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Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Economic Crisis can be Opportunities with the Right Planning

Monday, October 20th, 2008

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, the school buses are rolling, and, if you’re lucky, senior management wants to know what and where you want to spend next year. They aren’t making any promises, but it looks like the current financial crisis means that you should think long and hard about what to spend at all. On the other hand, those that have the resources may come out aggressive and try to take your market share. Everyone is looking hungry, including your clients. Should you go for broke or pace for the marathon? Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?

A well-thought-out, or even a mediocre-thought-out, strategy involves a lot of thinking and a lot of ideas. Sometimes that takes time, sometimes that takes effort, usually it takes both. I’m right in the middle of our annual planning sessions for the upcoming year, but I have an advantage. I have a fuzzy idea of where we’re going to be in the future. Knowing that helps to plan for the next year because I have a benchmark that I can shift-up or shift-down throughout the year depending on industry issues and opportunities.

At the very beginning, you need to know what do you do, how do you do it, how well do you do it. This involves some internal analysis and navel-gazing. In addition, include external things that impact you, like regulations, customers, even the potential ones, technology, best practices, and finally competitors. Knowing the long term trends in your industry will help you allocate to the right initiatives and helps to plan on where to put your resources to the best effect.

As you begin to plan, you can use a pre-made system, and there are many, many out there, just check your favorite search engine. Here’s one that I don’t endorse, but I liked their web url: Bplans.com. As a note of caution, it is unusual to find an exact pre-made format for everyone’s needs, so take a flexible approach, glean what you can and discard the rest.

One thing to remember, and this has a lot to do with your audience and your role in an organization, I’m focusing on Marketing plans, not business plans. Business plans address financials and other non-marketing topics that marketing doesn’t have responsibility for. If you find a business plan you like, cut those sections out rather than comment that it doesn’t apply. A good place to get the right perspective is to check out the SBA. They have some good plans, at least to get you thinking about how to write your plan.

Finally, spend the balance of the strategy explaining how you’re going to get there. Feel free to borrow other resources in the plan. Let some other departments do some of the heavy lifting - they’ll reap the benefits with you as you succeed. If you have metrics, detail them; proof is better than benefits, which is better than features.

I try to break mine down into three sections:
1. Initiatives - goals, objectives, industry initiatives (client, regulator and competitor), corporate initiatives.
2. Product, services, solution - a description of positioning is the important part as it makes sure everyone is in agreement, or you know who isn’t. I recommend that you discuss market segmentation here, with backup in an appendix. You can also, if there is relevance, talk about changes in distribution, changes in pricing or value, and the other Ps. Use your best judgement when discussing People…
3. Influences - these include external factors such as regulations, competitors, etc. If your products are so mutually exclusive that it makes more sense to discuss these topics in the prior section, go for it. But most firms, and I state this rhetorically, have products that are extensions, complementary, or otherwise tied together, and so a separate section is easier to read than re-stating the same points in each product strategy.

I hold a few sites out on a small list to remind myself of topics I may have forgotten, or new issues that need to be addressed. A very good place to look after you’ve finished your first draft, is the wiki on marketing plans. If you’re like me, I update the plan once a year with notes from the past year, new ideas that we’ve been bouncing around, and any other chaff that comes my way. Since the wiki is updated constantly by donated content from global sources, you can get some good fodder for new ideas or threats to your firm that you may not have thought of or seen yet.

Four additional tips for a lasting strategy (and have learned the hard way):
1. Write it for beyond your known audience, including the timing. I’ve found old strategies that I’ve written switch the e-mail referred to at other companies.
2. Condense the executive summary, the current state, and the future state onto the first page of the document. If you find yourself defining, explaining, rationalizing, and proposing, start again. Finally, the Executive Summary should state any significant change to the current process, like a creation of a cross-departmental-strategy-execution team.
3. Use appendices for tables of data, include expense by product, by intitiative, market move segmentations, etc.
4. Don’t define the obvious. It’ll make your document a dull read and lose its efficacy. If you’ve always sold through VARs, or direct sales into prospects, and continue to do so - then, so what? Don’t waste type, space and reader’s attention span with the mundane.

Finally, be creative, have fun, but make sure it’s professional. This document has your name on it, make it good enough to look at next year as the foundation of your next one. It should be a pleasure to read. It’s a stake in the ground and you’re holding the sledge hammer - wear your best shoes.

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Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

Brand Strategy: Why is defining a company so hard?

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

As I’m working on a marketing plan for a client, it strikes me how these five words can strike fear and doubt into so many executives - “How do you define yourselves?”

It is a painfully simple question, but the answer is so important.

Many hours can be spent on this question. In workshops, when I ask this question, the initial answer client’s give is often the most honest. Someone in the room inevitably blurts out the answer, and I write it down. Then someone else inevitably adds that the first definition is too limiting, and provides a different definition. Often a much broader one.

To give an example, I once worked at a very large company where the executive in charge decided how to define our business. His definition was the equivalent of defining a bakery as a “flour, water and eggs mixed together and baked for 12 minutes” business. Much easier to say, “We are a bakery.” His answer created confusion. Customers wondered what we were talking about.

Why all of the confusion? Many people, and companies, want to appear to be more than they are. They get caught up in internal thinking, strategic thinking and politics.

For lack of a clear definition, companies broaden their definition to a higher level in an attempt to cast a larger net. As with my example, this only ensures that no one will have any idea what they are speaking about.

So is this a complex question? It does need to be. Customers are looking for a simple answer. They are tired of trying to sort out what companies actually do versus what their Web site says. Give them a break - give them the simple answer. Save the complexities for internal documents.

One obvious question lies in waiting - how do you define yourself, or your business? If you are using more than ten words to define yourself, then you should do some editing. Write back to me and tell me your definition.

-Steven Halling, President

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.

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