What does it take to write a winning marketing plan? Every marketer writes a marketing or business plan each year don’t they, so how difficult can it be, right?
Well, writing a marketing plan isn’t hard at all, but writing a winning marketing plan is very difficult. And time-consuming. And getting it approved by your executive board is perhaps the most challenging part of all.
And it’s not only in the formal marketing plan presentation that you need your “A” game. Management is renowned in most organisations for “innocently” posing questions when passing marketers in the corridor or while socialising at a company event.
Answer the CEO’s questions to their satisfaction and you will stand out from the crowd. Provide an incomplete or, worse still, no answer at all, and they might just wonder if it isn’t time to restructure the marketing group!
So here are my 9 actionable tips on how to write a winning marketing plan, so you can answer any question your CEO or boss throws at you – EVERY time.
The simple rule is to NEVER say you don’t know, but also to never drown them in a long-winded answer. Neither will win you brownie points. Make sure you have an answer like those proposed below and your name might just be on the next list of promotions. (Do I congratulate you now?!?)
1. WHO ARE OUR BRAND’S CUSTOMERS?
There is far more information needed than just age and gender, to answer this question. Prepare a short description (often called a persona or avatar) of a typical user, in the same way as you would describe a friend. See “13 Things your Boss Expects you to Know about your Customers” for further details on what you should already know about your customer.
Once you’ve checked out the above article, why not also download our 4W™ template? It will help you put everything in one place so it is always handy and more importantly makes it easy to update it whenever you learn something new about them.
GOOD ANSWER: “Our customers are middle-aged women, whose children are in their late teens or early twenties. She shops in local supermarkets and gets advice from friends on Facebook, about the best brands to buy and what’s on offer.”
If the CEO / your boss looks interested or asks for more, then continue with “She’s been buying our brand for over two years because it satisfies her children’s hunger when they get in from playing sports. That makes them happy and she then feels proud of being a good Mum. We call her Patty.”
With this answer, you will have given them a short summary of the most important elements of your persona. By adding the name you have given the avatar, you might get them to also refer to her in your next meeting. That’s when you know they listened to you and that you won an important step up in their estimation.
2. HOW MUCH ARE OUR CUSTOMERS WORTH TO US?
Besides having an average lifetime value of your customer in your head, you should also be able to provide information about your customers’ perceived value of your brand.
This information will come from certain attributes in your brand image study, such as “worth the price”, “more valuable than other brands” or “is worth paying more for.” The summary results of your brand image study should always be included in your winning marketing plan.
Just make sure that when you quote such statistics, that you compare them to the competition. Rather than saying “56% of category users think we offer great value for money”, say “more than a half of category users think we provide better value than the competition.” Your boss will always ask for more detailed information if needed.
GOOD ANSWERS: On average each customer spends about XXX (Dollars, Euros, Renminbi, Rupee, Real …) a year on our brand, which is about YYY over ten years (lifetime value is rarely calculated further out than this).
Our current average price in-store is ZZZ, but 70% of our customers thinks we’re actually worth more than that. This compares to AAA for the category leader / our main competitor.
3. WHAT RETURN ON OUR MARKETING BUDGET ARE WE GETTING?
Whilst ROI is not the best measure of marketing’s impact (see this Forbes article for more on that), you still need to answer the question. Your response to this could get very complex if you go into too much detail, so keep it simple.
Say what your total budget is, how much you spend on advertising and promotions and what impact that has had on sales, in total. I know it takes a lot more than these two actions to impact sales, but as I said, keep it simple.
If there has been a negative trend in share, then mention sales volume if that has gone up. If neither are trending upwards, then you will need to quote your changes in comparison to your competitors’.
GOOD ANSWER: Our total budget is AAA of which BBB goes on communications and promotions. With our current sales growth of SSS, that works out at approximately TT%.
4. HOW MUCH WILL WE SELL; WHAT MARKET SHARE ARE WE EXPECTING THIS YEAR?
Your boss will almost certainly remember your brand’s market share from your marketing plan. So when he asks this question he is probably looking for more than just a number.
You could of course just give him that number, but why not use the attention you’ve got by adding something more impactful to your story?
Comments about how your brand is growing in comparison to category growth or your main competitors put the numbers immediately into perspective. It also helps the boss to better understand the numbers.
GOOD ANSWER: We’re expecting an RR% growth this year to UUU unit sales. This will be the highest rate in the category, so our share will increase by PP points to MM% market share. These will be the best results we have achieved in over ten years – or some such comment to add value to the numbers.
5. WHAT ARE OUR INNOVATION PLANS FOR THE BRAND?
You could answer this with a long list of all the new SKUs you will launch, but again use your time wisely by adding some understanding too. Speak about the objectives behind the launches and any new theme or direction the brand is taking.
For instance, are you moving to more low fat, organic, or natural ingredients? Are you using more sustainable sources or reducing your carbon footprint or water usage? Sharing the objectives behind your plans for the brand will show the solid foundation you have for your launches and the decisions you have made.
If you can also add a comment about why you are doing that and your customers’ new sensitivities that again puts your information into the right perspective.
GOOD ANSWER: We will be launching CC new variants in our new organic range, which we expect to add MM% points to our total market share. We will also be eliminating FF units that are not delivering on expectations and contain too much sugar for today’s customer preferences.
6. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?
Following on from the last point, questions around sustainability and sourcing tend to be raised in corporations which already have such targets. If this is the case in your own company, then measurements are almost certainly already being taken and shown in your marketing plan. Therefore you just need to reply with the latest numbers.
But you can again use this exchange with top management to add how your customers feel about the question and all the efforts being made by the company – you do have that information too don’t you?
However, if this is a new initiative for your business, then you will want to take the opportunity to show how you and your brand are playing their part in supporting this important company initiative.
7. HOW’S THE COMPETITION DOING?
The answer to this question could cover a lot of topics: sales, market share, new launches, advertising, promotions or pricing. After all, when you write your marketing plan you will add a lot of information about your brand and also its main competitors – or at least I hope you do!
Therefore respond with a simple summary of a few current metrics of your brand in comparison to two or three of your major competitors. The ones you are most proud of. The manager will then clarify if he was thinking of a specific topic and you can then answer with a little more precision.
Make use of this question to share any particularly tough market conditions you are facing of which your boss / CEO may not be intimately aware. This is a great opportunity to pre-warn them should your brand be struggling to meet the objectives laid out in the agreed marketing plan. But you must have a solid explanation and reasons for the shortfalls, possible pertaining to market changes or those of your target customer.
8. HOW’S OUR DISTRIBUTION DOING THESE DAYS?
A simple summary of outlets in which we have gained or lost distribution is enough here, but why not add some detail about successful placement improvements too? That latest shelf redesign that has increased sales, or the fact that you have just been named category captain in a retail chain, is definitely news worth sharing.
If on the other hand, you are having difficult discussions with an important chain or outlet group, then that too deserves a mention. Perhaps your boss has some useful contacts or ideas to help. Marketers are nervous about sharing their challenges, but pre-warning management of market situations that are negatively impacting your brand are definitely worth mentioning before the situation becomes more serious.
9. PLANNING FOR MARKETING PLANNING
My last question is one that perhaps will surprise you; it is “Did you read Mark Ritson’s recent article about marketing planning?” The post is called “14 steps to an effective presentation” and complements well my own article.
I have been a fan of Mark’s cheeky wit and solid marketing suggestions for years. Even if I don’t always agree with everything he writes, every one of his articles makes me think and reconsider what I do for my own business and that of my clients. And that is the objective of my own blog postings, to make the reader reconsider what they’re doing, specifically in the area of how they treat their customers and adopting a customer-first strategy.
Here is the summary diagram on the right, of his structure of a 12-month marketing plan, which I am sure will make you click on the image or the link above to read the article. I would highly recommend you do so, if you missed it when it was first published.
So there you have them. Eight of the most common questions top management asks of marketers – and an extra ninth one from me. As you can see, the answers I’ve suggested to the eight are short and simple.
Especially when the question is posed outside the formal marketing plan presentation, the executive is probably looking not only for the information requested but also to check that you have an excellent understanding of your brand. He wants to be assured that his business is in good hands. Prove it to him and also show your respect for his time, by giving short, precise answers whenever possible.
Do you frequently get asked other questions not mentioned here? Then please add them in the comments below. Also, if you have a better way of responding to any of the above questions, I’d love to read those too. Thanks a lot.
This post is adapted from an article which first appeared on C3Centricity in 2014 and is regularly updated. See the original.