Very early in my career I remember being asked by a business team leader to create a new brochure for the product line he was charged with marketing. I was new to the company, so took some time to ask him about the brochure’s intended audience, key messages and selling points, and how this piece would fit in with his overall marketing communications plan.
I soon found out that no such plan existed. There was a business plan, but no marketing communications section or overlay. He just knew he needed updated sales materials and thought he’d start with a new brochure.
Long story short, we worked together to create a comprehensive marketing communications plan – a roadmap of sorts that was completely aligned with the goals and objectives of his business and helped him chart a course for growth and success.
Since then, I’ve created many marketing communications plans for a wide variety of clients. While no two are the same, all of them should contain the following:
- Situation Analysis – This section is what I like to call the “everything you ever wanted to know and then some” about your client’s business and its customers. It’s the basis of your entire plan and includes: business history; an industry overview; a snapshot of current operations; business goals and objectives; key messages, strengths and weaknesses; opportunities for growth; challenges; competitive information; best practices; and a customer profile that outlines who they are, what keeps them up at night and how they prefer to get information. Remember, customers rule the roost so it pays to know them well.
- Communications Goals and Objectives – Next, you need to use the information in your situation analysis to develop a set of goals and objectives specific to how marketing communications can help. Goals tend to be broad and overarching (i.e. becoming an industry leader), while objectives are more tangible and concrete (i.e. securing two high-profile speaking engagements over the next year).
- Strategies – With goals and objectives clearly defined, it’s time to create strategies for getting the job done! The possibilities are endless and can involve the use of public relations, content marketing, social media, advertising, direct mail, employee ambassador programs, community outreach, and so much more. This is your chance to shine, so be creative, trust your instincts and have fun!
- Action Plan – Next, comes your action plan which identifies the specific tactics (tools) that you will use to set your strategies in motion. Tactics can include things like redesigning a web site, starting a blog, developing a direct mail campaign, or utilizing Twitter to build relationships with key industry influencers. Your action plan should also include a detailed outline of who will do what and by when. It’s important that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and communicated so as to stay on track.
- Measuring Success – Finally, your plan needs to include ways to measure your progress. Most plans will rely on two types of results – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative results are data and numbers driven – and quite exact. Qualitative results are a bit less concrete, but equally important as they can indicate changes in behaviors, attitudes and relationships.
As is the case when navigating any roadmap, implementing a marketing communications plan can be challenging and take many unplanned twists and turns. Be prepared to expect the unexpected, be flexible and stay the course. If you hit a detour, don’t be afraid to adjust your route. What’s important is staying focused on reaching your destination. With a solid plan in place, you and your client will get there – and arrive safe and sound.