By Bruce McDuffee published January 14, 2014

Go “Back to the Future” with Strategic Marketing Plans

house with no blueprint-marketing strategyIn the olden days of marketing, we talked about positioning statements, the “4 Ps,” marketing plans, branding, etc. Some pundits and bloggers might claim that these concepts and practices are obsolete and have been replaced with content marketing, social media, marketing automation, SEO, SEM, and so on. I suggest these so-called “old-style,” obsolete concepts, strategies, and tactics are more important than ever. As professional marketers, I suggest we go back to the future and embrace the fundamentals before we begin to use the modern tools like content marketing.

Implementing content marketing tactics (or social media tactics, or any communication practice, for that matter) without first preparing a strategic marketing plan is like building a house with no blueprint. Adding rooms (marketing tactics) on a whim without an understanding of how each room supports the overall structure (business goals), the purpose of each room (objectives), and how you will decide if the room is successful (measurement) is a recipe for disaster at worst, and for sub-par performance even in the best-case scenario. 

We, as professional marketers, are all excited about content marketing. We are itching to create great content we know will launch our business into the next great growth trajectory. This momentum and the enthusiasm are great. However, before you get started with creating content or launching any type of marketing activity, it is critically important to have completed your strategic marketing plan.

Why, you may ask, must I take precious time and utilize my already stretched resources to write down marketing plans? Isn’t that a bit old fashioned?

True, it may be old fashioned; but at the same time, it’s more important than ever in this modern marketing age. Marketing plans, 4 Ps, positioning, etc., have likely been around for thousands of years in one form or another. The reason these concepts have endured is because they fundamentally support an exchange.

In spite of our modern marketing technology, the basics of business have not changed since the dawn of the first civilization in Mesopotamia. We are still exchanging products or services for some type of consideration. Whether we were a merchant pedaling our wares in the Middle Ages or we are selling access to software as a service (SaaS) today, there is little difference in how the exchange process works on a fundamental level. Success has always depended on awareness of the offering and establishment of value in the minds of prospective buyers. In other words, it depends on marketing (assuming the sales function is a subset of a broad definition of marketing).

Consider the four major parts of a good marketing plan, as discussed below. This discussion is not meant to be comprehensive education about how to create a marketing plan; it is a starter discussion to show how important it is to have a properly documented marketing plan in place, and a simple framework of the components you need to make it successful.

Definition of a marketing plan 

According to The Marketing Plan Handbook, by Marian Burk Wood (which I highly recommend you read), marketing plans are comprehensive documents that summarize marketplace knowledge and the strategies and steps to be taken in achieving the objectives set by marketing managers for a particular period.

What a marketing plan is not

A marketing plan is not a spreadsheet of activities. It’s not an editorial calendar. It’s not a list of campaigns. It’s not a budget or set of goals. It’s not something you think you have in your head.

Below are the four essential topics that must be covered in your marketing plans before you proceed with any specific marketing activities, including content marketing, social media, email promotion, websites, or any other “next big thing” emerging on the marketing landscape:

  1. Assess the current situation:

  •          Determine what resources you have available.
  •          Analyze and summarize your market space(s).
  •          Analyze your company’s internal strengths and weaknesses.
  •          Analyze external opportunities and threats.
  •          Assess the competition and competitive environment.
  •          Assess the macro environment in terms of social, economic, political, and technological opportunities and challenges.
  •          Identify critical issues to be addressed in your marketing activities.
  1. Develop your marketing strategy, including:

  •          Your business mission and vision
  •          Your overarching business objectives
  •          Your marketing objectives
  •          A description of your target market and customers (i.e., buyer personas)
  •          Your unique positioning statement
  •          Your unique value proposition
  1. Craft your marketing program, by outlining:

  •          Your product messaging
  •          Your pricing strategy
  •          The channels you will communicate across
  •          Your promotion plans
  1. Determine your controls, benchmarks, and measurement processes, including:

  •          Budgets and resources
  •          Critical success factors
  •          Key performance indicators
  •          Your preferred technology solutions and platforms

It is interesting to note that content marketing could fall under No. 3, as a means of promotion, though it may also (and probably should) fall under No. 2 as the foundation to the overall marketing strategy.

Many marketers and firms will claim they have the marketing plans in their head, or within the tribal knowledge of the organization. This is simply not good enough. Many firms will have several disparate pieces of a marketing plan spread throughout the organization (i.e., with the sales department, product managers, marketing department, executive leadership team, strategic business planners, etc.). But in order for marketing to be successful, your organization must create and own a proper marketing plan, first and foremost.

One of the tangible benefits of documenting a strategic marketing plan is that it drives collaboration among all stakeholders, which helps align the various functions. In addition, the process of writing the plan helps position the marketing department (and its personnel) as legitimate business partners — as opposed to being perceived as a service center that simply reacts to one request after another.

It may be the case where a firm requires multiple marketing plans for multiple units, such as business units, geographic regions, product groups, or other classifications depending on your firm’s business plan.

One last point: Creating marketing plans is not just an exercise to be done once and then put on the virtual shelf. These are living, dynamic documents that should be referred to on a regular basis and updated as conditions or situations change.

I leave you with a challenge: See if you can find a written marketing plan at your organization. If you find one that is current, dynamic, and is being used as a daily reference upon which to base marketing decisions, bravo! But if you can’t find it, or if you hear people tell you it is all in their head, step back and begin to craft a strategic plan before you do anything else.

To learn more about the fundamentals of developing your marketing plan to support content, or any other initiative, read CMI’s how-to guide on planning.

Cover image via

Author: Bruce McDuffee

Bruce McDuffee helps manufacturing companies significantly increase organic growth by teaching them how to engage with a much larger portion of the target audience through education and sharing their expert knowledge. At his company, Knowledge Marketing for Industry (KMI), he is fond of saying “Knowledge marketing sails where product marketing fails.” Check out his most popular SlideShare presentation, The Manufacturer’s Growth Manifesto and follow him on Twitter @BruceMcDuffee Bruce is happy to entertain more discussion via email or phone conversations (see his LinkedIn profile for contact information).

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  • sivarney

    Bravo — a refreshing back-to-basics take on fundamental and essential marketing planning. It’s easy to lose ourselves in many of the new digital marketing tactics (and all the buzzwords) but, as you say, the fundamentals are more important than ever.

    • Bruce McDuffee

      Thanks for your comment and reinforcement sivarney! I couldn’t agree more.

  • Aaron

    Thank you for this article!

    • Bruce McDuffee

      You bet Aaron, I’m glad it was helpful.

  • Terry A Deushane

    Thanks for the reminder. I realize we have been going in too many directions. Back to the fundamentals with more focus on what we are trying to achieve.

    • Bruce McDuffee

      Right you are Terry. It’s so easy these days to get pulled in all those directions.

  • Tes

    I don’t think the fundamentals ever disappeared. It’s just about how to comfortably integrate content marketing into their strategic marketing plan.

    • Bruce McDuffee

      Absolutely correct Tes!

  • Sam Turnbull

    Great article…..It seems to me that as the channels of communication multiply, and media options fragment, its too easy to lose sight of what we as marketeers are really trying to do – hence this article resonates with me for sure….!

    • Bruce McDuffee

      Thanks for the comment Sam.

  • Anthony Romero

    Bruce your article could not be more spot on. In order for the path to be defined, the goal must be in sight. Too many of my peers have great ideas but lack the focus to get there. Its all in the plan.

    Just hit follow on Twitter.

    • Bruce McDuffee

      I was just in a meeting last week reviewing a proposal from a media vendor. It’s so easy to get excited about all the options without thinking about the fundamentals. Thanks for the comment Anthony.

  • Matt Clark – Damang Media

    This is a great post, thank you. The plan is like the playbook, does not mean you can not audible once in awhile, but if it does not workout at least you have the plan.

    It has been my experience, that it is not the plan that fails, it is the execution of the plan. But that is the point of the plan. If something did not work we can go back and adjust. Thank you again for sharing.

    • Bruce McDuffee

      Thanks for the comment Matt. There is the plan and there is the execution, both equally important as they stand together, but both extremely marginalized if left to stand alone.

  • schultzybeckett

    Its a great write up. In fact the elemenatry principles are essential to every plan or strategy be it marketing or otherwise. They just provide that much solidarity to the

  • Nick Pasculli

    Social strategic marketing plan is typically well-worth the investment if done right. It’s crucial to stay on top of any algorithm updates or changes in the platforms, but I definitely agree that it is a great route to go!