Why Planning is Needed.

First a couple of quotes:

“Vision requires strategy; strategy requires a plan.”

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

The second of these quotes is often attributed to Winston Churchill but in truth no one really knows its origin (some believe it was first said by Benjamin Franklin).

It must be recognised that planning takes time and often staff and middle managers see it as an inconvenient distraction from other, seemingly more profitable activities.  Production managers want to produce and sales managers want to sell.

But planning is essential in business.  In fact often the process of developing plans can be more valuable to the business than the actual plans which are the end product of that process.

Planning makes managers set aside thinking time.  They need to think about what has happened, what is happening and what might happen.

Managers then need to set goals and have those goals accepted by stakeholders.  Those goals need to be communicated.  Progress towards goals needs to be assessed and measured.  Corrective actions need to be prepared in case plans do not come to fruition as planned.

In short planning is an intrinsic part of good management.

So what types of marketing plans should an organisation develop?

Philip Kotler, the respected marketing academic describes six types of marketing plan:

  1. Brand Marketing Plans:  These are plans in respect of individual brand names and product lines
  2. Product Category Plans:  These provide the assumptions, forecasts and goals which drive the planning at individual brand level.  In their final form, they are the aggregation of individual brand marketing plans for a particular product classification e.g. detergents or cosmetics.
  3. New Product Plans:  New products need detailed development and launch plans.  You need to define, refine and test the product concept all of which requires careful planning.  Product launches need extremely detailed planning.
  4. Market Segment Plans:  If you follow a differentiated marketing strategy, you will need different marketing plans for different market segments.  If you only operate in certain segments of a market, a niche strategy, you will require specific plans for specific niches.
  5. Geographic Marketing Plans: You will need different marketing strategies and plans if you operate in different geographic markets.  You need to match your offer to meet the cultural, economic and societal expectations of those markets.  How you market your products in a country like Italy may be totally inappropriate in a market like Saudi Arabia.
  6. Customer Plans:  In recent blog entries the concept of key account management has been discussed.  These are the most important and valuable customer accounts in your business.  You will need separate marketing plans to meet the needs of these customers.

With each of these forms of marketing plan, you will need a long-term strategic plan and a short-term plan.  The timescale of plans will vary on your industry.  In fashion and high technology businesses, long-term plans may only look to prepare a business for two or three years.  Short term plans may only apply for a few weeks or months.  For instance, the fashion industry operates in seasons so a particular clothing range may only be suitable for a maximum of six months.  However, in other industries, such as utilities, a long-term strategic plan may last for as long as twenty years.  In local and national government annual plans are common and long-term planning may reflect the election cycle.

Long-term strategic plans must be adaptable.  They shouldn’t be set in concrete and there must be the ability to reformulate these plans if the environment changes.  It was once said of Marshall Foch, a French military commander during World War One, “After losing each battle, he redoubled his effort”

In assessing whether a marketing plan is appropriate, ask yourself:

  • Does the plan list exciting new opportunities and does it properly recognise threats?
  • Does the plan clearly define marketing segments and their relative potential?
  • Will customers in each target segment see the offer provided as superior?
  • Do the strategies seem coherent? Are the right tools being applied?
  • What is the probability that the plans will meet their stated objectives?
  • What would be omitted if the plan was allocated only 80% of the requested resources?
  • What would be added if you gave the plan 120% of the requested resources?

In assessing the state of marketing planning within your organisation, ask the following questions:

  1. Do managers in your organisation see planning as a useful tool or as a hindrance?  Do they see the process as an annual ritual or as a waste of time?  If so, how do you improve the status of planning in your organisation?
  2. Does your planning format contain clear sections on situation analysis, objective setting, strategy, actions and goals?  Can different levels of management access plans?
  3. Is your brand management system operating effectively? Do brand managers give appropriate attention to long-term strategic plans?  Who has the power, brand managers or product category managers?
  4. Do you have sufficient staffing levels amongst segment and area managers?  Can they respond to differences in the market?
  5. Is there seamless cooperation between managers from different business functions or does office politics and empire-building play an overriding role in your organisation?  If so, how do you improve the situation?
  6. How smooth are relationships between marketing and other functions within your business? Is marketing central to your business or is it seen as an outlying silo? Worse, is marketing just seen as an sub-function of your sales team with no role other than lead development?