the overlooked vital importance of objectives, plans, and strategies

We all want success with the least effort and as quick as possible. There is nothing wrong with that; however, what’s wrong is, believing that we can be successful like that. You can only save the day by following the quickest paths. Let’s face it, we’re really good at this, about saving the day I mean… But whenever we start talking about strategies and plans at meetings, we all are dying to leave the room as soon as possible.

We can list many reasons for this, such as the Turkish culture, education system, social or the business life… These are all definitely based on “saving the day.”

Let’s face it; Turkey does not offer an excellent infrastructure to make long-term plans because of the socioeconomic volatility. Maybe our country is too volatile because we can’t think strategically and plan. You know the chicken or egg paradox… Maybe one day I will have a chance to write an elaborate article on this topic, but now let’s go back to the main characters of the story before I digress.

First, little but a critical reminder…

Objective: The desired outcome of something.

Plan: The order in which a job is designed to be followed for the actualization.

Strategy: All the ways and means applied to achieve a pre-determined goal.

To illustrate, if you’re hungry and you don’t have food at home, what would your objective, plan, and strategy be?

Most of you would reply “Shopping from the market.” Objective, plan, strategy, all there, intact. Congratulations, a remarkably genius 3-in-1 solution! No. It’s just wrong.

Now let’s see… Your objective is to sate your hunger. Your strategy is to get food appropriate for your budget in the shortest time.

It may be asking your parents to cook something if you’re young, order take out every day or shop at the grocery store…

Let’s say that you chose to shop for groceries. The road to your objective is your strategy. So, shopping for groceries isn’t an objective nor is it a plan.

Your plan might be like this:

  • Be at the grocery store on Monday at 10 AM
  • Check the fridge and cupboards one hour before leaving for the store and prepare a list
  • The list will be compared with the current budget and unnecessary products will be removed
  • Leave home at 9:45 AM
  • Stick to the shopping list
  • If the products on the list aren’t available and are urgently needed, go to the next store. If they’re not urgently needed, return home.

This plan could be more detailed, much different, but the most important thing about ‘plans’ is that they should provide a structure that will help you to find the most appropriate solution in accordance with your strategy.

Differences between strategy and plans

Before moving on to the subject of marketing plans, I wanted to disclose the differences between strategies and plans as they’re important.[i]

  1. Planning is the preparation for future events. The strategy is the best option chosen from the available plans to achieve objectives.
  2. Planning is like a guide map, and the strategy is the road that leads you to your goal.
  3. Strategies create plans, and plans create programs.
  4. Planning is for the future, whereas strategy is action-focused.
  5. While the strategy is based on practical experiences, the plans are based on hypothesis’.
  6. Plans may be short-term or long-term depending on the conditions, while strategies are long-term.
  7. Planning is part of the management process. Strategy, however, is part of the decision-making process.

Unknows of the marketing plans

If you have finished setting your objectives and your strategy, it means that your time to create a marketing plan has come.

I can summarize the marketing plans I witness in my business life, and I personally make as follows:

  • Marketing plans purely based on action. These plans include information such as “three digital ads here, five end-user special offers there.”
  • A completely budget-oriented marketing plan. These plans will detail how much money will be spent on special offers and digital ads etc.
  • On-the-fly improvised marketing plans. They’re created with such colloquial expressions. Oh, how I love them… My favvvvorite style. They’re so vague that whether you sell a fridge or a subscription for an internet service, you can apply them regardless. These plans have expressions such as “Campaigning to increase the number of customers by 50%” Oh, you don’t say?
  • Marketing plans made solely to show the management that “we know our stuff.” There is nothing lacking in these plans: Actions, budgets, SWOT analysis’, marketing analysis’… Everything is present.

All of these plans are usually prepared within three days, but due to the meetings, their preparation and approval takes around a month. They are generally made on a monthly basis, but nobody cares about them unless reference points are needed for the next year’s plans when they are being prepared, or one of the managers goes ballistic and starts asking questions about the previous plans.

I didn’t list them to make fun of this. I think it wasn’t possible to do better job due to conditions and circumstances of those days. If it meets your needs, if it leads you the way, the worst plan is better than having no plan.

You can see dozens of marketing plans examples on the internet. Most of those have questions that are three to four pages in length. I don’t think it’s okay to take all kinds of information, from SWOT analyses to competition and jam it into a single plan. As I stated before, I can’t even imagine that complete, bloated plan. Implementing and actualizing those plans isn’t possible, and it doesn’t make sense to do such a thing either.

But I would advise you to find the lengthiest marketing plan you can find and check the questions. If there are points you missed in your plans, those questions will help you remember.

How to prepare marketing plans specific for e-commerce websites?

A successful marketing plan is created by blending different elements in a balanced way. This is our constant rule.

To be honest, I don’t think preparing plans roofing many subjects like from marketing analyses to the competition, personas to goals is useful.

Such plans are prepared and generally not a soul consults them for a whole year. Not to mention that you’d be drowning in unnecessary details as well…

If you want to prepare a dynamic and flexible marketing plan, you should choose to have a structure that has only a few sections.

Set your goals in the beginning of your planning, what are your goals for the year end?

The first important part is the ‘duration. The duration can be either three or six months depending on your project, but the ‘time period’ has to be set.

The second important part is that the targets should be in quantitative figures.

Stay away from setting common snowclones such as “increase brand awareness”, “generate more sales” etc. as targets. With these, you cannot understand whether you have reached your goals or not. Everyone wants to increase their sales, but how many percent do you aim to increase your sales? Of course, it is not easy to answer this question, but it is not impossible either.

One of the main mistakes made at this stage is each department / person setting goals in / for themselves. The sales team set a separate target for themselves, so do the operation team, so do the call center, so do the marketing department. And at the top, the company has general sales and profit targets. In fact, the targets must descend down from the top. If the primary objective of the company is to increase the sales by 25%, this target must be broken down and shared among the different departments / people. If the marketing team predicts that the company can only bring 10% more customers to the company with the budget they have, then there is an inconsistency.

So, once you have identified the primary objectives, you need to break them into various parts and examine them in order to achieve them. For example, there are several strategies to ‘increase profitability’:

  • Increasing sales of existing customers
  • Getting new customers
  • Lowering the costs

In order to achieve these, you should organize your plans based on the following:

  • Pricing policy
  • Customer management

o  Processes persisting from the beginning to the end of the sale and ensuring the customer’s retention

  • Channel management

o  Social media channels

o  Website

o  Physical store (if applicable)

  • Special offers

o  Product

o  Price discounts

o  Partnerships

  • Ads

o   Digital

o  Traditional media

  • Public relations

While your customers’ profiles are also important, it is critical for you to follow-up on the operations you performed in your e-commerce-oriented marketing plans.

But before I go into the details, I would like to mention a few things about brand management.

Just a short break; brand management

Brand management is in itself a critical issue and one of the most delicate elements of marketing.

Every marketing manager must also be in the know about brand management. In the early days when I started in marketing, there was a time when brand management was at a higher priority than marketing. Being a brand manager at that time was sooooo cool, more swagger than being a marketing manager. Or so they thought. But brand managers couldn’t go beyond being a bridge between agencies and product managers. Years have passed, and this time, ‘marketing communication’ is prioritized over brand management. There will probably be other things stepping over marketing communication in the future.

There is no need to talk the hind legs off a donkey when describing your brand; your brand is the story of your company.

Brand management shouldn’t be limited to the logos or slogans, but it is the management of your company regarding the state of your company in the eyes of the customer.

Sometimes it can be confusing how the stories of companies should be, because their stories may be on the more emotional side. When I was teaching a course, one of the people said: “I’m selling drills, how on Earth am I supposed to have a story?”

I am also aware of the fact that, when I say ‘story’ people think of a long, boring prose with introduction, body, and conclusion, but no, I’m not talking about that.

Let’s take the drill example. You can build your story on making people’s lives easier. To make your story convincing, you will need to support it with examples. Hanging pictures in the room of your newborn child can be a good example. But if you are selling professional drills, hanging pictures in a child’s room might look funny. So, you need to tell stories appropriate for your target audience.

You can also use how you started your business in your story. For example, “I have always had problems with team management throughout my business life. I left my job and started working on this software, believing that one day I could solve it. Now I am making life easier for people in the same boat as me.” I am aware that such stories seem very simple and personal. However, some of your own stories can help people understand what your company is and what you are aiming for better than when you state your vision and mission.

The aspects you need to be aware of when creating your stories are as follows:

  • The story should be based on true events and must be consistent with your entire communication language.
  • Don’t forget that you are trying to connect with people; you don’t have to put all the details or try to make them teary-eyed.
  • Take your target audience into account and choose how you will communicate your story. As it is the case with the drill example, if your target is professionals, they won’t be interested in hanging pictures in a newborn’s room.
  • There is no need to have your story on your website; you can also create your story by speaking about yourself and your company in places related to your industry.
  • You can create a story with your facts and figures, your approach to your job, or your technological background. You don’t have to mention how inspiring the cookie recipe from your grandmother’s crate was.

How to tell which story? How are you going to choose? At this point, I will give the spotlight to someone else…

I am very fond of the book “My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising” written by Claude C. Hopkins in 1927, one of the prominent figures in professional advertising. It became one of the books that I glance an eye here and there to gain some inspiration when I need it. At the same time, it is a book that makes me remember the fundamentals, and it shows the marketing and sales have not changed for years.

I quote a rather lengthy section from his book. For me, this is one of the best examples of why and how the stories are made:

“”They took me to their laboratory and showed me their original mother yeast cell. It had been developed by 1,200 experiments to bring out the utmost in flavor. All of the yeast used in making Schlitz Beer was developed from that original cell.

I came back to the office amazed. I said: “Why don’t you tell people these things? Why do you merely try to cry louder than others that your beer is pure? Why don’t you tell the reasons?”

“Why,” they said, “the processes we use are just the same as others use. No one can make good beer without them.”

“But,” I replied, “others have never told this story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print.”

So, I pictured in print those plate-glass rooms and every other factor in purity. I told a story familiar to all good brewers, but a story which had never been told. I gave purity a meaning. Schlitz jumped from fifth place to neck-and-neck with first place in a very few months. That campaign remains to this day one of my most significant accomplishments. But it also gave me the basis for many another campaign. Again, and again, I have told simple facts, common to all makers in the line—too common to be told. But they have given the article first allied with them an exclusive and lasting prestige.

That situation occurs in many, many lines. The maker is too close to his product. He sees in his methods only the ordinary. He does not realize that the world at large might marvel at those methods and that facts which seem commonplace to him might give him vast distinction.

That is a situation which occurs in most advertising problems. The article is not unique. It embodies no great advantages. Perhaps countless people can make similar products. But tell the pains you take to excel. Tell factors and features which others deem too commonplace to claim. Your product will come to typify those excellencies.”