The wisdom of planning

Plans are a little like checklists; we know we need them but we often try and get away without them. For instance, we know that surgical checklists, when properly implemented, can make a substantial difference to patient safety and outcomes.

We also know that the process of thinking and completing a plan forces us to think of all the issues.

You often hear quite experienced marketeers saying “…social media? I have a strategy for that.” Strategy is both a framework around a plan and part of the body of a plan, cascading from strategy to tactics and then detailed actions. You should reply: “You may have a strategy but do you have a plan?” Strategy is an approach; a plan brings a team together, directs action and allows to monitor and measure its results.

Running digital marketing communications well is a complex task. It needs a plan. The plan can be as simple as telling members of a team what to do, and when, but it will be considerable enhanced if you add the analysis of a current situation, objectives, strategy (that word again!) and monitoring, tactics and action.

There are some classic planning models in marketing. P R Smith’s SOSTAC® template is very useful but can produce something too complex for smaller enterprises.

As we head towards Web 3.0, Christian Bluemelhuber’s brand marketing and communication model ‘Porn, Style and Series’ tries to match this new communications environment.

SOSTAC planning systemPorn  are the smallest raw materials of brand communication – the individual stories or ‘experiences’ that you publish. The function of this ‘porn’ is to help the consumer explore your value as a brand. Style: over time, the recipients of communications will begin to find their own patterns within the stories. As Christian says: “It is not the company who creates the brand, but the customer who elicits the brand.” Series: this is the ultimate challenge of a brand – where we not only have recognisable patterns (or ‘style’), which we can reinforce, but also an actual transformation of the perception of the brand. The simple days of linear predictive analysis, of input/output, are gone.

But let’s get back to the present. SOSTAC® offers this set of headings:

  • Situation – where are we now?
  • Objectives – where do we want to be?
  • Strategy – how do we get there?
  • Tactics – how exactly do we get there?
  • Action – what is our plan?
  • Control – did we get there?

For more details, and a free guide, visit Smarter Insights.

RACE is a mnemonic that Smarter Insights has developed to help digital marketers plan their activities better. RACE is Reach-Act-Convert-Engage; it helps plan and manage the main activities businesses need to work on to improve their online marketing communications. There is an interactive tool to help you understand how to use RACE to improve your inbound marketing communications.

Whatever system or template you use, create a plan. It can be reviewed, monitored, improved. But it is the start of a planning process that counts. Really counts. Enterprises who create plans survive and prosper.

If you want some informal advice on how to create a plan, please call or email.

Marketing on a shoestring: inbound, outbound tactics and SOSTAC®

I orginally wrote this as a reply to Jane Hatton on another blog about her new enterprise Evenbreak, which matches employers, who value diversity, with disabled candidates.

Jane, there seems to be a lot of confusion between ‘marketing’ and ‘marketing communications’ in recent discussions online.

The difference is more obvious the bigger an enterprise gets, when responsibilities are delegated to separate departments and outside agencies but it is still an important distinction for a micro-enterprise to make.

Smaller enterprises invariably have to heap a bundle of management responsibilities onto one person. To draw a parallel in accounting, even a small firm distinguishes between book-keeping (keeping accurate financial records) and management accounts (financial information for decision-making), even if the same person is responsible for both and they can merge into the same activity. So marketing and marketing communications should be seen as distinct activities with different purposes.

Jane Hatton working lying down

Jane is herself disabled and can only work in this position

Marketing used to be functionally divided into the four ‘P’s — Product; Place; Price; Promotion. What you are talking about in your post is promotion: but before promotion begins, a true marketing approach means that you need to have ensured that your product and price are market-ready and market-acceptable. Small enterprises can rarely afford the luxury of market research or trial launches so it is normally carried out as part of day-to-day operations, using feedback from early adopters..

In any case, many pundits now advocate — in the era of Web 3.0 and social media — using the five ‘E’s — Experience (instead of Product); Everywhere (instead of Place); Exchange (instead of Price); Evangelism (instead of Promotion) and, finally, Enablement — using crowdsourcing, polls, wikis, viral effects, SEO, blogs and social media.

‘Everywhere’ indicates the universal nature of the Web but I suspect there is still a natural limit to Evenbreak’s reach — probably mainland UK? Exchange is the practice of having a pricing model which allows some initial functionality free and gradually charging as additional features are used.

What you describe in you post is Promotion — now better-labelled Evangelism and Enablement. Two commoner names for these (marketing communications) functions are Outbound Marketing Communications and Attraction Marketing Communications (or Inbound or Digital Footprint or any number of terms which online snake oil sellers are trying to make their own).

You may think I am being pedantic in continually using the term Marketing Communications (MC) — and I may be — but the division is useful if it persuades an enterprise to return to the marketing drawing board if some of the fundamentals of a service prove unacceptable to its marketplace through sensitive, two-way MC.

What you have described, very thoroughly, is an Inbound MC Programme, with the exception of the hard copy letter, passed by the Chief Executive, and events. These I would class as Outbound MC — Evangelism.

I have worked for a start-up over the last few weeks and, because he had done his market research quite carefully, I helped him plan both Inbound and Outbound MC Programmes which I am helping him to execute.

Why both? Because he need short-term results and I have facilitated acquiring data on his target individuals at 30p a shot (commercial property landlords in development mode) and using a home-based B2B telemarketer whom we can task, flexibly, at a minimum of two hours at a time.

She sets up appointments and feeds the data into an online CRM system which also links into the email marketing database for a number of follow-up emails according to landlords’ response and resulting position in the sales funnel. Plans for a webinar in the new year are in hand.

We run a modest PPC AdWords Campaign, partly to help us research and optimise our Keyword List.

We are also running an Inbound MC Programme — blog, social media, links, SEO, guest blogs, LinkedIn Q&A, digital PR — but results will take two to three months to come through and, meanwhile, the Outbound MC Programme is getting the sales funnel moving immediately.

We use Paul R Smith’s SOSTAC® Planning System [] and have created two documents — a Marketing Plan and Marketing Communications Programme — using the SOSTAC template. Rather than written in stone, they are in Google Documents and available to the whole team and continuously amended to take account of marketing intelligence and remarks from telemarketing and data from the CRM system and a Digital PR Dashboard (also in Google Docs as a spreadsheet).

The Dashboard has all the indices necessary to monitor and measure the progress of the MC Programmes and help us decide how much telemarketing or inbound activity to commission each week to meet sales targets.

When referring to your (Inbound MC) tactics, you say “most cost nothing but time and imagination”: time and imagination are in short supply, probably more so than cash. That is why my customers pay me — to supply them. They also pay for dedicated execution which is a key part of creativity. Ideas need to be delivered!

I am a great admirer of your enterprise — in both meanings of the word — and, if I can advise in any way, I would be happy to provide some of that free time you mention.