Just what is a strategic marketing plan, anyway?

This is a pretty common question.

A strategic marketing plan is much like a traditional business plan. It has a thorough analysis of your business’ current situation and should include a business description; a description of the firm’s products and services; industry background and analysis; and a thorough market analysis that includes sizing, adiposity growth, trends, segmentation, targeting, and positioning.

But it doesn’t cover operations and corporate functions such as human resources and legal. And the financial analysis covers mainly the top half of the income statement, meaning sales volume and revenue, plus sales and marketing expenses.

A strategic marketing plan should: 

  1. Reflect the appropriate goals set out in the business plan, such as revenue generation;
  2. Set some additional goals -– like customer base growth, customer satisfaction, product innovation, etc.; and,
  3. Detail a marketing strategy and all supporting aspects of the go-to-market programs required to achieve these goals.

This means crafting detailed answers to tough questions like who your target customer is, where you can find them, how you will reach them, and how you will compete. Who will sell your products, how much it will cost, and how you can manage the process. What new needs are emerging in the market that your products do and don’t satisfy. How you can use new technology to market more efficiently, or provide better support.

A business plan only touches on these topics in sufficient detail to satisfy its own purposes, usually to attract investors or secure a loan. But a strategic marketing plan becomes the day-to-day operational guide for the sales and marketing team, with a detailed listing of major marketing programs, their objectives and activities, deadlines and costs. With a good strategic marketing plan, you can work from it throughout the year, measure your progress against it, and have a well-thought-out rationale in place to help make the unexpected decisions that will inevitably crop up.

This is in contrast to purely tactical marketing plans that skip the analysis and strategy formulation, and are chock full of marketing program details such as advertising schedules, promotional events, and -– a particular favourite of technology companies — new product introductions or software releases.

Existing businesses usually prepare a tactical marketing plan every year as part of their budget cycle. After all, Finance needs both a sales forecast and an estimate of sales and marketing expenses.

This is hard enough that some companies only review and update their strategic marketing plan every few years. From my experience, the larger the company, the more common this is -– because there is so much inertia in the way things are done that they just carry on until some earthshaking event like a merger, or a downturn, or a successful new competitor, forces them to rethink things. Such companies aren’t necessarily unsuccessful –- many are -– but they may respond faster to competition or miss opportunities that would have made them even more successful if they had reviewed their strategic marketing plan.

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  • Meet Greg Graham

    Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation and was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned marketing professional. Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC), a member of the American Marketing Association, and holds MBA/BEE degrees as well as a Certificate in Strategic Management. He frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the Government of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Prior to Market Metrics, Greg's 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies.

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