If you Google “quotes about Planning,” the number of results shown is about 578,000,000. Reading through those quotes, you will see the words of hundreds of leaders, artists, poets, politicians, and writers driving in the same point: planning is essential.
For people everywhere, planning is often the key to success. Understanding proper planning is so important that schools are teaching classes on organization and planning. For example, my 7th-grade son took a course called “GYST” (Get Your Stuff Together) as one of his rotating electives last year.
But planning is often easier said than done. First, it takes time, and if you ask any Marketing Director, time is one thing they don’t have. Second, it can be challenging to critically look at your business, brand messaging, and overall marketing efforts (did it follow a plan?). After all, those are the messages and tactics you have put your time into conveying and communicating. Finally, there are several components that go into developing a solid strategy and plan. Not only can it be overwhelming, but again, it takes – say it with me – time.
Let’s break down some of the key components of a marketing plan:
“I think a mistake a lot of people make is to identify a target audience and then work backwards into creating a product for them.” – Ricky Van Veen, American entrepreneur and the Head of Global Creative Strategy at Facebook
Each time you create a brand, campaign, or product launch plan, take a minute to consider your target audience. It’s easy to market to the audiences we are familiar with; however, audiences expand or evolve much like everything else in a business. Take the building industry, for example. In the past, a manufacturer may have solely focused marketing and communications efforts on architects as they are the ones who often spec and incorporate products into a design – still, many times, they are not the final decision-maker. Many general contractors are moving to a design-build model and require product information. Building owners and facility managers may also weigh in on product needs based on performance requirements for their buildings and occupant health and well-being.
Taking the time at the beginning of planning to think through your audiences will ensure you are getting your story and message to the people who can benefit from it and open doors you may not have realized existed.
Voice of Customer (VOC) Interviews
“If you want to create messages that resonate with your audience, you need to know what they care about.” – Nate Elliot, Marketing Technology Advisor
Now that we’re confident with who our target market audience is, understanding this audience’s needs, the landscape and how they view your brand is essential. Often people develop marketing plans assuming their stories and messaging will resonate, but what is that based on? When you conduct strategic interviews with your audience, you can discover different ways of viewing your own product or services. You can uncover insights that drive creative campaigns. You can find changes in the landscape and new industry perceptions. You can find nuggets of human truths that create stronger connections with your audience than anything you can ideate in a vacuum. Therefore, conducting VOC interviews is often one of the most critical steps you can take when developing a successful strategy, plan, and creative brief.
Through meaningful conversations, you will gain invaluable insight and discover opportunities to enhance awareness, understanding, and overall brand positioning that creates emotional connections. For example, several years ago, we were working with a client in the building materials industry. As we began their annual strategy and marketing plan, we conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of interior designers to better determine their brand knowledge and key focus areas when selecting products. We, along with the client, went into those interviews thinking the designers would tell us that their key considerations were based on aesthetic and cost. After all, that is what we had heard from the audience and the sales team before. But, instead, the overwhelming majority of those interviewed said indoor air quality was their primary consideration when selecting flooring. Our audience’s values had shifted since our last interviews. That input helped shift our messaging and made us rethink communications and marketing tactics. Ultimately, this change in planning resulted in the development of messaging that resonated with the audience and the execution of tactics that gained awareness and helped position the client as a thought leader.
“Speaking from my personal experiences, setting goals, along with a detailed action plan, has actually changed my life from one cast in frustration to one of purpose.” ― Catherine Pulsifer, Author
Setting goals seems like an obvious part of the planning process, and, in a sense, it is. Nevertheless, there are some crucial factors to take into account as you outline your goals. Incorporating goals into your plan will help you define what specific outcomes you are working toward. Make sure they are clear, concise, and measurable so others in the organization will better understand your objectives, and you will be able to easily show them how you met those goals at the end of the year.
Additionally, make sure your goals are actionable and attainable. It’s nice to want to gain one million new followers on Instagram but ask yourself if that is realistic for yourself and your team. How you will develop and execute the tactics to accomplish this goal? Establishing goals and making sure they are workable is an essential part of the planning process.
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
So, you’ve determined your audience, spoken with them, set your goals, and now it is time to develop your strategy. This is the part of the planning process that often seems the most daunting. Strategy can be hard to understand; people regularly mistake strategy for objectives or tactics. Going back to our Google searches, the term “what is strategy?” yields more than 1.7 billion results.
For all intents and purposes, a strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve the goals you have identified. It outlines the approach you will take and helps streamline your efforts. Here’s one way to look at it:
- Goal: Increase web traffic by 15% by the end of Q2.
- Strategy: Develop COMPANY X as a thought-leader, innovator, and partner in the XX market.
- Tactic: Secure speaking engagements for company leaders at industry events that COMPANY’s target audiences will attend.
It can be tempting to set goals and then get to the fun part of how you will achieve them, but without a proper strategy, it’s easy for things to go awry, and all the work you have put into planning with be for naught.
“Master the topic, the message, and the delivery.” – Steve Jobs, American Business Magnate and Co-founder of Apple
With messaging, it’s what you say and how you say it. Effective messaging is about considering the story from your audience’s perspective. Solid, well-considered messages are a must for any successful, strategic marketing and communications program.
Start with defining your message pillars – your brand positioning, promise, how you support your promise, and reasons for the audience to believe you. Next, consider your audience’s perception of your company or products and ask yourself what you want their perception to be. This is where the VOC interviews are beneficial.
As you begin to write your messages, make sure you have defined the brand’s tone of voice. (We’ve coined the word “branditude” which in its simplest form is the combination of positioning and tone of voice.) Remember that good messages are supported by proof points that reinforce your top-level claims. Therefore, messages must be provable statements of truth, brief (typically three to four key messages), and easy to understand. A good message should also answer the question, “Why?” with “How?” and “What?”
“Don’t just create content to get credit for being clever – create content that will be helpful, insightful, or interesting to your target audience.” – David Ogilvy, British Advertising Tycoon and Founder of Ogilvy & Mather
Tactics are probably the most fun part of planning. It’s where you can see your strategy and message come to life to help achieve your goals. Tactics allow you to be creative and come up with exciting ways to capture your audience’s attention. But as with messaging, you want to create tactics that will resonate with your audience. For example, if most of your audience isn’t on social media for business purposes, don’t put the time or money into creating an extensive LinkedIn campaign. Instead, your goal as a business is to inform your audience and help them meet their goals – whether it’s finding a building product that will increase R-value or a top-of-the-line kayak for their outdoor adventures.
Other components of a plan to keep in mind include:
Vision: Where do you see your company long-term?
Mission: What do you do?
Brand Values: How is the personality of the company, its products, and services defined?
Composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”
Marketers understand the need for a plan, but again, the time is lacking. Enter Seed Factory.
We work as an extension of our clients’ marketing and communications departments. Understanding their goals allows us to develop plans, strategies, tactics, then work to develop messages, content, and more to help achieve those goals. We serve as the “extra time” that they need to accomplish everything in their hectic, multi-channel marketing effort. Of course, we’re not just extra time, we’re experts and an unbiased outside perspective. We can look at the business or marketing challenges critically to ensure the right messages are being communicated to the right audiences in the right way.
We have worked with clients across multiple industries in B2C and B2B to develop and execute a comprehensive marketing plan to further brands, product launches, and ongoing campaigns. So, as we head toward the end of year and begin planning for the coming year of opportunity, consider partnering with us on your marketing plan.
Author, Joslyn Fagan, is Senior Account Director at Seed Factory. She has over 15 years marketing experience helping clients with planning and everything covered in this article! She also has deep experience in the building products and materials industry. The team at Seed Factory, can help you plan and execute for 2022 and beyond.