Developing a Marketing Plan That Actually Works

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1 Developing a Marketing Plan That Actually Works By Jackie Norman, CAE What One Association Learned from a Not So Successful First Attempt I ve been privy to discussions on how marketing and communications are an important component of what we do at Safety Services Nova Scotia (SSNS) for at least a decade. While deemed a priority in a number of strategic plans, financial and human resources were never put into place to ensure marketing was a focus. Looking back it becomes clear that we developed short term marketing strategies for our courses, events and services, although usually on a shoestring budget and dependent upon the staff skills we had in place at the time. We reacted more than planned ahead, yet despite that approach, we have enjoyed successes. It wasn t until 2008 that our association contracted with an external marketing firm and developed its first formal marketing plan. Sadly, two years later, only 20% of the strategies contained in that plan have been implemented, as set out below: The development and implementation of a strategic plan Started to implement marketing plan The change of our name and logo that included an internal and external plan for this transition A focus on marketing and sales at all staff meetings (in process) Sales training for staff (in process) Consistent look for our marketing materials Development of a brand standards guide Ongoing direction for departments on day-to-day marketing needs The fact that only 20% of the overall goals in the plan had been achieved got me curious I became determined to find out why. After all, if we continue to do what we have done in the past, we will continue to get the same limited results. My first step was to survey all SSNS employees. The results of that survey showed that: all staff knew a plan existed; not much is remembered about the plan specifically; and, only management recalls being involved in the development of the plan. The majority held the view that the plan was not effective and pointed out that there was very little impact when the retainer with the external marketing consulting firm was not renewed. After my review of the marketing plan, and considering the input from SSNS staff members, I believe the following are reasons our 2008 marketing plan was not as effective as it could have been:

2 Timing: Many of the strategies had a high dollar figure attached and the budget for 2009 was already developed and approved prior to the marketing plan being approved by the Board. Economics: 2009 became a challenging economic year for SSNS so we had to cut back on payroll and in July 2009 did not renew the retainer with the external marketing firm. Staff buy-in: Staff were skeptical about some of the strategies and some of that may have come from lack of understanding or poor communications. Approach: Not enough market research was conducted nor enough time researching the needs of our members. Geography: It did get in the way. The external marketing consultant was not based in Nova Scotia, and made assumptions based on their provincial data about our members which were not actually the case. Utilization: Staff did not utilize the external marketing consulting firm to their advantage, perhaps because they did not understand what was included in the agreement. In some cases lack of trust may have been a factor. Lack of not-for-profit marketing plans Trying to find an actual marketing plan that was being utilized and proven effective in the not-for-profit sector proved to be very difficult. Most organizations keep their plans confidential as they contain information they do not want to get out to the competition. I was also surprised at how many not-for-profit organizations don t even have a marketing plan - they market, yes, and some very well, but there is no overall plan. I checked across the country with other safety councils/safety services organizations and found that only one had a marketing plan. I asked colleagues in the CSAE Nova Scotia Chapter about the existence of marketing plans in their organizations and found that they do not exist. I did, confidentially, manage to look at one not-for-profit s draft marketing plan and did see that it covered the same components that were resulting from my research. The elements of an effective marketing plan My next task was to determine what elements are included in effective marketing plans. While my focus was on the not-for-profit sector, research on the for-profit sector was resourced as well. I found endless information on marketing plans, with a majority containing similar components, just stated in different ways. That research identified twenty-seven key components, of which only six were included in our 2008 marketing plan. Critical Components of a Marketing Plan 1 Tied into strategic plan Yes 2 Organizations mission and goals Yes 3 Marketing environment No 4 Business Outlook No

3 5 Assess competition No 6 Identify market No 7 Potential customers & Target markets Yes 8 Description of members/customers No 9 Historical sales/revenues No 10 Product/service mix No 11 Market position No 12 Member wants/needs/perceptions No 13 Member demographics and their interests No 14 Recruiting of Members No 15 Sales Plan for Services No 16 Price the services No 17 Customer service plan No 18 Skills required to implement plan No 19 Advertising Plan for Services Yes 20 Advocacy Yes 21 Product/service description No 22 Product/services weaknesses and strengths No 23 New services strategy No 24 Budget No 25 Responsibilities & expectations No 26 Timelines No 27 Monitoring and evaluation plan and process Yes It was shocking to find that SSNS s marketing plan did not include most of the critical components. Addressing only six of the twenty-seven components means that we only addressed 22% of what we needed to address in our plan. The reason I say it is shocking is that I recall that many of the components were discussed with the marketing firm and management. The components seem familiar but the plan on paper was not very comprehensive and it was not very practical and useable to the staff. What went wrong Much time could be spent trying to figure out what went wrong and who is to blame, but my goal was to learn from the experience and to ensure we improve. To some extent we were under the misconception that we could buy a marketing plan and that the outsourced company would do all of the work for us. I also think the outsourced company was pushing larger ideas than we were ready for. Perhaps they did not listen to what we were saying then again, perhaps we did not communicate very well. I know that we did discuss competition, our service strengths and weaknesses, our unique value proposition, etc. but those discussions did not get captured into the document. One of

4 the key downfalls was the lack of data collection. We did not take the critical step of finding out what our members perceptions and needs truly were. The findings There is little doubt that not-for-profit organizations like Safety Services Nova Scotia will improve communications and increase product and service sales if they put resources into the development of a comprehensive marketing plan. This is no longer something simply nice to have. All associations are facing competition from others in the sector and those in the private sector - if we are not armed with an effective marketing plan, we could get left behind. The collection of data is critical. Associations need to gather information on the business climate, competition, organization challenges, member perceptions, member needs/wants, demographics, quality of services, historical financial data, current market positions and their potential members/clients. Association staff need to be educated about marketing. They need to buy into the marketing plan and need to have the competencies and commitment to be able to implement it. Depending on the internal resources and competencies available, you may or may not opt to engage external marketing expertise - there is, however, a definite need to have someone in charge and taking the lead. The responsibilities and timelines have to be detailed and adhered to. What has resulted since this report At SSNS we have decided to take a different approach based on what was learned from our first attempt. As CEO, I have committed to being the marketing champion for SSNS. We are in the process of developing a new strategic plan and many of the directions are focused on the need to market and sell therefore each department is developing marketing strategies for their membership/clients, education and services. Brainstorming meetings have been set up with all staff at the department level to ensure there is buy-in, and to ensure we have access to all of the ideas. The first step for most of the strategies is to conduct the necessary market research and/or to conduct surveys and collect the necessary data and trends. While it is early days, I believe one key difference to our new approach is that it will have much more involvement from the staff and include all of the key components. In smaller organizations, it is often necessary, and recommended in fact, that the CEO take on the lead role to set the tone and the marketing culture. During my research this became very evident. In larger organizations, a marketing professional might take on this role. This person ensures plans are aligned with other organizational plans such as the strategic plan, provides the resources and budget, assigns the reporting relationships, sets the tone that marketing is high priority in all decision-making, and can develop an incentive plan for marketing successes. Lastly, a monitoring and evaluation process is a must. The future

5 I am very optimistic. We have conducted a few department meetings already to brainstorm - staff have been very keen and have some great ideas. I view the previous process as a steppingstone that helped us identify what we need to do differently in the future and part of a learning process for the association. * * * * * Association leaders should be mindful of the eight key elements of a marketing plan cited by Gail Smyth, CAE in Canadian Association Management (published by the Canadian Society of Association Executives) as set out below. Elements of a Marketing Plan An executive summary of the goals and objectives of the plan A marketing analysis as it relates to competition and public opinion on the product and services being offered and a list of assumptions that apply to the plan SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the product or service and how this might affect the organization and its strategies Measurable goals and objectives Strategies related to communicating with specific target markets Steps to drive the strategy into action Budgetary resources to support the objectives of the marketing plan; this will be crucial to the success of the plan Evaluation process to measure and evaluate results of the objectives of the plan and a process for timely corrective action if necessary to meet the objectives

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