potential of sports and business will serve us nicely again for this column. So let me offer the following: Running a business without a strategic marketing plan is like playing football without a game plan. You can have talented players in snappy uniforms and send them out on the field, where, by using their experience, intelligence and impromptu communication, they might manage to stay in the game. Perhaps they will even score and win depending on the skill (and game plan) of their opponents. But lacking a game plan, success will be very difficult to achieve, and consistent success virtually impossible.
Contrast that scenario with the team that does its homework and preparation before the game, analyzing their competitor's strengths and weaknesses, developing plays that capitalize on their own assets and minimize their weaknesses, agreeing in advance on the most promising plays to use, and revising that plan throughout the game as the situation changes. Assuming relatively equal talent levels, this team will consistently thrash the team above, and even with inferior talent, it will likely win far more than it could otherwise expect.
Shifting to the business arena, a strategic marketing plan is the foundation for the other operating plans that drive the daily activities of your company. It defines the marketing goals, strategies and methods that will help determine your company's success. It identifies the most promising marketing opportunities for your company and outlines how to pursue and maintain desirable positions in your chosen target markets. It identifies research that may be needed, analyzes the competition, and addresses pricing strategies and the most promising forms of promotion.
The benefits of a strategic marketing plan include the fact that by working together to develop a plan, you have the opportunity to stimulate a higher level of strategic, critical and creative thinking than you do when merely reacting to the events of the day. It is also an internal communication tool that integrates all elements of the marketing mix into a comprehensive program of coordinated actions.
Responsibilities are assigned and tasks and activities are scheduled. Strategic marketing coordinates and unifies your efforts. It provides a forum to evaluate your current marketing activities, creates awareness of obstacles and threats, and identifies new opportunities. In sum, it enhances your decision-making, increases the probability of achieving your goals, and improves sales, profitability and customer service.
So, what's the price for all of these highly desirable benefits? It will require an investment of time and discipline, and a commitment of resources. In effect, it involves choosing to spend the time and energy required to develop a game plan vs. sending your team out on the field and hoping for the best.
There is no absolute formula for how much time, money or effort a company needs to dedicate to developing a marketing plan. The simple answer is "whatever it takes to be successful." In some industries, the marketing landscape changes so rapidly that an almost constant revisiting of strategies and tactics is necessary. For other companies, the business cycle is longer, or their market is more stable, so the planning needs may be less intense.
Suffice it to say that a sound strategic marketing plan will help your company be more successful at whatever you are trying to do. How do you recognize a good plan? Here are some characteristics: 1) it is simple, easy to understand and use. 2) It is clear, precise and detailed enough to avoid confusion and ambiguity. 3) It is practical and realistic in its goals and application. 4) It is flexible, adaptable to changes and new information. 5) It is complete and workable, addressing all the significant factors of marketing, and identifying the distribution of authority and responsibilities.