Taking on the “Battle” of Strategic Marketing: 6 Steps to developing a Strategic Marketing Plan that works!
Marla Cooper is a Senior Associate and Strategic Marketing professional at Bloom Consulting, Inc., specialists in nonprofit fundraising, strategic planning, marketing and leadership development.
Why is it that I’m often met with those glazed stares when I’m brought in as a Strategic Marketing Consultant and I ask to see an organization’s “Communications Plan”. This should be as basic to any organization as an Operating Budget and yet it seldom exists as a comprehensive, integrated and well thought out document. Why is this so often neglected by organizations when it is clearly so key to success in today’s competitive and dynamic marketplace? Possibly because there are many misconceptions about what a Strategic Marketing Plan is and what is should do.
Before exploring the steps to developing a Strategic Marketing Plan, let’s first determine exactly what it means. The term “strategy” is rooted in military tradition. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a “strategy” is defined as “the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions”. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines the same term as “the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.” “Marketing” is then defined by Webster’s as “the act of selling or purchasing in a market”, while Random House explains marketing as “the act of buying or selling in a market.”
Therefore, if you combine both of these terms to explain “Strategic Marketing” you arrive at “waging war to sell in the market”. It’s no wonder we have come to describe our marketing activities as “Campaigns” and engage in “Guerilla Marketing”!
I like to take a more peaceful approach to Strategic Marketing which can be viewed more as the art of influencing people. In the world of Non-Profit Organizations, this “influence” takes the form of convincing potential donors and members to identify with your organization enough and align themselves with your mission to the extent that they will “buy in” by giving money and/or paying for membership. If you are thinking, “we have a marketing program that does this”, I would encourage you to ask these questions:
1. Is your organization currently raising the funds it needs?
2. If no, are those you solicit capable to providing these funds?
3. If yes, why isn’t your organization reaching its goals?
The answers to these questions can be twofold. If your organization is aware of what potential donors and/or members want but you’re not able to currently offer it, your organization must enhance your offerings to address this need.
If your organization isn’t quite sure what potential donors and/or members want, or you’re just not sure why your message isn’t compelling enough to get results, the solution is to know your audience better.
To both of these points, a Strategic Marketing Study and Plan is the way to address the situation. It may seem ominous if you’re not a Marketing Professional, but by following a series of disciplined of steps, your organization can develop a Strategic Marketing Road Map that can get you where you need to go.
Step #1: Form a Marketing Committee
Your organization most likely has some type of marketing or communications committee. Keep this committee small since the work and direction generated by this group needs to be clear, concise and on target. Marketing by consensus, while necessary at times, can provide for weak and confusing messages in your advertising and marketing activities that speak to internal perceptions instead of real needs in the marketplace.
Step #2: Set the Goals of your Committee
Keep this to a short list with a timeline to expand your goals based on how the marketing is going. Taking on too much at once can derail the entire process. A singular focus and mission to start with can give your committee cohesiveness and some early successes that will provide the momentum to go forward.
Step #3: Do your research
The committee may think they know what current and potential donors and/or members feel about your organization and what motivates them. However, organization boards and leadership can become very insular without even realizing it. It is of the utmost importance to stay current and aware of what those less involved and connected to your organization perceive about your organization and what they value about their mission. The only true way to know this is to ask. This doesn’t need to be a long and involved or expensive process. It can be as simple as 5 committee members contacting 5 to 10 individuals each and asking a series of well thought out questions. It is important that those interviewed represent a cross section of all those that will be targeted by any marketing efforts. This step is very important since all that follows will be based on what is learned during this process. Take it seriously.
In addition, with the internet we have access to an abundance of good information and research done by others. Committee members need to take on the responsibility of researching information and data available regarding your competitors, your market, your industry, your target audience and current trends. Much can be learned from simply borrowing from others who have often spent a great deal of time and money to learn just want you want to know. Become adept at on-line research and you’ll be surprised at what’s out there if you just look!
Step #4: Establish your Mission and Vision
If your organization has a Mission and Vision Statement it needs to be carefully reevaluated based on your learning from the research. If your organization does not currently have an approved Mission or Vision Statement go no further until this step is completed. Everything that your organization does or is should be reflected in these statements. It should guide every activity and every communication and be used in evaluating both professional staff and volunteers be they board members or not.
A Vision Statement inspires by articulating the future of an organization. A Mission Statement controls and clarifies what an organization does right now. It’s important that neither of these be an “Alphabet Soup” of all the elements that all the key players think are important for an organization to be. It needs to be practical and reflect reality. Clear and concise Mission and Vision Statements should contain at most 3 to 5 elements that live within the organization and be the standard by which all initiatives and standards are evaluated. If it is too broad it will be meaningless and if it is too narrow it will not inspire.
Step #5: Develop your Strategic Marketing Plan
Based on the above steps, your committee should now have a clear understanding and direction and can develop a Strategic Marketing Plan that details the following:
Ø Who is your target audience: what population or individuals provide the best chance for your organization to reach its goals?
Ø What is your message: based on your Mission/Vision statement what do you want to communicate the target audience? What is it about you that is unique and compelling and allows you to deliver on your mission?
Ø How to communicate your message: based on your target audience what is the best way to reach them?
Step #6: Execute your Strategic Marketing Plan
Here are some helpful hints that will enhance your Marketing Plan and ensure it has the best chance of succeeding.
Ø Give specific responsibilities to committee members, staff and volunteers for specific elements of the Plan. Create ownership of the Plan among individuals so it’s not the “Committee’s Plan” but individuals have a stake in it as well.
Ø Track your results. Every marketing or programming initiative or effort undertaken as a result of this plan should be tracked to know what is working and what is not.
Ø Make sure your organization can deliver on your message. If you are highlighting new programs or features of your organization in your marketing, be absolutely certain all aspects are ready and available before going with the communications. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression! If someone is attracted to your organization because of something they saw or read and come to find out it’s not as they thought, you’ve lost a donor or member and will have an exceedingly difficult time getting them to reconsider.
Ø Build on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Make sure all marketing activities highlight what your organization does best and excels at.
Be bold and provide leadership. In almost all cases, some form of marketing is better than none. Get your organization out there and make sure it has the exposure it needs. In closing, I’ll pay homage to the military origins of my profession as a Strategic Marketing Professional by urging you to “Get out there and market them before they market you!”
Contact Marla Cooper, Bloom Consulting, Inc. (610) 348-4035 or firstname.lastname@example.org