Whether you’re a business looking to hire a digital marketing agency, or you’re an agency looking to add value for your clients, a marketing plan is worth more than any other marketing solution. Yet we find that most of the companies we talk to don’t have a marketing plan in place.
We’ve got some theories on why that is, but first let’s discuss why having a marketing plan is worth more than any other solution or deliverable. As the digital age is upon us, we find countless companies providing SEO services, website design, eCommerce, PPC campaigns, social media, email marketing, and video production. These services are usually handled by multiple companies. For small and medium sized businesses, this means more time and effort trying to manage them. We find that organizations don’t have the time, expertise, or resources to adequately manage these different services—which is why they are outsourcing these jobs to begin with.
We would classify all the above services as tactics. They all represent ways to reach potential customers. But without a marketing plan—or to a lesser extent strategy, these tactics often result in tremendous waste. Tactics are just tools in the toolkit for marketers to use. A tactic without a strategy, and a strategy without a plan, is a recipe for bad results.
As the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:
Those who triumph,
compute at their headquarters
a great number of factors
prior to a challenge.
Those who are defeated,
compute at their headquarters
a small number of factors
prior to a challenge.
Much computation brings triumph.
Little computation brings defeat.
How much more so with no computation at all.
By observing only this,
I can see triumph or defeat.
These are words to live by for any marketer.
Only investing in marketing tactics is like hiring a building contractor and a lump of materials with no building plans. You know you want to build a home, but what kind of home? One story or two story? Three bedrooms or four? Stucco or brick? If the contractor is good, he’ll ask you to clarify. If he doesn’t care or you don’t know—chances are things aren’t going to turn out like you wanted them to.
In our experience, expect companies to only focus on their individualized service. They care about creating their deliverable, and very rarely are concerned about how that deliverable fits into a larger plan. When they do care, it is usually disguised to enroll you in additional services they offer, regardless of whether that service will add value. Quite frankly, we are appalled by how unethical the marketing industry is—but that rant is for another day and another blog.
A marketing plan provides clarity, analysis, and gives a roadmap for all the deliverables. Much of a marketing plan is spent on a situational analysis. This is for good reason. These are where insights are uncovered that shape what the strategy and tactics should look like.
Furthermore, a marketing plan shows how everything works together.
For example, if you’re investing heavily into SEO, but your website is porous—your campaign is going to be a waste. You could be on the first page for a Google search that matches what your business does, but it won’t matter if your website stinks.
Similarly, you could have a fantastic website that is well designed, has properly tailored content, and aligns very well with your target audience, but if no one sees it—it won’t matter. And then there’s a difference between good design and good content. You need both for success. If you’re hiring a website designer that only knows design, you’re going to be out of luck when the content is lackluster.
As a business owner/executive, a marketing plan will allow you to better understand where you are, what you need, and what you should be getting from an agency. If you’re working with a company who is only providing a specific tactic, you’ll be able to better guide them.
As an agency, a marketing plan gives you great insight into your client. You’ll be able to create considerably better deliverables AND results. It is a win-win.
OK, so you’ve decided it’s worth it to look into a marketing strategy. But it all seems overwhelming. We highly recommend using a framework and adjusting it to your needs.
SOSTAC® stands for:
Situation Analysis – where are we now?
Objectives – where do we want to be?
Strategy – how do we get there?
Tactics – how exactly do we get there?
Action – the execution
Control – did we get there?
Of course, there’s a lot that goes into those questions, but even on the surface it is easy to see what information is unlocked by answering them.
Side note: We don’t make any money from referring people to PR Smith’s website or to SOSTAC®. We are genuinely passionate about good marketing and take joy in sharing insights.
As for why companies don’t invest into a plan, we’ve got a few theories.
1) A plan isn’t flashy. You’ve only got limited dollars to spend on marketing. Should you spend it on something which customers won’t even see? (Applies to more small and medium sized businesses):
We hope we’ve changed your mind. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” A marketing plan will last longer than any one campaign. And if actively updated over time, it will be good for well into the future. Additionally, it makes it so much easier to create deliverables with a clear plan. There’s less waste. You’ll save so much more in downstream costs.
2) It can be hard to look within. A marketing plan is full of decision making. Example: You have to be willing to say “This is our customer” which also means you’re saying, “X, Y, and Z aren’t our customers.”
Taking a concept from Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, it also requires using the Stockdale Paradox.
You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
AND at the same time… you must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.
A marketing plan entails that you look at your current reality, and by doing so it must mean you have to confront things you’ve been hiding from. At some point, reality will strike. The sooner you confront it, the better.
3) The current tactics you are using seem to be OK as is. Or everything looks good to you.
Example: “Our website looks good, our ad looks good, we have a high page ranking, etc.”
To which we would respond, “What metrics are you measuring to say it is good? Why are you measuring those metrics? How much better could it be?” If you are satisfied with how things are currently going, we are happy for you. If at some point you become unsatisfied, a marketing plan is the best place to start.
By far and away, the best marketing investment you can make is in a plan. It isn’t flashy. It isn’t easy. And it isn’t nearly as fun as creating a beautiful video. But it’s worth it in the end. Your marketing will be less like throwing mud on a wall and hoping it sticks, and more like throwing darts at a dart board. There will likely need to be adjustments made. Assumptions you make in the plan might need modification.
There will be failure. But a plan accounts for this and provides a framework for understanding what you’re doing, and why.
If you’re an organization, we hope you invest into making a marketing plan. It doesn’t have to be out of reach for small and medium sized businesses. If you know you don’t have the time and resources to do it yourself, find a trustworthy company that isn’t about selling services, but rather value.