Original post : Jul 10, 2012

Marketing Planning - Where are you going?

Goal settingSo, if you've done step 1 you know where you are, but do you know where you are going?

This is a surprisingly tough question for many small businesses. Having spent many years in corporate life with rigid annual cycles of target and budget setting, monthly reporting and reforecasting, I know what it is like to feel your life is dominated by the numbers, but I do believe in the principle of using numbers to drive your business forward.

Translating your destination into numbers is the most straightforward way to set targets and measure progress. You want business success? So what does success look like?

Start with the end in mind

As Lewis Carroll is fondly remembered for saying, "if you don't know where you're going any road will take you there". You can't plan a route without a destination. We all know that. So if you can't do step 2 then don't bother with the rest of your plan!

Why is this such a tough issue? I'm not sure, but there seems to be a reluctance to commit to something that might not be correct/achievable. So rather than get it wrong, or maybe get demoralised by missing a target, people prefer to muddle along. This is short-sighted - the one thing you can say for sure about forecasts and targets is that they are probably going to be wrong, but that is not a good reason for not making them!

I actually heard it quoted this week that if you are lost in the desert and set off walking it is proven you will walk in circles. I don't know the truth of it but it sounds plausible! And that is what you risk doing in your business if you have no destination in mind.

Goals, objectives and strategy

When we talk about destinations in business planning and marketing planning we are talking goals and objectives. These define what you want to achieve, then you decide the strategy, i.e. how, you will get there.

And at this point I am talking just about those top-line objectives that will drive your whole business - not just your marketing. You can of course set targets at multiple layers of your business, for almost any activity, e.g. web visitors, open-rates, leads, conversions, but let's focus in the first instance on the major goals and objectives that will determine your strategy.

Goals are visions or aspirations - they serve to inspire, energise and motivate. Goals will have a longer time horizon but they give a clear direction for you to head in:

  • to sell the business and retire
  • to grow to be number 1 in your market niche
  • to change attitudes/beliefs of your target audience

Depending on the size of your organisation you may have goals that are more personal or more business focused - ideally you need to be able to share a vision with all employees so that everyone is able to unite around achieving the same things. Other employees may not be as motivated as you about your retirement plans!

Objectives are the battle plan - the steps that will take you towards achieving the goal(s). Typically primary objectives are set around financial targets:

  • increase revenue by £x to £y
  • improve profitability from x% to y%

Once you have these targets in place you can consider all the different options for your strategy - how they might be achieved (straying into step 3 - how could you get there?):

  • Increasing customer base - or even losing certain customers
  • Launching new products, entering new markets
  • Expanding overseas
  • Buying someone out
  • Increasing prices
  • Reducing costs

These options might turn into targets, or secondary objectives, that you can add to your battle plan, e.g. launch product upgrade in September.

Work SMARTer

No doubt you'll have heard that objectives must be SMART (not dumb), that means they are:

S = Specific, saying clearly what you are aiming to achieve

M = Measurable, which is why numbers are favourites for objectives, but any definable outcome can work

A = Agreed, by everyone in the organisation who needs to contribute to the achievement

R = Realistic, by all means go for challenging or stretching targets but if you have no hope of getting the resources (or you have made fundamentally wrong assumptions about the market) then you are doomed before you start

T = Timed, set a deadline (even if it is as vague as in the next 12 months) and don't worry that it might have to shift. If you leave it open-ended what's to even convince you to even start?

A woolly objective such as 'make more money' or 'increase market share' or even 'grow by 20%' (without saying grow what by when) is as bad as no objective at all.

To set your SMART objectives you will use the information about your business and your market that you gathered in step 1. Start with the historic data, look at the market potential, and plant your stake in the ground!

Planning how to get there

Hopefully you're convinced by now that it is important to know where you're going in order to plan how to get there. Consider the difference in your travel plans between a day trip to London, a week in Corfu, a trek across the Sahara or a trip to the moon. It's the same with your business goals and objectives - different destinations will require very different resources and approaches.

In the next Marketing Planning blog we'll talk about how you tackle that next step - how could you get there?


You're right Andrew - he said that too!
Comment by Sharon - Jul 16, 2012 20:46
What Lewis Carroll is fondly remembered for saying is: " 'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat. 'I don't much care where—' said Alice. 'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat. "
Comment by Andrew Jones - Jul 11, 2012 11:13
Good reading - I know this much of this already because you've already told me about it in earlier marketing support sessions. However...I still struggle to keep a plan updated but its such an obvious thing to do as you explain in your blog. Getting the numbers even approximately right is quite a challenge but at least you can measure the gap and make some decisions about what next.
Comment by Louise - Jul 11, 2012 10:59
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