The Ten Steps of the Strategic Marketing Planning Process

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While the details of the strategic marketing planning process will vary for every organization, the process can be much the same. There are a number of predictable steps that a planning effort should go through to ensure that important issues are considered and that the plan is built on a solid foundation.

The first step in creating a marketing plan is identifying the desired outcome or goal. This outcome is not necessarily sales. Marketing plans may also be designed to increase awareness or preference, generate leads, outdo the competitors in some ways or, of course, increase sales. The end goal is critical in terms of laying the foundation for all of the steps that follow in developing a marketing plan. The strategies and tactics used to raise awareness will obviously be much different than the strategies and tactics designed to sell products.

Be very specific in terms of identifying the desired target audience. This should be the group of people who will actually be making a decision about your product or service. So, for instance, if you are attempting to sell pediatric services, children are not your target -- their parents are. In addition to clearly identifying the decision-maker, be very specific in terms of the characteristics of your target audience -- their demographics (age, sex, income, geography) as well as psychographics (lifestyles, attitudes and opinions).

Effective marketing plans rely on sound information that is gathered from both internal and external sources. Internal information might include such things as sales data by geography, type of customer or time period; production data on the cost of producing the products; order fulfillment data and customer satisfaction data. External data might include information about competitors and their products and services, information about the market size and buying potential or information about the industry and general economy.

Steps 4-7: Identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

An analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats -- the SWOT analysis -- provides an important input into the marketing planning process. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the organization and may include such things as proprietary trademarks or patents, or poor product quality; opportunities and threats are external and may include such things as a major competitor leaving the market -- or a new competitor entering the market.

You established your marketing planning goal at the beginning of this process, and it was likely a broad goal that gave some general indication of where you wanted to go -- raise awareness, increase preference or generate more sales. Now you will get more specific as you develop objectives to support your goals. Objectives should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-framed. For instance: "Increase sales by 25 percent for product XYZ to market ABC during the next fiscal quarter."

Strategies and tactics will be designed to achieve your objectives and answer the questions of "How will we achieve our objectives?" (strategies) and "What, specifically, will we do?" (tactics). An objective of increasing sales might result in strategies like, "Introduce new products," or "Create a new branding campaign." Tactics related to these strategies would outline specific steps or actions required to accomplish the strategies.

Once the marketing plan is complete, your job is not offer. An important last step is developing a plan to measure effectiveness and ensuring that followup reporting activities will take place so that you can monitor success and make any changes to the plan as necessary. Assigning clear accountability and specific reporting time frames will help to ensure that the plan's objectives are achieved.

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