The importance of planning

The preparation of marketing plans can be viewed as a welcome distraction from the everyday running of a business, providing the opportunity to put in some solid thinking about where the business needs to be going. Alternatively it may be seen as a necessary evil, a time-consuming process producing a report that rapidly dates and is soon forgotten.

‘Yet plan we must. The process of planning may be more important than the plans that emerge. The planning occasion requires managers to schedule “thinking time”. Managers must think about what has happened, what is happening, and what might happen. Managers must set goals and get agreement. The goals must be communicated to everyone. Progress towards the goals must be measured. Corrective actions must be taken when the goals are not being achieved. Thus planning turns out to be an intrinsic part of good management.’ Kotler on Marketing, 1999

‘Marketing planning is a systematic process involving the assessment of marketing opportunities and resources, the determination of marketing objectives and the development of a plan for implementation and control.’ Dibb and Simkin, Marketing: Concepts and Strategies, 2001

In a fast-changing and increasingly digitalised world, some degree of planning is essential, if only to avoid expensive mistakes. The planning process also provides the opportunity to gather support for proposals, co-ordinate different functions, bring about cultural change, and communicate objectives to team members.

The benefits of planning include (from McDonald, Marketing Plans, 1999):

  • To help identify sources of competitive advantage
  • To force an organized approach
  • To ensure consistent relationships
  • To inform
  • To get resources
  • To get support
  • To gain commitment
  • To set objectives and strategies
  • To spell out the desired mix of products and services

Planning involves consideration of complex issues covering the whole organization, and the marketer may come across barriers to planning, for example:

  • The culture of the organization – is it focused internally rather than externally?
  • Power and politics
  • Analysis – not action
  • Resource issues – money and time
  • Skills and technology – may not match customer need
  • Ability to challenge existing ideas

In the era of digital marketing, it is increasingly important to use planning as a means of discovering and best harnessing the new found powers of digital strategies. Information is accessed and absorbed differently by both consumers and businesses alike, and so the entire process of planning digital marketing needs to be assessed accordingly.

The planning process

This involves a series of steps in which it is asked:

1.      Where are we now?

2.      Where do we want to be?

3.      How might we get there?

4.     Which way is best?

5.      How can we ensure arrival?



1. Where are we now?

This involves a full analysis of the company’s present situation, with an external and internal audit. Kotler suggests there are six specific dimensions of interest to the auditor:

External environment – macro and micro

Internal environment – covering:

  • Marketing strategy
  • Marketing organization
  • Marketing systems
  • Marketing productivity
  • Marketing functions

Information from the audit is then analysed into a SWOT framework in which specific emphasis is placed on determining strategic drift, competitive advantage, and corporate capability. From this analysis the process of matching organizational strengths to the market place and overcoming weaknesses takes place.

2. Where do we want to be?

The mission is now set, objectives decided upon, and strategies related to the product portfolio and competition decided. The company also decides who its customers are: the STP process – segmentation, targeting and positioning.

The organization needs to examine its portfolio of products or companies and decide what strategy to adopt – for example, whether to grow or divest a particular product.

A competitive strategy is then adopted with the firm taking up a particular competitive position, one that will give it an advantage over competitors. For example, will the company adopt a niche position, not challenging the major players, or will it decide to go for aggressive growth by taking market share from competitors?

Having settled on a particular market to enter or exploit, the marketer must carefully divide up the market by identifiable segments – segmentation – in order to target the most profitable areas. Positioning is then decided upon in order to place the product clearly in the minds of consumers against that of the competition so that it is clearly differentiated. For example, having segmented the car market and decided to target the family market with its estates, Volvo positioned its cars as the vehicle for the safety conscious.

3. How might we get there?

The marketing mix is the toolbox from which marketers can choose elements to influence the target market. The four Ps – product, price, place and promotion – make up the marketing mix. Also can be added physical evidence, people and process to make up the full mix, especially in relation to services.

With the ever increasing digital usage of society, all aspects of the marketing mix should be considered with digital in mind. Although it is not advisable for companies to take the entirely digital route, it should play a large part in the planning of the strategies.

4. Which way is best?

Decisions need to be taken about what is important.

5. How can we ensure arrival?

Following through on the strategy and decisions about the marketing mix, it is important to make sure that the plan is implemented. What practical steps are going to be followed to implement the plan? Internal marketing might be necessary in order to ensure that everyone in the organization is pulling in the same direction.

The plan and its objectives must also be monitored and evaluated. The success of the plan can be measured and further steps taken, if problems arise, to correct the situation.

The beauty of the digital marketing era is that monitoring and evaluation can be far more in depth than they have ever been before, aiding both in the success of the present campaign and future planning of strategies.

Different types of planning

Marketing planning needs to be seen in the context of the different types of planning. Planning at the corporate level will look at the direction, resource issues, and objectives for the company as a whole. Marketing planning then looks at the issues and objectives for the marketing area, with the consumer at the heart of its thinking. Operational planning is about the direction of the company’s operations and how these fit in with the objectives set.

It is important to distinguish between strategic and tactical planning. Strategic planning is concerned with the long term and has a broad focus, covering competitive positioning and the development of new products. Tactical planning has its focus on the short term, and day-to-day marketing activity such as price discounting and customer communication.