March 2

6 Steps to Creating More Effective Marketing Plans

I’ve always felt like Marketing was like legalized gambling. but with all the new challenges, technologies and such, it seems one of the greatest challenges folks are having in today’s expanded marketing environment (digital, social media, traditional advertising) is understanding how to gamble their precious marketing dollars in ways that favor them and not “the house.” Over the past few months, the most common question I’ve heard from folks I’ve talked to after a speaking engagement is “With all these new channels and approaches, how do I write a marketing plan that truly integrates all the channels?”

I’m sure there are many answers to that question, so I’ll toss mine out to get the conversation started, then y’all can drop your 02 in the comments and we’ll see where we end up. Deal?

Most folks tend to favor a SWOT or Quadrant Analysis approach but I fear that those tend to create internally focused marketing plans. So let me offer up a more consumer focused approach based on a few simple questions. They’re simple but they help me focus. And most importantly, it’s all consumer focused and it’s all about bringing that consumer, their life and their needs and wants into crystal clear focus. Have you noticed the repeated use of the word “focus” yet?

What is the goal?

This may seem like an obvious one but man, so often it seems forgotten or worse, the goal is stated in watered down, generic “create awareness” terms. Be sure to state the goal in business terms and make it simple, actionable, achievable and measurable. This way you can know if you succeed. Then you can move on to how you’re going to win.

Who is the Audience?

It used to be that you could define your audience broadly. Was our audience really more homogeneous or did we as marketers just not know any better? Probably a little of both I’d say but regardless, today’s consumer is far more fractured and less tolerant of irrelevant messaging. So to begin writing an integrated marketing plan, you really have to deep dive into your audience to understand who they are in demographic, cultural and psychological terms. Weave deep three dimensional pictures of the audience so that you can see them as a real person. At Zehnder, where I spend my days, we call it Consumer Mapping. It’s really eye opening and has led to more than a few insights that took our marketing plans to entirely different places. You can see an example case study at

Where is the Audience?

Normally, this question is limited to media channels. But I think there is power in going beyond that limited definition. If you really deep dive into your consumer’s world, you’ll see not only where you can find them in media (internet, television, radio, print, newspaper) but where you can find them in life (baseball field, gym, PTA meeting). While understanding their media channel consumption is helpful in targeting advertising, understanding their location in their physical world gives you two important pieces of information. First, it gives you sponsorship opportunities. If you’re target is a soccer mom, then maybe you find ways to sponsor local soccer teams. Second though, understanding where your consumer is in the physical world gives you insight into their psyche. Let’s say they live in a town like New Orleans where you have both casinos and horse racing. If you find them at the race track betting on the horses but not at the casino, then maybe you’ve learned a bit about them — maybe they like low cost risk (you can bet on horses all day and lose $20) but that risk/reward equation gets out of skew quickly. What would that tell you about their internal belief system?

How can I connect with the Audience?

Again, this is often limited to a media channel discussion. But should it be? Are their ways to connect with your consumer that are not just one way ad campaigns? Can you use digital or even mail and phone to create two-way dialog? Can you form a bond with your consumer over a non-brand idea like say a shared love of soccer or maybe a college sports program? The real beauty of tools like social media, digital media and mobile applications or mobile websites is the ability to instantly connect with a consumer in a two-way conversation. So while it is great that your brand can sponsor the local college and put a big sign up at the stadium — you have to ask yourself if that sign/sponsorship is helping you just reach or truly connect with the audience? Then ask yourself how you can leverage beyond the sign to truly connect with them.

Let’s face it — folks today are so terribly busy or at least feel like they are. The competition for share of mind isn’t just with other brands, it’s with all the details of life. So connecting with your consumer becomes a major deliverable of any integrated marketing plan today IMHO.

How do I extend the Audience relationship?

The truly powerful integrated marketing plans of today don’t stop at consumer acquisition. They extend the campaign into a conversation. It is here that today’s integrated marketers are leveraging social media to build a relationship with their audience. But I wonder if social media is the only channel capable of extending that relationship? What if you ran ads that were more about extending your relationship with your current customers than obtaining new ones? What if the goal of some of your marketing wasn’t driving new or repeat purchase but simply carrying on a conversation (albeit public) with your customers?

For instance. Let’s say you’re in the technology space. What would happen to your audience relationship  if you posted a digital outdoor board completely in binary code? And maybe it changed daily or better yet, folks could text messages back to the board (and of course the true geeks would do so in binary) and based on those messages the next day’s board message would change? Would that extend your relationship with the audience?

How do I get my Audience to introduce me to others?

This is the holy grail question of any marketing plan. But it is also the one question most frequently left out. Maybe it is because folks believe WOM is or can only be organic but I’m not sure if I am ready to agree with that point. Take the example above – would that generate a bit of water cooler or Facebook commentary? A while back we talked about the power of interesting and how easy it is for a brand to be interesting. Yet so many brands still are missing this opportunity. We all know that Word-of-Mouth is powerful. But don’t make the mistake of trying to create buzz or viral ideas. Instead, maybe spend a few minutes and a few dollars doing things that are buzzable?

So that’s it… a few focused questions that are designed to get you pointed in a very consumer-centric direction. But certainly not the final word on marketing plan writing for today’s hyper-connected, marketing 2.0 world… so please add to the discussion with your questions, approaches or insights. Maybe together we can create a more definitive document that can be released to everyone to use. That might be cool no?

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  1. First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like
    to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how
    you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.

    I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just
    trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?

    1. I think we all have that initial moment or 15 where we need to clear some space in our head to concentrate and then write. I usually clear my desk or writing space, get a drink (cocktail, coffee or tea) and put on a music playlist that helps me to write.

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