I remember my first long-term plan like it was yesterday. I worked at a small software company that asked me to build a solution for an all-in-one product (software/server/storage/etc.) for small regional banks. The sales team wanted to branch out with an offering that provided all the value the large banks received as an affordable and quick to implement solution. My task was to envision that package, pull in the partnerships and guide the go-to-market components. I had to determine pricing, partners and target customer. It was the first time I thought, “If I’m going to be successful, I need a long-term plan.”
It took time, but I studied all angles necessary to get this new solution concept from inception to market. I walked through each process, talked to a lot of people; including customers and sales people and predicted the surmountable challenges and the gotchas. In the end, my due diligence and patience paid off. The plan helped the company launch a new product offering to sell into this new market.
What I took from this experience is that having a plan and one that spans more than a quarter is the most essential tool we have in our toolbox as marketers. Rather than engaging in quarter-to-quarter, reactive tactics, long-term plans empower our profession with insightful, visionary strategies that lead to the business’ success and allows for flexibility as changes occur, within the context of the bigger picture and business goals.
The minute you say “long term”, though, people get anxious. They think they’re pinned down for months or years on end with no wiggle room. In reality, a well-crafted long-term plan extends no more than a year to 18 months and becomes a framework for flexibility. Anomalies such as mergers/acquisitions, changes in leadership and sales/revenue goals easily can be handled within the boundaries of a long-term marketing plan.
Short-term plans ride on the wings of narrow objectives such as a product launch or one-time focused event. Long-term plans become a roadmap in which product launches and events are part of a more developed and sophisticated vision.
The benefits of a long-term plan are numerous, including:
- You really get to know your target customer. Instead of just focusing on who would buy one product at one point in time, you learn who would engage with you over a longer term and how to connect with them.
- You learn more about your business. Focusing on narrow goals does not expose you to the heart of your business. A long-term plan gives you the opportunity to interact with stakeholders throughout the business and give them a voice in the marketing strategy. Having access to these inputs makes marketing more holistic and comprehensive and far more representative of the business as a whole vs. a single product.
- You make better use of your resources. Long-term marketing plans let you think about the talent, budget and timeframe necessary to achieve your goals. Once you have the resources in place, you can tap them for pop-up projects without having to scramble and pay upcharges. Knowing the resources at your disposal can save significant money and time on last-minute campaigns or events.
- Your marketing becomes fluid. Marketing with a start/stop motion is jarring for targets and makes it hard to create affinity for the business or brand. With a long-term marketing plan, you demonstrate a steadiness and commitment to your products and the business overall. This helps your target trust you and the solutions you’re offering him or her.
- You can demonstrate success. Long-term marketing plans feature benchmarks and metrics to measure the impact of your efforts. Using analytics and other sources you can gauge response and make adjustments. You can show executives what you’ve accomplished and the value you’ve brought to the organization through on going metrics based on a plan that spans more than one quarter. This, in turn, earns you credibility you can use to increase your budget, add staff, broaden your reach to other projects, or push back when you disagree with a decision.
Long-term plans give marketers a position of strength. You are able to command business value because you repeatedly prove the thoughtful, innovative and cost-efficient outcomes of your finely tuned planning. Work with your Partner Marketing Manager to bring your long-term marketing plans to life!
Do you have an example of a well-executed, long-term marketing plan? Share it with me below or on Twitter: @AnnaDorcey.