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Creativity is a trait most people would include in the psychographic profile of a marketer. After all, we are the ones responsible for slick advertising, eye-catching graphics, and clever promotions. However, there are other traits that successful marketers need to possess. For example, marketers need excellent planning and communication skills. In addition, they are increasingly being pushed to be more strategic. As a result, marketing plans have become more important than ever. Marketing plans help organizations synthesize, communicate, and execute their strategies.
In practice, a marketing team will need a set of plans. An annual marketing plan that captures the key objectives and initiatives is a must. Individual marketing departments should also have their own annual plans, which should align with and expand upon the annual marketing plan owned by the VP Marketing or CMO. We will also cover essential cross department plans in this chapter, including the go-to-market plan and the message platform.
We will also spend some time defining key marketing activities, including campaign, launch, and program. Many marketers do not understand these terms and, worse, use them incorrectly. Confusion results, and execution suffers. We stake a claim on proper usage of marketing lexicon.
To begin, Table 1 shows the six essential marketing plans, and where they fall in the strategy, execution, communication spectrum.
|Strategy||Go-to-Market Plan, Marketing Requirements Document|
|Execution||Annual Marketing Plan, Launch Plan|
|Communication||Message Platform, PR Plan|
Table 1: Hierarchy of marketing plans
Strategy: Go-to-Market Plan
The go-to-market strategy is one of the most important things you will do in marketing. It will determine your likelihood of success, as well as your potential profitability. Also known as GTM or G2M, go-to-market strategy refers to the way you plan to sell your product to customers who are ready to buy. Phrased differently, your strategy should include what you are selling, who you are selling to, and how you are selling to them; in essence, the product and place of marketing’s four Ps.
Your go-to-market plan can be as complex and detailed as you feel is necessary, but should not be complicated at the expense of agility. As you create your plan, keep in mind that you may need to change it quickly if things are not working out. No matter how detailed the plan, however, there are some key elements you need to include:
Market Segmentation – This is the market segment or segments that are most suitable for your products or services. Recall from our discussion in Chapter 3 that markets can be segmented based on a range of criteria, whetherindustry, geography, demographic profiles or other.
Product – What product do you plan to sell to a given market segment? If your objective is to sell to an entire company, then your GTM may call for you to emphasize different products in different market segments. In the case of a go-to-market strategy for a single product line or service, you might design a specific model, variant, or package for a particular market segment.
Buyer – The person or group of persons who will purchase your product. In consumer marketing, the buyer frequently is an individual consumer. In contrast, business-to-business marketing targets the buyer persona or buying center.
Routes to Market – Will your product be sold direct by salespeople, directly online, through resellers, or through retailers? These channels are the typical routes to market. You might decide that certain channels are more suitable for certain market segments or buyers than others. In other cases a mix of channels is appropriate. A typical example of a mix for business-to-business products is to employ direct sales in a company’s home country and resellersin other countries. Alternatively, you can have direct sales service large customers and let channel partners and your online store handle smaller orders.
The better your go-to-market plan, the stronger your other marketing plans will be. A well-crafted GTM plan enhances your ability to identify and scope the marketing support that is necessary to make your plan effective. It also helps you to understand what the buyers are looking for when they make a buying decision. You can utilize this knowledge to create on-target supporting messages, advertising, and other materials. Equally important, you can direct your salespeople or channel partners to the most likely buyers to help them in their efforts.
Similarly, the more carefully targeted your GTM strategy is, the more effective it will be. Despite what some people might believe, trying to sell as many products to as many people through as many channels as possible is not necessarily the best strategy. Keep in mind that even large enterprises have limited marketing resources. An organization may find itself spread too thin, unable to create enough demand to be of interest to channel partners or enough noise to attract the attention of potential buyers. In addition, marketing a product to the wrong segment wastes valuable time and money. For example, a product that appeals to a large company might be too expensive or too difficult to use for a smaller company. Exercising discipline in a go-to-market strategy is a major challenge, but it is well worth the effort.
Execution: The Annual Marketing Plan
After you have developed the go-to-market strategy, the next step is to create the annual marketing plan. The purpose of the annual marketing plan is to identify the tactics that will generate the necessary awareness and demand for the product among the desired buyers in the target market segments. Depending on the organization, the plan may also include training and awareness for salespeople and reseller partners. Finally, the plan should identify specific goals and metrics that the marketing team will use to measure success.
Creating the Marketing Plan
Marketing plans are typically generated annually because they are tied to specific annual revenues. They may also be generated around a significant event, such as a product launch or geographic expansion. We prefer to define the former as marketing plans and the latter as launch plans, which we discuss later. Large organizations typically have one annual marketing plan and multiple individual launch plans for products introduced during that year. We recommend that organizations review their marketing plans on a quarterly basis to assess whether the plan has achieved its goals and metrics, and to make any necessary course corrections if it has not.
Marketing plans can contain all kinds of tactics: advertising, the website, trade shows, public relations, analyst relations, channel incentives, promotions — you name it. They can also take many different forms. At the most basic level, however, all marketing plans contain the list of programs and the activities and associated costs necessary to drive them. This combination of activities is commonly referred to as the marketing mix.
Although marketing plans can take on a number of forms and marketers have access to literally hundreds of templates, all plans should include a few common elements:
- Market sizing and segmentation
- Go-to-market strategy
- Awareness and demand generation targets
- Marketing programs
- Associated costs
In this chapter we’ll examine the first four elements. Because of their complexity, we’ll examine marketing budgets in greater detail in Chapter 22.
The Launch Plan
As we mentioned above, the launch plan is a subset of the marketing plan that focuses on the introduction of a single product or service. Depending on your company size, you may have either one or several products or service launches in a given year.
The launch plan will look more like a project plan than the annual marketing plan. It should summarize the target market, the buyer, and the launch objectives, whether awareness objectives or specific revenue objectives. Most importantly, however, the launch plan should list all of the activities that have to come together for you to meet the target launch date.
Here are some elements you will want to include in a launch plan:
- Product Availability – if you are introducing a new product, when will the product be ready? If your company sells through retail, when will the product be available in stores? In some cases a company will launch new products before they actually ship, typically either as part of a market stall strategy or because the company wants to take advantage of an industry event. A market stall is when a company intentionally announces a product well ahead of availability so that customers wait until that product is available rather than buy a product from a competing vendor. Larger companies are notorious for “stalling” markets at the expense of their smaller competitors.
- Marketing Assets – a detailed list of assets, such as data sheets, brochures, and new Web pages or microsites, that need to be ready at the launch. If you are in charge of a global launch, then don’t forget to leave time for translation.
- Public Relations and Influencer Activities – details on customers who have used the product or an early version, analysts who may be quoted, reporters to brief, and release date and time. If you are holding a press conference, then the launch plan should include the logistics. It should also specify the activities designed to reach out to important customers, bloggers, and other influencers.
- Advertising – specifics on when ads will be ready and where they will run. Any additional keywords needed for search engine marketing should be included.
- Sales, Support and Channel Enablement –biggest mistake you can make is to launch a product and surprise your sales team and partners. They don’t like to be caught flatfooted. Make certain that your salespeople are briefed, armed with tools, and properly trained. Also, don’t forget to develop mindshare among channel partners, who likely have other things going on. Customer service and technical support reps may get asked questions about the new product when they are helping customers with other things.
- Internal Communications – how will you make certain even your receptionist knows what the launch is about? Internal communications can include frequently asked questions (FAQs) documents, employee webcasts, training events, emails from executives, and even signage for your lobbies and cafeterias. Launches are also an opportunity to get the whole organization excited.
- Launch Events – if you are holding a launch event – whether at your headquarters, a trade show, or another venue – then the launch plan should contain details on when, who needs to be there, and a detailed schedule, or “show flow,” so everyone knows his or her part. You may also want to include key talking points for your executives and spokespeople, to ensure that they stay on message.
Communication: The Message Platform
The average customer receives hundreds, if not thousands, of messages every day. In every medium, from home to work and back again, companies are trying to sell something. So, if you think customers are waiting around waiting to hear what you have to say, think again. This is not a new problem. Even in 1997, when the Web was nascent and Twitter, Facebook and the iPhone were not yet born, consumers were overwhelmed:
Consumers today are surrounded by advertising. There are various estimates, but most range from hundreds to low thousands per day. David Shenk, in his book Data Smog, states that the average American encountered 560 daily advertising messages in 1971. By 1997, that number had increased to over 3000 per day. The average consumer today sees more ads in one day than his predecessor of fifty years ago.
Given this glut of information, a successful marketing campaign needs to say something interesting, relevant, and meaningful. And, it needs to say it over and over again. Remember: frequency, consistency, and simplicity. Marketers refer to the collection of carefully chosen words and phrases that they use to describe their offering as a message platform. For a message platform to be convincing, each element should be concise and compelling. Keep in mind that the words and phrases in your message platform will be used by other members of your marketing team – from PR to advertising to the Web team to social media – when they write about your product, whether for a launch, a campaign, or any other activity. The message platform is the master document on which a lot of other writing will be based. All communication should conform to the message platform.
There are many ways to format a message platform, and content may vary from company to company. Regardless of the specifics, however, a proper message platform should contain at least the following six elements:
- Buyer Priorities & Needs – This element summarizes your buyers’ top priorities or needs. Market segmentation and buyer profiles will yield this information, and it should be limited to the “short list” of what your buyers care most about. An acute knowledge of needs and priorities will help writers and other marketers better understand your buyers and the context in which they make decisions.
- Positioning Statement –As we discussed in Chapter 2, a positioning statement is a short statement that demonstrates the value of what you offer, how it differs from competing products and services, and how it has a meaningful impact on your audience. The positioning statement can cover an entire company, a product line, or an individual product.
- Key Messages –Recall that the positioning statement is intended to help internal audiences understand your desired position in the marketplace. Obviously, however, you also need to convey this message to the external marketplace. To accomplish this task, marketers create key messages, which are short statements that phrase your product’s value in terms the buyer will understand.
- Proof Points –Proof points are the supporting evidence that validate and give credibility to the key messages. Whereas key messages are complete sentences, proof points are bullets. Each key message should be supported by two to three proof points. Well-crafted proof points will make your messaging more powerful and help cut through the cynicism and inattentiveness toward marketing messages that “data smog” has fostered.
- Value Proposition – The value prop is what – hopefully – your salespeople will be repeating every time they meet a new prospect. It describes what you have, for customers for whom it is intended, and what benefits they will gain from using it. Although this sounds straightforward, think of all the times a salesperson has tried to explain to you what he or she is selling. Five minutes into the monologue, you still have no idea what the product is or why you should buy it. Somewhere, a marketing person did not do his or her job of arming the field staff with a value proposition.
- Copy Blocks – Copy blocks are fleshed-out messages, in full sentences, that can be dropped into their marketing assets, whether direct mail, email, advertising, or some other medium. The best practice is to provide short, medium, and long versions, usually 25-, 50-, and 100-word blocks, that describe your company and its offerings.
Figure 1 below shows how all the pieces of the message platform fit together, starting with buyer priorities and needs on the more strategic end, and finishing with completed copy blocks that can be used as is on the delivery end.
Figure 1: Message platform components
A critical element of an effective message platform is differentiation. The most common reaction that customers – consumer or business –have to a sales pitch is to associate the product or service with something they already have. After they have done this, they want to know how your product is different from — and better than — the product they already use. This is where differentiation comes in. If the answer to this question is not in your positioning statement and key messages, and is not backed up with proof points, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
As you’ve probably concluded by now, testing the message platform is critical. It is imperative that you get feedback from people outside the group that developed the messaging to confirm that your messages are credible and differentiated and that your product’s value is clear. Depending on your resources and access to participants, testing can range from presenting the message to a few friendly customers, partners, and salespeople to showing draft messaging to industry analysts, trusted customers, and, in some cases, focus groups, for feedback. There is really no right way to conduct testing. Whatever method you employ, however, you should follow a consistent format for presenting the messaging and collecting feedback. This strategy will ensure that you are getting the best possible input. As you collect feedback, keep a look out for ideas on wording and insight into how buyers perceive your organization and what value they see in what you do. You can use this feedback to improve your messaging.
Finally, because the message platform is intended to be consumed by other marketing and sales personnel, a well-designed platform will contain variants of the key messages and value propositions – the copy blocks noted above. Because you need to achieve consistency of message, you should create short, medium, and long versions, and they should be easy to cut and paste from the documents. As the creator, you will benefit from these efforts when you are not asked to write 100 words for every press release, award submission, and third-party website. And success? When you overhear a salesperson from across the country parroting your words to a nodding customer, you know you’ve got a winner.
Other Important Marketing Documents
In addition to the documents we have discussed, a marketing plan can encompass any number of sub-plans and documents. Two that are worth considering are the PR plan and marketing requirements document.
The public relations plan, more commonly called the PR plan, should outline awareness goals, press releases to support product launches, placed/bylined article submission opportunities, speaking opportunities, blogs, and other media, such as Twitter and Facebook. We like PR plans because they force PR teams to think proactively and outside the blocking and tackling of press releases to support product announcements. PR plans should include calendars for social media posts, because they improve internal communication and keep internal bloggers informed of when they will need to post, what the overall strategy is, and what conversations or topics they should be monitoring. We discuss the PR plan in greater detail in the Public Relations chapter.
As the name suggests, the marketing requirements document (MRD) describes the requirements of customers in the market. The task of creating the MRD is usually assigned to Product Marketing. The MRD should be revised annually to reflect significant changes or shifts in the market. Be careful not to confuse the MRD with the product requirements document, or PRD, which product or brand managers create to prioritize specific feature additions to their product. MRDs should identify issues and needs at a higher level – family sizes are growing and need bigger cars; more families are getting into stand-up paddleboarding ; companies are struggling to stay secure in the face of mobile phone use; small businesses cannot keep up with paperwork requirements imposed by new government regulations; and so on.
Speaking the Same Language
Many marketers use the terms campaign, launch, and program interchangeably. This gets very confusing when you are trying to communicate with other team members, outside agencies, heads of sales, and CEOs. These three terms are clearly related, and there are variants or extensions of each term that can make one term look like the other. Nevertheless, they are distinctive concepts, and marketers need to understand what each one means. We will also describe how promotions and activities fit in with all three.
Let’s begin with the campaign. Exactly what does this term refer to? Basically, a campaign is a coordinated set of activities, associated with a theme, that designed to promote a product or service. A theme can be a topic, a subject, a motif, or an idea. Campaigns have a longer duration than launches, typically encompassing a season or a fiscal year. The “Campaigns” tab in many popular sales and marketing automation applications, which is generally where programs or tasks are tracked, confuses the matter greatly.
Whereas a campaign covers an entire fiscal year, a launch involves the introduction of a new product or service, with associated activities to promote it. The launch typically takes place on a given day, with everything lined up and ready to go, and it is generally tied either to product availability or to the announcement of availability. A campaign, by contrast, can be independent from the launch and have greater longevity.
Of course, in practice the distinction between launches and campaigns can become blurred. For example, marketers sometimes conduct “rolling thunder” launches – taken from the sound of echoing thunder – where the launch is succeeded by a steady drumbeat of activities. These activities consist of a series of tactics deployed over time to sustain attention or “noise” about the new product or service. At this point, launches can begin to resemble campaigns. Also, in some cases, companies launch a new campaign concurrent with a product launch, further conflating the two concepts.
The next concept — program — is a grouping of common marketing activities, including reputation, demand generation, sales enablement, and market intelligence. Reputation includes brand or corporate advertising, public relations, and loyalty programs. Demand generation includes any tactics that will capture leads. Sales enablement is the training and equipping of your sales team and partners. Finally, market intelligence consists of information about your customers, markets, and competitors. A common mistake is for marketers to refer to tactics as programs, as in “social media program.”
The individual actions that companies take to achieve a marketing outcome are known as tactics or activities. Common marketing tactics include events, direct marketing, telemarketing, direct response advertising, online advertising and search engine marketing, promotions, social media, content syndication, and tactical PR activities such as press releases and product reviews.
Finally, promotion is the publicizing of a product or service to achieve market awareness through the media, customer communication, and/or advertising. These activities can range from the high-level act of promoting all of your products — the fourth P in McCarthy’s model — to a narrowly targeted effort to promote a specific product, typically with an associated promotional offer. In the context of the annual marketing plan, “running a promotion” typically means creating an incentive to sell more of a given product.
Figure 2 below depicts the relationship among campaigns, launches, programs, and tactics/activities:
Prescribing a hierarchy of campaigns, launches, programs, promotions, and tactics/activities is challenging, if not impossible. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every company is different, and the different divisions within a company may have different needs. While one division is launching a new product with a fresh go-to-market strategy, another division may be introducing an existing product into a new geography, and a third may be running a price promotion to spur sales of a sputtering product. Success is defined as having the appropriate level of marketing plan in place that achieves the following objectives:
- It demonstrates strong ties to corporate goals.
- Is measureable so that the marketing team can show progress
- It has room for promotions, launches, and campaigns to tie in.
Finally, remember that a well thought-out plan gives the marketing team (internal and external) clear targets, and it increases the likelihood they will achieve their objectives with the highest degree of success. It also provides invaluable help when budgets are being set and/or reevaluated, because it clearly articulates the expected results associated with various items.
- Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer, McGraw Hill, 2011
 Cited in DMNews Magazine, 12/22/97