How hard is it to write a marketing plan? After all, every marketer writes one every year, so how difficult can it be, right?
Well, writing a marketing plan isn’t hard at all, but writing a winning plan is very difficult. And time consuming. And getting it approved by your executive board is perhaps the most challenging part of all.
Management are renowned in most organisations for “innocently” posing questions when passing marketers in the corridor or while socialising at a company event. Answer the CEO’s questions to their satisfaction and you will stand out from the crowd. Provide an incomplete or worse still no answer, and they might wonder if it isn’t time to restructure the marketing group.
So here are 8 actionable tips on how to write a winning marketing plan, so you can answer any question your CEO or boss asks you. The simple rule is to NEVER say you don’t know, but also to never drown them in a long-winded answer. Neither will win you brownie points. Make sure you have an answer like those proposed below and your name might just be on the next list of promotions.
1. WHO ARE OUR BRAND’S CUSTOMERS?
There is far more information needed than just age and gender, to answer this question. Prepare a short description (often called a persona or avatar) of a typical user, in the same way as you would describe a friend. See “13 Things your Boss Expects you to Know about your Customers” for further details on what you should already know about your customer.
Once you’ve checked out the above article, why not also download our 4W™ template? It will help you put everything in one place so it is always handy.
GOOD ANSWER: Our customers are middle-aged women, whose children are in their late teens or early twenties. She shops in local supermarkets and gets advice from friends on Facebook, about the best brands to buy and what’s on offer. She’s been buying our brand for over two years because it satisfies her children’s hunger when they get in from playing sports. That makes them happy and she then feels proud of being a good Mum.
2. HOW MUCH ARE OUR CUSTOMERS WORTH TO US?
Besides having an average lifetime value in your head, you should also be able to provide information about your customers’ perceived value of your brand. This information will come from certain attributes in your brand image study, such as “worth the price”, “more valuable than other brands” or “is worth paying more for.” The summary results of your brand image study should always be included in your winning marketing plan.
Just make sure that when you quote such statistics, that you compare them to the competition. Rather than saying “56% of category users think we offer great value for money”, say “more than a half of category users think we provide better value than the competition.” Your boss will always ask for more detailed information if needed.
GOOD ANSWERS: On average each customer spends about XXX (Dollars, Euros, Renminbi, Rupee, Real …) each year on our brand, which is about YYY over ten years (lifetime value is rarely calculated further out than this). Our current average price in-store is ZZZ, but 70% of our customers thinks we’re actually worth more than that.
3. WHAT RETURN ON OUR MARKETING BUDGET ARE WE GETTING?
Whilst ROI is not the best measure of marketing’s impact (see this Forbes article for more on that), you still need to answer the question. Your response to this could get very complex if you go into too much detail, so keep it simple.
Say what your total budget is, how much you spend on advertising and promotions and what impact that has had on sales, in total. I know it takes a lot more than these two actions to impact sales, but as I said, keep it simple.
GOOD ANSWER: Our total budget is AAA of which BBB goes on communications and promotions. With our current sales growth of SSS, that works out at approximately TT%.
4. HOW MUCH WILL WE SELL; WHAT MARKET SHARE ARE WE EXPECTING THIS YEAR?
Your boss will almost certainly remember your brand’s market share from your marketing plan. So when he asks this question he is probably looking for more than just a number.
You could of course just give him that number, but why not use the attention you’ve got by adding something impressive to the story? Comments about how your brand is growing compared to category growth or your main competitors, puts the numbers immediately into perspective. It also helps the boss to better understand the numbers.
GOOD ANSWER: We’re expecting a RR% growth this year to UUU unit sales. This will be the highest rate in the category, so our share will increase by PP points to MM% market share. These will be the best results we have achieved in over ten years – or some such comment to add value to the numbers.
5. WHAT ARE OUR INNOVATION PLANS FOR THE BRAND?
You could answer this with a long list of all the new SKUs you will launch, but again use your time wisely by adding some understanding too. Speak about the objectives behind the launches and any new theme or direction the brand is taking.
For instance, are you moving to more low fat, organic, natural, or sustainable sources? Sharing the objectives behind your plans for the brand will show the solid foundation you have for your launches and the decisions you have made.
GOOD ANSWER: We will be launching CC new variants in our new organic range, which we expect to add MM% points to our total market share. We will also be eliminating FF units that are not delivering on expectations and contain too much sugar for today’s customer preferences.
6. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?
Questions around sustainability and sourcing tend to be raised in corporations which already have targets. If this is the case in your own company, then measurements are almost certainly already being taken and shown in your marketing plan. Therefore you just need to reply with the latest numbers.
But you can again use this exchange with top management to add how your customers feel about the question and all the efforts being made by the company – you do have that information too don’t you?
However if this is a new initiative for your business, then you will want to take the opportunity to show how you and your brand are playing their part in supporting this important company initiative.
7. HOW’S THE COMPETITION DOING?
The answer to this question could cover a lot of topics: sales, market share, new launches, advertising, promotions or pricing. After all, when you write your marketing plan you will add a lot of information about your brand and also its main competitors – or at least I hope so!
Therefore respond with a simple summary of a few current metrics of your brand in comparison to two or three of your major competitors. The manager will then clarify if he was thinking of a specific topic and you can then answer with a little more precision.
Make use of this question to share any particularly tough market conditions you are facing of which your boss / CEO may not be intimately aware. This is a great opportunity to pre warn them should your brand be struggling to meet the objectives laid out in the agreed marketing plan.
8. HOW’S OUR DISTRIBUTION DOING THESE DAYS?
A simple summary of outlets in which we have gained or lost distribution is enough here, but why not add some detail about successful placement improvements too? That latest shelf redesign that has increased sales, or the fact that you have just been named category captain in a retail chain, is definitely news worth sharing.
If on the other hand, you are having difficult discussions with an important chain or outlet group, then that too deserves a mention. Perhaps your boss has some useful contacts or ideas to help. Marketers are nervous about sharing their challenges, but pre warning them of market situations that are negatively impacting your brand are definitely worth mentioning before the situation become serious.
So there you have them. Eight of the most common questions top management asks of marketers. As you can see, the answers I’ve suggested are short and simple.
Especially when the question is posed outside the formal marketing plan presentation, the executive is probably looking not only for the information requested, but also to check that you have an excellent understanding of your brand. He wants to be assured that his business is in good hands. Prove it to him and also show your respect of his time, by giving short, precise answers whenever possible.
Do you frequently get asked other questions not mentioned here? Then add them in the comments below. Also, if you have a better way of responding to any of the above questions, I’d love to read those too.
If you’d like your team to be better prepared for “awkward” questions from management, why not ask for one of our 1-Day Catalyst Training Sessions?
This post is adapted from an article which first appeared on C3Centricity in 2014. See the original.