It’s Budget Season. Do You Know Where Your Strategic Marketing Plan Is?

I’m going out on a limb here and betting that most of you don’t have a strategic marketing plan for 2017. And that’s not just small companies. I’m pointing the finger at big companies as well.

This is based entirely on my experience working with and talking to natural products companies over the years. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not trying to guilt trip anyone.

Budget planning is not the same as strategic planning

Fall is traditionally the time for budget planning for the following year. Some do it earlier and some later. Marketing teams put together budgets based on tactics that they hope to implement: trade shows. Brochures. Ad schedules. Website refreshes. Quarterly or monthly promotions. Demos. Outsourced social media support. Editorial calendars for blogging, and so on.

They look at these and have a tactical plan that is often accompanied by a timeline, which looks great on a Gantt chart or Excel sheet. Nothing wrong with any of this, except it’s not strategic.

This planning is often born from a mixture of marketing intuition (based on years of experience), department structures dictating planning, prior commitments to sales, a mandate from the CEO, or the fear that because they’ve always done it, something bad will happen if they don’t. And money — there is only so much they have in their budgets.

But, I repeat: it’s not strategic.

Shut up about “strategic”

When we look at brands, we ask the four “W”s: who, what, how and why.

  • Who is the brand
  • What does it do
  • How does it do it
  • Why is it in existence.

A budget plan answers the what and how, but not the why.

A strategic marketing plan answers the why, and most importantly, allows marketing departments to justify what they do.

With a strategic plan, you present an objective analysis of the market and your company’s current position in that market. From there you establish the main goal for your marketing, and support it with objectives that will enable you to achieve that goal. This is hard work, and it requires concentrated time that many marketers just don’t have time for. You need to look outside your day-to-day existence and look at your brand with distance and dispassion. At times it all seems very obvious, but it’s foundational. It’s the why you choose to do the what and the how for the who.

So when I see marketers roll their eyes when I start blabbing about “strategic,” I’m doing you a favor down the road.

You can thank me now or later

Our Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2015 identified “company wide budget limitations” and “company historically has not invested much in marketing” as two of the top three internal challenges faced by marketers. Basically most natural products marketers have a tough time justifying their budgets, and are confronted with a lot of second-guessing.

With a strategic plan, you’ll get buy-in on the why. You and your fellow management/executive team will have to agree on the goal and objectives. It’s then in writing, so you can’t claim ignorance six months later.

With the why in place, all of your tactics have to support your goal and objectives. If a favorite tactic (let’s say a glossy brochure) does not support the objective of communicating digitally, then you have a solid reason to remove it from your plan, maybe in favor of an ebook that will contain the same content and be easily measurable.

You’ll also have a stake in the ground when, three months into your year, someone has a “great idea” that they want you to try. You can then see if it supports your goal or objectives and act accordingly, rather than spinning your wheels trying to figure out if it makes any sense or not.

And at the end of the year (or when you are starting your next planning session), you can look back on the plan and see what succeeded or failed, and whether you achieved your goal as a brand.

It’s not too late

It’s the end of October, and you don’t have your strategic marketing plan. You’ve already had your umpteenth budget meeting — the last thing you want to do is tell everyone that you want to start the process “strategically.”

Can you retrofit your plan to make it strategic?

Here’s the guilt-free approach.

Step 1: Situation Analysis.

Take a look at where your company was 10 years ago and where your specific segment of the industry was. For example, if you are a supplement company, what was happening ten years ago, both in terms of supplements in general and with regard to your product offerings? Look at it in terms of industry sales, regulations, channels, distribution, and general consumer awareness. This historical snapshot gives you more of a long view and shows you how things change specific to your brand’s interests. Next, dig deeper into your specific market, with a market overview of your sales, your channels, your product mix, your competition and your challenges. Then, identify key trends within your space that you think favor your brand.

Step 2: Goal.

Try to come up with one big goal. It can be a long compound sentence with independent clauses. For example, the goal is not just “to grow sales,” but it can be “to grow sales by increasing awareness through reinforcement of key attributes in an ethical way.” Key words that are often used are active verbs like “increase”, “strengthen”, “elevate”, and “empower.” And, by the way, your goal will be well-thought-out because you’ll have a perspective on your brand due to the work you did in the situation analysis.

Step 3: Objectives.

Objectives support the goal, so this is where you get more specific: How will you support this goal internally? Growing your department could be an objective. How will you increase awareness? Maybe becoming more data-centric so you can measure the impact of the attributes you are associating with the brand. Because you have already defined your tactics with your budgeting process, you might want to look at those and see if you can relate them to broader objectives.

That’s it. Your guilt-free retrofit is done.

So what you can do with it? You can go back to your tactical plan and see if there is anything that needs changing, and decide whether you want to do that or not. You can also keep your tactical plan as is, and use the goals and objectives as a benchmark for evaluating the effectiveness of those tactics come next fall when you start your planning process. Either way, the retrofit is of value.

And here’s to a great 2017 for you and your brand.