The surprising insights behind building brand personality
Why read this? : We look at how to use psychology to create a clearer brand personality. Learn how build a consistent brand identity using
Why read this? : We look at how you build a great marketing plan. Learn the 3 key jobs it has to do. First, how it outlines where your business is now. Then, how it defines where your business is heading over the next 6-18 months. And lastly, the exact steps you’ll take to get there. Read this to learn how to set brand goals, plan your marketing mix, and write action-driven GAME plans.
How this guide raises your game :-
The previous steps of the brand development process are all about planning and preparation.
Your market research. Going through the segmentation, targeting and positioning process. Creating your brand identity. These give your marketing solid foundations.
They make sure you understand customer needs, and have considered where and how to position your brand in the minds of those customers.
But, none of these activities actually drives sales. They’re all about preparation, not activity. You still need to plan what you’re going to do.
Think of them as the ‘training’ and ‘warm-up’ before you ‘play the game’ of marketing. You play the game when customers experience something you do.
Customers don’t experience your segmentation, targeting and positioning, for example. But they do experience the communication, the digital marketing and the innovation which that process helps drive.
There’s 2 key steps in this transition from internal thinking to external doing.
First, you synthesise those previous information, thoughts and knowledge together into an action plan.
This marketing plan sets out your key goals and actions for the next 6 to 18 months.
And second, you action those plans with brand activation.
At the simplest levels, you can think about your marketing plan as your brand’s to-do list for the next 6 to 18 months.
It captures all the key pieces of information you need to write briefs and work with agencies.
It helps you to work collaboratively with key teams and functions in the business. And finally, it defines the goals for the brand, and the key activities the brand will do.
The Marketing plan sets the timeline and the budget. It defines who’s responsible and how to measure and track performance against the goals.
In short, creating a strong marketing plan increases your chances of future success. Without it, you’re making things up as you go along. You follow the market, rather than lead it.
A strong marketing plan raises your game. It means you have a planned and thought-out approach to achieve your marketing goals over the next 6 to 18 months.
Well, the first step is recognising you need a marketing plan. But then, how and where you start depends on your brand’s context. There’s no single process or format which works for every business and every brand. Every business has its own marketing planning challenges.
What you include in your marketing plan depends on many factors. Your level of marketing knowledge and how you like to work, for example. Your brand’s category and competitive strategy. And also the audience for the plan, both within your business and your agencies.
There are many templates and formats you can use for inspiration when you write your marketing plan.
The most important thing is to find a way of writing a plan which works for your business and your team.
It’s common to get stuck on specific templates or to use templates which worked in other businesses.
But every business is different. So, look at different templates and formats. We’ll cover some of the most common ones in this guide.
Use those which seem the most relevant. And don’t be afraid to ditch those which don’t seem right.
Though, having said that, there are 3 simple questions every good marketing plan should answer. The answers to these questions creates the shape of most marketing plans. So, let’s start with those.
At the simplest level, your marketing plan needs to answer :-
Whether this is your first marketing plan or you’re updating last year’s plan, you need to understand where your business is now. Where does you plan start from?
Answering this question is often called a situation analysis, an external analysis or a marketing audit.
This analysis needs to succinctly capture the status of your brand and business. Analyse the current circumstances of your business. Synthesise this analysis into key priorities which will inform the rest of the marketing plan.
As there’s a lot of choice about what could go into a marketing audit, it’s useful to have a template to structure your thinking.
Many businesses use a tool called a SWOT model to do this. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a well-known tool that’s nicely succinct and easy to remember. It forces you to pick only the most important factors to include as in most cases, it’s only a single page in your plan.
The SW of SWOT are Strengths and Weaknesses. This is where you carry out an internal assessment of how your business stands relative to competitors.
Your strengths are advantages you have over competitors.
Let’s say customers believe you’re the best at doing something which drives brand choice – quality or customer service, for example. That would be a strength.
Other example strengths could be having a unique ingredient, design or way to deliver a service.
Strengths also exist where you’re particularly popular with a geographical area or a specific target audience. Or maybe you’ve a strong relationship with a retailer.
Your strengths could also be from a specific marketing activity like your packaging, website or public relations.
Weaknesses unsurprisingly are the flip side to strengths. They’re where another brand has some sort of competitive advantage over you.
Your SWOT should identify 3-6 strengths and weaknesses which have the most impact on your brand. These should relate to the needs of the target audience. Or to your ability to do relevant marketing activities.
The aim of this S-W of the SWOT analysis is to identity strengths you can push harder to further grow your business. And to identify weaknesses you can mitigate or reduce.
Opportunities and threats are where you carry out an external assessment of factors versus the internal view of strengths and weaknesses. Look for external factors which raise or reduce your chances to deliver your business goal.
For example, you might find opportunities when you spot an unmet need or a market trend you can meet before your competitors can.
This is where innovation opportunities lie. You can use planning tools like the Ansoff matrix to work out where growth opportunities might be. Use market research to ask customers about their needs. And use idea generation to come up with ways to meet those unmet needs.
Maybe there’s a new trend in your industry? Or a new digital service you can offer you know customers will like?
Opportunities can also come from lessons you’ve learned from previous marketing activity. Something which went well, or where you made marketing mistakes but learned from them.
Maybe a particular advertising message or media channel has higher impact with certain types of customer?
You can also look for opportunities in geography and with trade customers. Is there a particular district or region you could expand your activities into? Or a particular retailer you’ve a strong relationship with?
Threats unsurprisingly are the flip side to opportunities. They’re factors that prevent you hitting your business goals.
Maybe you’ve found out about a competitor activity that’ll disrupt your plans? Do they have a marketing innovation or a sales promotion that’ll impact your brand?
Or maybe a retailer is threatening to change their priorities in a way that’ll give you less presence in-store or online.
A common threat is also wider macro events like changes in laws and regulations. These may restrict your ability to carry out previously successful activities.
The quality of your SWOT analysis depends on the quality of your knowledge about the market. You need a mix of qualitative, quantitative and secondary research to help you complete a SWOT.
Where possible you should use objective facts. Be as honest and customer-focussed as possible.
It may also be the SWOT identifies gaps in your knowledge. That’s normal. These gaps become research questions you drop back into the market research process.
The SWOT analysis is a page you update as new information comes in or market circumstances change.
At a minimum, update and review your SWOT at least every 12 months.
But as you fill out the rest of the marketing plan, you may find you come back and adjust the SWOT. It needs to tell the brand story which connects your marketing audit to the marketing decisions you make in the rest of your marketing plan.
Traditionally, business would write marketing and brand plans on an annual basis.
This annual basis was often tied to the financial year calendar of the business.
The business plan for the financial year ahead would set financial targets and identify what budget was needed.
It would set sales targets and priorities for the year ahead across the business.
A formal business and marketing planning cycle like this is better than no plan at all. But, there are a number of challenges with this fixed annual routine.
Firstly, customers and categories don’t always work on 12 month cycles. Your plan needs to be flexible enough to adapt to events that happen outside a 12 months cycle.
While some events might be predictable when they happen, what happens during those events can be unpredictable.
Let’s say you’re in a gifting related category for example. Toys, jewellery, chocolates, champagne, flowers. Something like one of those.
You can predict times of year when demand will be high. So, key gifting times like Christmas, Valentines Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day are fixed events.
But what happens in the market at each of these times is much less predictable.
Which toys will sell the most next Christmas? Which styles of jewellery or flavours of chocolate will be most popular next Valentines Day?
And what about all the ‘new’ events which have started to enter the culture? What about Amazon’s Black Friday sales? Or 11/11 Singles Day?
If your business has products which have long lead times to source, or if you aim to bring new products or services to market, these can take more or less time than 12 months. But if your plan locks in 12 months as the definitive time, then what happens 13 months from now?
So, marketing plans have evolved into more of a ‘rolling’ document rather than a ‘fixed’ document. One that only goes into depth on short-term initiatives and takes more of a flexible approach to longer-term initiatives.
Events over the shorter-term are more predictable than events that further in the future. You’re more likely to learn about competitor moves 3 months before they happen than 18 months before they happen for example.
So, while you may still have an in-depth annual marketing plan, it’s now more common to have a rolling activity plan to focus on the next 3-6 months. Longer time frames such as months 6 – 12 and 12 – 18 will be written at a higher level and with less depth. By the time those dates arrive, the market will have changed. This impact how those activities are done.
This ‘rolling’ plan is then checked and amended at regular intervals. Typically, once a quarter. The activities are reviewed (often by approval committees) and adjustments made so the brand stays responsive to market changes. Check our guide to brand activation for more on measurement and reviews.
The other main challenge with traditional marketing plans is the level of detail and work required to complete them.
Marketing plans are unsurprisingly, usually written by marketing teams.
It takes time to pull together all the information and knowledge and create a story behind the plan. There’s also a time delay while those plans other functions in the business vet and review the plans.
The finance team checks the financial projections to make sure sales, cost and profitability targets are met. That the forecasts and profit and loss make sense.
The operations and supply chain team work out if all the materials or equipment is in place to meet the projected demand.
If your business aims to grow over the next year, you may need more staff to meet the demand. This means you work with your HR team to build out your people plan.
Your sales team will want to include the plans and activities of key retailers. They want to make sure your brand plans sync with the retailer’s calendar of activities.
Marketing planning can be a complex challenge.
Of course, it’s important to make sure your marketing plan ‘connects’ with the rest of the business. The marketing plan never works in isolation. All the necessary teams, resources and skills need to be in place to deliver the plan.
But, it can be a real challenge to have a plan that does this and also meets other important criteria. Because you need to make the marketing plans simple enough for everyone to understand. You need to make it flexible enough to react to market changes. And the plans has to still be clear enough to give direction and ensure consistency.
We’ve seen typical annual marketing plans on brands go anywhere from around 30 pages to over 200 pages on bigger and more complicated brands. You don’t need to go to this extreme.
Our biggest recommendation on the contents of the marketing plan would be to aim for the heart of your marketing plan to focus on 3 core sections.
Challenge yourself to get these sections as “tight” as possible. The less words you need to articulate these sections, the clearer the understanding will be for everyone involved.
These 3 sections are as follows :-
Customer experience / strategy
Marketing mix and GAME plan
Your marketing plan needs to cover who your target audience is. It needs to state what change in attitude or behaviour you want to drive with that audience over the next 6 to 18 months.
This section will include a succinct summary of key market research you have and your work on customer experience. These help you define who the customer is, what their needs are, and the key jobs to be done by your brand to meet those needs.
In this section, you would include customer personas and journey maps to bring the consumer to life. You would include the key journey touchpoint to focus on in the marketing plan. Check out our customer experience guide for more on how to use these tools.
This section will contain the key strategies on how you will deliver the benefit to the consumer.
It’s important to understand the difference between strategies and tactics since both are included in the marketing plan.
Strategy tends to take a longer-term and focus on how you will do things to achieve your goal. Tactics are more focussed on what you will do in the short to medium term.
So strategies tend to set direction and be more holistic. While tactics are more specific actions that move you towards your goals.
So for example, if price is a big issue in your market, your competitive strategy might be to keep costs low so that you can keep prices competitive. But what you need to do to keep your costs down are tactics. Maybe you decide to source goods from alternative suppliers overseas? Or negotiate better deals with suppliers? Or buy materials in bulk to benefit from efficiencies of scale? All these are tactics to support a low cost strategy.
Alternatively, maybe your strategy is to focus on a particularly lucrative and specific niche in the market. Maybe there’s a segment who are willing to pay for exclusive and unique one-off designs of your product?
The tactics that then sit under that strategy would look very different from a price-driven strategy.
Maybe you need to hire more designers? Charge a much higher price per item? And limit the number of such designs you release each year to make them more exclusive?
These would be examples of tactics to meet an exclusive or niche strategy.
(See also our article on why you should beware people who call themselves strategists).
From the ‘jobs to be done’ for your consumers, you should now be able to start to plan the ways your business can satisfy those needs for your target audience. What is it that you will do meet those needs? These are the activities that you will carry out.
There are many ways to organise these tasks. We will go over two of the most common ones here.
Firstly, you can use a planning template like the marketing mix model.
There are many alternative versions of the marketing mix model, but they are commonly arranged as a group of words beginning with “P” or “C”.
The four “P”s are probably the most well known. Product, Price, Promotion and Place. This model dates back to 1960 when it was proposed by Professor E Jerome McCarthy in his book Basic Marketing : A Managerial Approach.
While there have been many additions and variations on this model, it still forms the core of most marketing mix models today. Even if many people try to come up with alternatives to it.
Most modern marketers have probably come across them through the works of Philip Kotler. He popularised the 4Ps in the 1980s and 1990s classic marketing bool, Marketing Management.
We’ve rarely heard Kotler’s work actually quoted in any marketing work in recent years. But flicking back through our own battered copy, the processes and scope still hold mostly true. In particular, for product-led businesses, the four Ps can be a useful checklist of what actions they can do to meet the needs of their target audience with their brand.
In the product section, you consider many factors of the product that you sell. What can you can do to make it more likely for consumers to buy your product? Here are just some example questions that you should consider when you build out the product section of your marketing plan.
Price can have a huge impact on the perception of your brand. It can impact the likelihood your target audience choose your brand over competitors.
You should as part of your marketing plan have decided on key pricing elements such as :-
We outline marketing communication options in our skill guide on that topic. But your marketing plan should outline the headlines of the choices you will make to communicate to your target audience e.g.
The final part of the 4Ps is then related to “where’ the product will be sold.
The 4Ps can be extended to 7Ps if your business also offers services to customers. These additional 3Ps are people, process and physical location :-
If your staff interact with your customers, then your team is part of your marketing mix too. How will you set your team up to best manage these interactions? Your people plan from a marketing mix point of view can cover key HR areas like recruitment, culture, training and your reward programme.
The success of service-led businesses like hospitality, health and beauty and travel for example can be make or break based on their people plan.
The people who interact with customers need to do this in a consistent way. For that, you need to build a clear process they can follow.
For example, so restaurant diners are always welcomed warmly. Or, so that payments go through your finance and IT systems correctly. There are many ways to optimise the process, see our customer experience guide for more examples.
The final P of the Service-led 7Ps is the physical location.
What’s the environment in which the customer interaction takes place? How do you set up the ambiance of the venue? What colours do you use? How well lit is it? How is it laid out to make it the best experience for the customer and so on.
But physical location can also extend to online. What’s the experience of your brand website or online store, for example? In this case the ‘location’ is the screen of the device your target audience uses. But the same principles apply.
The list of Ps above work as a checklist.
They act as a series of prompts or questions about your target audience and your brand. These prompts should generate ideas of the key strategies and tactics you need to create.
However, which specific factors you decide are important for your business will depend on your market research and your brand identity.
You don’t have to use ALL the variables within each P. But make sure you’ve at least considered them. Discarding or ignoring ones which are irrelevant is OK as long as you focus on the ones which matter.
Pick the ones which have the most impact. Which variables will drive you to achieve your marketing goal? If a particular variable isn’t relevant or doesn’t make sense, discard it.
We’ve also seen some businesses try to come up with their own model where the 4Ps or 7Ps don’t suit their specific business needs.
So for example, you can look online for where some businesses use a 4C model around Consumer-Cost-Convenience-Communication or Commodity-Cost-Channel-Communication for example.
But this doesn’t change the underlying principle. Such models are just a convenient and logical way to organise the different parts of knowledge you have gathered into a cohesive plan and story that can be used to share with people what the priorities and choices for the business are over the next 6 to 18 months.
Let’s go through a quick example.
Let’s imagine we’re a pizza company based at Bondi Beach. We also used this example in our segmentation, targeting and positioning guide.
In this example, we might make the following choices about out 7Ps which set out the key initiatives we’ll carry out for this particular business.
Market research might have shown us that certain new flavour toppings are increasing in popularity. And that our competitors offer an XXL size that we currently don’t.
So two activities we will carry out in the next year will be to source these new flavour toppings and add an XXL size.
Here, we might decide our price will always be at a % variance (more or less) to a particular competitor. We might set our delivery price mix. And work out how profitable a volume discount could be when a customer spends a particular amount.
Here, based on market research and previous experience, we might identify 2 or 3 key channels to support out existing customer base (paid search and display advertising). But decide that a more traditional leaflet drop is needed if we want to expand into a new suburb.
Through our target market attractiveness work, we might have identified a neighbouring suburb that looks attractive to do deliveries to. We might use a bit of Six Hats creative thinking to decide if it’s the right suburb and how we’d get it to work.
Based on our 4Ps, we might look at areas like training, customer feedback, website and delivery process, payment terms and store layout. These would be areas we can improve to help us deliver our marketing goals.
The important point isn’t so much which activities we choose. Because the specific activities you choose depend on how you have completed the previous steps of the brand development process.
No, the important point is that you start to identify 2 to 3 key activities across each element of the marketing mix, which help you define what brand activation you need.
What you will often find is that some activities will connect across multiple areas of the marketing mix.
So, your XXL pizza size for example might also impact on people (as the staff might need training on how to cook and deliver larger sizes) and price (since you’ll need to work out how to price this new size against your existing range and competitor products).
What you should aim to come out with from the marketing mix are between five and nine big initiatives and activities to focus on. These activities then feed into the GAME plan format.
GAME plan is an acronym for Goal – Activity – Measure – Evaluation.
Rather than group all your activities to have an aggregated view of all your marketing activities, the GAME plan format allows you to drill down on specific activities.
So you’d typically create one of these per “big” initiative that your business will focus on,
Your Goal should tie back in to the overall brand goal you set earlier in the brand development process. But it will be more specific to the activity.
We’ll get x number of consumers to buy from our e-commerce store or we’ll increase trial of product A from x to y are more specific goals you’d set out in a GAME plan.
Your activities then are the grouped key initiatives that will deliver that goal. Here, you pick out from our overall marketing mix and group those activities around specific goals.
So in this example, you can see the goal is to drive the market share of Brand X.
The key activities in this example focus mainly on “Product” and “Promotion”. These include new marketing campaigns and new product launches.
In this case, other areas of the marketing mix like “Price” and “Place” might drop down into the details of the plan.
Your GAME plan then also covers the measures that you set to work out if your activity has succeeded. These measures can include sales growth and brand health, The evaluation part of the GAME plan then identifies HOW the measures will be reported and reviewed.
We cover the area of performance management in our section on brand activation.
The final essential component of your marketing plan then is your activity calendar.
Now you’ve identified the key activities to carry out, you need to switch to more of a project management style.
Each broad activity should then be broken down into the key sub-activities required to deliver the overall activity.
Each of these sub-steps needs to be mapped out for when it needs to take place on a planning calendar. This gives you an overview of what needs to happen each week.
You use this to visualise and track performance.
This calendar then serves as a management review tool where you can easily identify which projects are on or off track. You can see where there are critical dependencies or clashes in priority. It allows you to start to allocate responsibilities and accountabilities out to the teams who need to deliver the various activities.
It can often be helpful within the calendar to assign budgets to specific activities, since monitoring of spends and cash flow becomes part of the on-going management process. This activity calendar can and should be shared with your finance team as it helps give them foresight of future spend and brings transparency to budget reporting and measurement.
This regular review of the activity calendar, we will cover in more detail in our skill guide on brand activation.
The creation of the marketing plan is an important part of making sure that your brand activation has the highest chance of success.
However, it can also be time-consuming and complex in many circumstances, so to close this skill guide on the marketing plan off, here are our top three recommendations based on our experience.
When you gather and map out all the inputs to the marketing plan, you can end up with an overwhelming amount of information.
The key thing to remember is that the marketing plan is there as an actionable document to be used, not a summary of everything that’s happened in the past.
You should aim to be fairly ruthless in the choices of what goes in to your final marketing plan and keep your plan as simple, clear and “tight” as you can make it.
If that means a lot of work doesn’t make it into the final plan, learn to deal with it. That’s all part of the process.
You can always stick all this work in an appendix or an information summary that can be accessed when needed, but you need to be able to keep these separate from the specific actions that your map out in the plan.
Bear in mind the marketing plan will require support, time and focus from other parts of your business and outside parties like your marketing agency who’ll need to deliver it.
Think about the other teams of people you need to involve.
Include these teams early in the process, both for gathering information, and in marketing decision-making.
Nobody likes to be handed someone else’s plan to deliver.
You’ll have much better buy-in and likely much higher quality ideas when you can involve other people in the development of the marketing plan.
One of the most challenging aspects of the marketing plan, is that it’s incredibly time sensitive.
You’ll write your plan based on the best knowledge you have at the time, but that plan can be subject to change if circumstances change e.g. a major competitor activity or an action by a key retailer for example.
So our final recommendation is you need to be prepared for the plan to be relatively flexible.
It can be a challenge when you invest time in the plan to pull together different information and link together the needs of different functions in the business to not get defensive of that work.
But that’d be a mistake.
We’ve seen many brand managers stubbornly defend and protect brand plans, that fail to recognise and respond to changes in the market-place.
So don’t get too fixed and keep an open mind to be able to adapt as circumstances change.
It’s important to have this simplicity, involvement and flexibility in place as in the next stage you move to brand activation.
Segmentation, targeting, positioning
Need help to build your brand strategy? Confused by the amount of information and the many claims of agencies who say they can solve all your problems? Before you’ve even told them what the problems are?
We have many years of experience as marketers building successful brands. We offer coaching and consulting services to listen to your marketing challenges and get you to successful and pragmatic answers quickly. Contact us to find out how we can help you build a great marketing plan. .
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