Big brands almost always invest substantial resources to create a comprehensive strategic marketing plan. Especially in consumer markets.
Yet from my experience, few small to midsize businesses bother to create one. (And many don’t even create a written annual marketing plan, opting to simply operate from a budget instead.)
Why? Part of the reason is due to a lack of bandwidth. And partly it’s due to insufficient understanding of strategic marketing. While MBA graduates can recite the 4Ps and create a SWOT analysis, these are rarely helpful at the SME (small to midsize enterprise) level, where a handful of people and decisions shape the direction of a brand and how it’s perceived by the market.
The biggest reason, however, is caused by confusion between the marketing strategy and marketing tactics. I commonly hear marketers and executives referring to tactics when discussing their marketing strategy. They think they have developed a clear strategy, saying things like “we’re going to grow by ramping up our digital and inbound marketing” or “we’re going to hire an agency to revamp our website to increase online sales.” But while tactics are important, they are simply techniques and actions used to solve immediate problems.
Strategy answers the higher level question of “where are you going and what do you want to accomplish?” It looks to the future and focuses on the long term. At the SME level, most marketers focus on executing tactics and most businesspeople focus on meeting revenue targets, but many fail to align those with an overarching, long-term marketing strategy.
Like great buildings, great brands aren’t built without a carefully crafted architectural plan.
To create a clearer picture of what a good strategic marketing plan addresses, I often prefer to remove the marketing jargon and use a “plain English” approach by asking these questions about a brand:
Strong brands have answered these questions, and thereby have everyone aligned so their marketing and sales team can focus on tactical execution.
At the SME level, it’s more common to see a chaotic approach: tactical marketers saying one thing, sales teams saying another, as everybody makes their own decisions about how to generate customers. This works sometimes, but more often it creates friction amongst marketing, sales and executive leadership, and presents a disjointed brand to the marketplace.
If you don’t have a written marketing strategy, I highly recommend that you create one. A mediocre strategy that everyone is aligned with is better than having no strategy at all, much less competing strategies.
Completing the strategic marketing planning process with your executive leadership team and marketing and sales team not only helps you to clarify the answers to the above questions – which can be an incredibly enlightening process, but it can also help your team to:
Creating this alignment will almost certainly improve the effectiveness of your marketing and sales activities throughout the year – even if you’re not totally confident in numbers 1, 3 and 4 above.
It’s always exciting for me to see the energy teams discover after coming together to create and understand their marketing strategy – where they’re heading, why they’re going there and the high-level things they need to do to accomplish it. This is empowering work, as it provides the guidelines teams need to select and measure their tactics. A good marketing strategy makes everything work together.
Getting the team together to complete the work and create the plan is the first step. You can always battle-test and refine your plan’s elements in the future. But you can’t be sure of where your brand is heading if you haven’t defined the strategy.
Our Strategic Marketing Course walks teams through these steps. It’s not easy work, but it’s powerful, and immensely valuable. I invite you to check it out. You can also read more about the course in my ebook Strategic Marketing for SME.
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