Planning for marketing and advertising efforts isn’t all that difficult. It’s just hard work and a lot of detail.
Most plans I see are thick. Even on-screen they seem to have the heft of a 500-page effort. I try to simplify by looking for four pretty basic elements. These aren’t textbook definitions, they’re my personal quick versions:
- Background – Why are we doing this?
- Objective – Usually only one goal with time limits and real world numbers, for example “sell 5,000 widgets @ $100 a widget by Q3, 2015”
- Strategy – I like the shorthand military version. Strategy is what Generals do
- Tactics – What Colonels down to Lieutenants do.
The hard part in developing any plan is writing a basic statement of Strategy.
Amazingly, most of the strategic statements I’ve seen over the years are a) overly complicated, perhaps for obfuscation, and b) not strategic at all, usually just some kind of super creative tactical approach. Wonderfully inventive, exciting and utterly irrelevant. That’s only natural because strategy is hard and tactics are easy – they’re like little kids, all the fun and none of the responsibility.
Strategy should drive everything. It spins out of the Background, focuses on and adapts to the Objective and it’s doable. It helps if it’s brilliant but I’m happy with competent and realistic.
One way to tell if a Strategy is at least competent and realistic
Sometimes I think I’m analyzing Strategy all day, every day: reviewing all my direct mail critically, ads in newspapers and magazines, billboards, TV and radio commercials. It’s an occupational hazard.
Last week at the Aventura Mall, I walked by the big H&M store. It skews a little younger than my demographic and the store’s a tad austere but so what? It’s the latest and coolest fashion at the best price. H&M does this in 44 countries and they do it extremely well. They’re Swedish, of course, so I think of them as the clothing version of IKEA.
Cool up to date merch at low prices. Simple. It’s executed very nicely, as near as I can tell.
More my speed is Bloomingdale’s just two stores away. Macy’s owns Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s does a wonderful job of keeping its head above water. Both brands are essentially New York City and “Bloomie’s” is a tad more upscale.
Bloomie’s is mine and my friend’s. It’s designed to appeal specifically to us.
Macy’s is all things to all people. That seems to be the core Strategy. H&M and Bloomingdale’s are more tightly focused, each working its own specific niche.
Best of all, is that each brand stays focused strategically to the point that it’s unique in a way that is true to what they are. That unique strategic “essence” gives the marketing and advertising managers solid platforms to stand on so they can do their best work. Without that kind of platform, even brilliant efforts can be scattered or worse, completely off target.
The same general idea about Strategy once applied to advertising, especially to direct mail.
The overall impression of the advertising I see most often is that the plans either don’t exist or they’re badly drafted and in nearly all cases the strategic component is either misunderstood or ignored.
I think this might give you an edge
It couldn’t hurt to be the only competitor in your market with a strategic edge. But how do you get there if Strategy is hard and Tactics are easy?
Resist the temptation to play and stay with the hard work. You’re the General.
First do a little light reading. Try one of David Ogilvy’s books. He was a master (especially of common sense) and though he appears a little out of date, the essence of Strategy doesn’t change much over time.
Then, tinker a bit.
I always recommend writing three elements no matter what anyone else is doing:
Background, Objective and Strategy. The Background should probably never be longer than a typed page, Objective and Strategy should each be just one sentence. You will be amazed how easy the Background page is and how hard the two sentences can be. I’d be delighted to see what come up with.
It can be wonderfully helpful to get friends, family and colleagues involved. Just tell them what you’re doing, review your efforts with them and ask for their thoughts and advice. This isn’t brain surgery. It’s common sense and focus.
I especially enjoy getting students from local universities involved. You might have to write evaluations and pay them something. It’ll be worth it and you’ll love the energy level.