If you’re not old enough to remember the original A-TEAM television series, perhaps you saw a few episodes in re-runs. In the series, George Peppard’s character, Lieutenant Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, would often remark “I love it when a plan comes together.”

That’s how we feel when one of our clients takes the time to go through a strategic marketing communications planning process and then actively initiates the core components of the plan. The work we did with one such client, a mid-sized law firm, is a powerful case in point.

The Strategic Process

When we first met this client, they shared with us their desire to have more consistency in their branding and messaging. Some tactical approaches were discussed, but mostly in the context of what they had tried previously or were considering for the future. As we often do at that point in a new relationship, we recommended a strategic branding and marketing communications plan. The key objectives of such a plan consist of helping the client understand, define and articulate their brand and then use the brand strategies as the foundation for specific marketing communications initiatives going forward.

A strategic branding and marketing communications plan typically involves an in-depth analysis of the core values of the organization, the markets it serves and the competitive environment. The nature and amount of research can vary but is most often a combination of primary research in the form of qualitative studies and secondary data from industry sources. The process is highly collaborative. We want to drill down as deeply as possible into the organization’s culture and help them understand not just what they do and how, but “why” they do it.

After the due diligence phase is complete, the next step is to clearly and concisely articulate the essence of the client brand which, in turn, provides the critical brand strategies including brand mission and vision, brand positioning, brand value proposition, brand promise and other important statements of purpose. These statements are important because, if properly embraced internally, they enable the entire organization to speak with “one voice” – delivering a clear and consistent message as they engage with external audiences.

Brand strategy is the bedrock of a marketing communications plan.  Based on this foundation, insights are developed that drive specific marketing communications strategies ranging from Internet and digital marketing, social media and public relations to traditional advertising, marketing support materials, cause and event marketing and more.

For this particular client, the roll-out of specific strategic initiatives was a methodical and measured process. When the plan was completed, we immediately designed and produced a website that mirrored the brand strategy. Then we began populating the site with relevant content primarily in the form of blogs from many of the staff attorneys. (As an aside, we continue to be pleasantly surprised by the degree to which many of the attorneys have embraced the opportunity to present themselves as thought leaders.) In short order the blogs became the source for social media posts and pushes. And in some circumstances, these same blog/social media topics were further cross-purposed for developing public relations opportunities with news media outlets.

We have also systematically introduced digital and traditional advertising campaigns through appropriate media channels and are in the process of developing branded marketing support materials.

Drilling Down to the Basics

So, let’s break it down. If you’re interested in crafting a strategic marketing plan for your business…where do you start? We outlined how our approach worked for one of our clients, but how can you see that same type of success? It really comes down to a simple process.

Set your goals
Analyze your current situation
Define your brand
Target initiatives that align with your goals, target audience(s), situation and brand
Track your success against your stated goals

By sticking to this basic outline, you can be strategic instead of reactive in your marketing efforts. In our fast-paced world, having a plan makes a major difference. The quality of your plan can be the driving factor in moving your organization forward.  In addition to being a game plan for success, it will be a critical touchstone for all your marketing decisions.

You’ll notice in the above example that, as we progressed through the plan, we were able to add more tactics. Sometimes marketers are reluctant to engage in strategic marketing planning because the process can seem so complex and time-consuming.  With the proliferation of marketing channels and tactical options, the task can seem all the more overwhelming.  But with a systematic approach and access to good resources, the effort can be simplified greatly. That’s why it is so important to start with the basics. Set your goals and analyze where your organization is currently. As you progress, you can begin to become more robust in your strategy.

The bottom line here really is the bottom line. While specific results are proprietary, the program is working. Efficiently and effectively. And it all began with a plan.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Thom Villing is chief executive officer of Villing and Co.

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