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What makes a marketing plan strategic?

Consumers do not buy what you sell. They buy what is of value to them.

beyond inception with TIRIVASHE MUNDONDO


Wikipedia points out that “a marketing plan without a sound strategic foundation is of little use.” I must say, anonymous contributor, I absolutely agree.

Is your marketing plan — the one you are using right now —truly strategic? Or is it just a list of tactical experiments written down to look official?

Unbelievable as it may sound, I know business owners who outsource marketing plans from some shoddy business plan agencies and I recently saw what looked to its owners like a well-reasoned and detailed marketing plan. It had all the right sections and lots of good ideas. Right near the top of this 18-point plan was a section called “Target Market Description.” This is critical to any marketing plan. This one read: “The target market of (company name removed) is men and women between the ages of 18-80 who have an interest in maximising their wellness. They are an educated, active, spa/yoga going middle to upper middle class demographic with sufficient disposable income to be able to afford regular (removed)/hr. services. They receive wellness services on a weekly or biweekly basis. They live within a 10 mile radius of (company name removed).”

This sounds detailed right? It’s very specific.

To be impolitic, this is the marketing strategy equivalent of horse excrement, and as such, it renders the entire rest of the plan borderline useless.


Are you selling to entrepreneurs or tenderpreneurs? The difference is everything.

Without clarity — absolute and specific clarity as to whom you are marketing — you are shooting in the dark. You must know that whenever you wink at a girl in the dark, she is not going to respond because she does not see you. literally, you may be the only one who knows what you are doing.

But, the recipient of this “marketing plan” might argue, “But, my product is for everyone described. That is my target market.” In believing this, he would be wrong. Dead wrong.

We are lulled into complacency on this matter, perhaps by our exposure to mass advertising that seems to be broadly targeted, and yet still effective. Why would they spend the millions and millions otherwise? I would be willing to bet that not even the broadest mass market product is ever marketing to “men and women between the ages of 18-80 who have an interest in maximising their wellness.” Marketing should always be targeted far more specifically than that.

In the early 1990s researchers discovered a chemical compound called hydroxypropyl beta-cyclodextrin (HPβCD). This is the active ingredient in Febreze, a product that now makes Proctor and Gamble (P&G) more than a billion dollars annually. And though this product is now indeed known to and used by “men and women between the ages of 18-80,” such a segment is not and never was the population toward whom Febreze was marketed. What’s interesting is that it was neither marketed at homemakers aged between 45 and 65 nor any such demographic segment.

In fact, when P&G first marketed Febreze — this wonder product with the remarkable capacity to eliminate almost any odour — they assumed it would just fly off the shelves. It did not. It was actually a failure when first introduced in 1993.

It failed because “consumers do not buy what you sell, they buy what is of value to them.” When P&G first marketed Febreze in US test markets, they were so caught up in what they were selling — an amazing product that could magically eliminate virtually any odour — that they lost sight of this key marketing principle. They thought falsely that homemakers — their assumed marketing target — cared enough about eliminating odours in their homes that they would seek out a better product with which to do so. It’s a reasonable assumption.

Likewise, it’s just as reasonable to assume that anyone who has “an interest in maximising their wellness” will patronise a new spa in their area, just because it happens to be a really great spa, far better in fact than any other spas in a 10-mile radius.

They will not. Reread the axiom above.

Marketing, if it is to have strategy, needs to operate from a genuine understanding of what a particular target consumer truly values. It turned out that homemakers across America in 1993 put much less value on an odour-elimination product than the marketers at P&G thought.

Eventually, after a great deal of research, including following all different kinds of homemakers around and recording their behaviour, the marketers at P&G finally discovered who their target really was. This was the preexisting behavoral loop upon which a billion dollar a year business has subsequently been built.

So, is your marketing plan strategic?

Strategy is about choices. It’s about choosing to do those things that will have the greatest impact with the least cost. It’s not about doing everything, or even following the best industry practices. It’s about making informed and thoughtful choices as they relate to your particular circumstances, your particular consumer, and the dynamics of your particular marketplace.

Finding out what you need to know in order to have a strategic marketing plan is not easy, but I can pretty much guarantee that executing a marketing plan without a strategy to guide it will be far more difficult (and costly). Are you selling to homemakers or ceremonialists? The difference is everything.

Please do look at your marketing plan. Ask of it these two fundamental questions: l Does this marketing plan specifically identify our most natural consumer? l Does this marketing plan make clear what this group truly values, and how this product, as they understand it, satisfy what they value?

If the answers to these questions are not in the marketing plan, then what you have is not a strategic marketing plan. It’s not really a marketing plan at all. It’s a marketing guess. It’s more of a list of the tactical experiments that you are planning to carry out. And it will not yield the results you expect. It may even fail outright.

Spend time and energy to make sure your marketing plan is what it should be — a strategic marketing plan. Your business, your nonprofit, your shareholders, and your boss will be eternally grateful.

Tirivashe Mundondo is an author and brand strategist. He is passionate about innovative marketing techniques and creative solutions. Email: tirivashe@thebrandguy.co.zw

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