Monday, November 10, 2014
SO, WHAT’S THE PLAN? (PART 1)
As it’s now November, most marketers have completed or are completing their 2015 Plan Process. It seems that, while every company has its own Business or Marketing or “Brand” Plan format, most divide their annual planning process into two general phases: the Strategic Plan phase (typically in the Spring), and the Operating Plan phase (usually in the Fall). Of course, this makes good sense because it’s important to secure senior management agreement to the strategic direction before moving too far downstream into the more tactical operations…where the big money gets allocated and spent.
No matter how many annual plan processes we marketers go through, though, the one thing that we find to be a pretty universally held opinion is this: annual planning is an awful lot of work, often darn frustrating, and usually not very rewarding. Reasons for such an opinion may vary some by company and culture, but our take is that virtually all companies share a few common reasons for the “dread” of annual planning: plans are way too long (200+ slides, for example) and are not very well constructed—or presented. If you have read either of our two books (Creating Brand Loyalty and Competitive Positioning) or have just been a longtime reader of these weekly DISPATCHES, you probably have an appreciation for the way we approach nearly everything in brand-building and marketing: always focus only on the really important stuff and keep things as simple as possible…or, as a play on the saying goes, “make less become a lot more.”
In keeping with this philosophy, this very practical approach to brand-building and marketing, when we work with clients on their annual plans, we always aim for the following three outcomes:
1. Get the plan to no more than 20-25 slides (back-ups, of course, permitted);
2. Conceive of and organize the plan as a well-told story;
3. And, present the plan as if requesting funds from a world-class investment banker—a banker who has many equally smart marketers seeking those same funds.
Writing and then presenting an annual plan demands two quite different skills—skills that all marketers need competency at if they are to succeed in gaining the management confidence they must have to earn resource investment in their brand. As intelligent and experienced as senior managers typically are, they all share the same limitation: their investment resources are not unlimited; they must make choices each year about where to place their best bets. Accordingly, no marketer enters into an annual planning process “entitled” to (a) some fair share of the company’s total resources or to (b) whatever resources they employed in the current year.
So, although most 2015 annual planning is by now put to bed, we thought now might be a good time to share a few of our planning best practices…after all, the 2016 Strategic Plan is just around the corner! And, we’ll start this week with some suggestions for organizing and writing a quality plan, and follow up in a future DISPATCHESwith some suggestions for presenting one.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS—Organizing and Writing the Annual Brand-Building Plan
1. Make your plan tell a story—a compelling story. Whenever we recommend this to a group of clients, some wisecracker will ask, “Plans aren’t supposed to be fiction, are they?” Obviously not—besides, the best-liked, most compelling stories are the ones that are true. When we say “tell a story” we mean conceive of and build the plan as one would a good story; apply the principles of good story-telling. For example, just as a good story has three main parts—beginning, middle, and end (or, set-up, action, and resolution)—so should a good plan have three main parts: Where We Are Now per the Current Plan; Where We Plan to Go; and How We Plan to Get There. It’s even a helpful technique to “billboard” each of these three plan parts as you move into them—just as many books billboard their key breaks with billboard pages.
2. “Characterize” your plan right up front. In other words, much like a book marketer summarizes what the book is about on the dust jacket or back cover (to incite purchase), open with a slide that effectively says, “Here’s the kind of plan you’re going to see.” For example, if you’re ultimately going to propose an acceleration of the brand’s growth, driven by increasing market growth and brand investment, your characterization might be something like this: “Next year’s plan is another robust one—with our brand driving category growth and our market share to double-digit levels behind a continuation of high ROI’s for the brand’s initiatives.” Conversely, if you’re ultimately recommending a continued milking of the brand (in anticipation new one in the pipeline), your characterization might be: “Our brand plan remains on the course we set for this year—to hold our margins and keep ratcheting down our marketplace spending…to maximize absolute profit dollars prior to patent expiration.
3. Headline and highlight-every slide. Rather than slogging through slide after slide of dizzying charts, graphs, and endless numbers, identify the most important one or two parts of your story that each slide tells and boldly bullet-point them as “headlines” at the top of the slide. And to make it even easier for your readers to grasp how the headlines and key data go together, highlight only those numbers or graph pieces that match up with the headlines. (If you do nothing else in writing your next plan, this step alone will elevate it to a new level.)
4. Make sure that your plan’s first part—Where We Are Now—leads with both results-to-date and causal factors for those results. There is no credible way to get to the second part of your plan story (Where We Plan to Go) unless you can (a) demonstrate how the future plan builds upon current trends and (b) that you have a solid grasp of those marketplace factors that have either lived up to the current year’s plan going-in expectations or have not.
5. Summarize the plan’s first part—Where We Are Now—with a classic SWOT. Though everyone does Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats charts, not many do them very well…or use them as they are meant to be used. The real purpose and best use of a SWOT is to condense onto one slide the most important facts from the detailed Situation Analysis that comprises much of Where We Are Now. Facts, by the way, that once again relate to the brand-building story you’re trying to tell.
6. Open your plan’s second part—Where We Plan to Go—with a synopsis of the plan’s Critical Success Factors. Every plan depends upon three or four BIG factors that, unless addressed effectively, will prevent the plan story from panning out, will prevent “making plan.” Typically these CSF’s should be actions requiring senior management agreement; and they are most often actions that the company has not always done routinely or particularly well, as well as actions sometimes requiring a disproportionate investment to succeed. (Note: Every Critical Success Factor should have already been seen before—on the SWOT. Said another way, there should be clear-cut linkage between the most important SWOT facts and the CSF’s.)
7. Finally, end your plan story with a one-slide summary—with key factors and key numbers. Then once you have this tightly done, make a copy of it and place it up-front, right after the Plan Characterization slide…and call it an Executive Summary. In this way you will be making your plan story elegantly easy to understand and remember by following the age-old military way of story-telling: (a) First, tell them what you’re going to tell them; (b) Next, tell them; and (c) Last, tell them what you told them.
Here’s to a Happy 2016 Planning Year!
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
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