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Over the course of the last few months, I've had the opportunity to review various marketing plans. Often, the plans fell into one of two categories. One group comprised brief documents containing short lists of tactics for the coming year, along with a budget and calendar. The second group consisted of an extensive set of PowerPoint presentations chocked full of charts and tables about market statistics and product roadmaps, etc.

In the first group, the tactics were well defined, but they were not anchored to strategies or objectives. Someone reading the plan for the first time would have trouble understanding why the organization is embarking on these efforts and what outcomes are intended.

The second group contains an enormous amount of information about the market, company, customers, competitors and a set of strategies and tactics. However, in this group, it is difficult to connect all the dots between the information, the plan and the outcomes.

While it may seem that the two categories have little in common, the common link is their inability to tell the company story. A good marketing plan is in essence the Cliff Notes version of the company's current status, how it got there and what if anything needs to be addressed. (And, if so—by whom, how, with what and when.)

In other words, a good marketing plan has all the elements of a well-told story.

A good story grabs our attention, captures our imagination, draws us to the characters—both the heroes and villains—and to the situation at hand. A marketing plan should do the same.

While a marketing plan doesn't need to be a novel, it does need to provide a context, define the situation, clarify the objectives and measures of success, and establish the strategies and tactics for achieving outcomes. A marketing plan must provide a setting and context, just as a story does: "Once upon time, in the faraway mountainous land of Travinikar, one of its six kingdoms, the once prosperous kingdom of Jedele, lay in near ruin and its great castle, Orona, was under siege." From this one sentence we have context.

Once we have established the context, we can very quickly provide the information about the organization's successes and challenges, its market, position, competition and customer information. Using our story and an example, we learn that Jedele, once the most prosperous and powerful kingdom in all of Travinikar, was the only manufacturer of Premion used in the making of precious metals. Premion, at its highest purity, requires dragon fire and is in extreme short supply. Two other rivals kingdoms, Stober with its Puratonic and Corbin with its Specpure, are quickly overtaking Jedele's position as the best provider for the high purity substance. The situation is swiftly unfolding.

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM