It is the product of untold hours of labour, hailed as the key to a company’s success—and it is frequently left abandoned on a bookshelf, for the most part unread.
It is the marketing plan: too often, wordy, unfocused, crammed with tangential information and longer than many novels.
Kellogg clinical professor of marketing Tim Calkins has encountered his share of these tomes. A former marketing executive, Calkins has waded through hundreds of marketing plans over the past few decades. He recalls one such example; its 259 pages stuffed with minutiae about distributors and suppliers and industry trends, regulatory changes and consumer preferences.
By the time he got to the actual marketing recommendations, Calkins was overwhelmed and exhausted. And it still was not clear to him: How would this plan work?
Illustration by Malay Karmakar / Mint
“Well, you know, that’s a pretty good question,” replied the executive who had given Calkins the plan to review. “Of course, you’re probably the first person who has actually read the entire plan.”
No surprise, Calkins says: “How many business executives have the time to sit down and read a 259-page, single-spaced document?” he asks. “They hardly have time to flip through The Wall Street Journal.”
The Kellogg faculty member believes most marketing plans can be better. The ideal plan, he says, is focused, achievable, compelling and simple—and far more likely to produce results. “A good marketing plan gets you to the plate,” Calkins says. “It gives you a chance to succeed.”
Calkins offers a step-by-step guide to creating such a plan in his new book, Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth (Palgrave MacMillan), due in book stores in September.
The book is already drawing raves from marketing practitioners. “Stunningly simple,” says Randy Gier, chief consumer officer of Dr Pepper Snapple Group. “A great guide for anyone who strives to have clarity and impact from their marketing strategies— from the CEO to the entry-level marketer.”
Calkins examines the typical marketing plan and explains why so many are, as he says, “a waste of time”. The saboteurs include an over-abundance of data, weak strategic thinking and a failure to support recommendations.
He reviews the key elements of a good marketing plan and zeroes in on what makes one a standout. “Is this plan focused on just a few big things?” he asks. “Can we really achieve the goals? Is it presented in a compelling way? Is it simple to read and understand?
“Asking these basic questions,” Calkins writes, “will ensure the plan is on the right track.”
Calkins also goes into depth about the planning process. He offers an eight-step approach to constructing a marketing plan, from creating cross-functional teams to clarifying goals, analysing the market, identifying tactics and then finally selling and executing the plan. He goes on to offer detailed advice not only on writing a stellar marketing plan but on presenting one too.
“Show your confidence,” Calkins urges. “Senior executives need to see confidence in the presenter.” That enthusiasm flows naturally from having a familiarity with the business and a firm grasp of the facts, he notes. It also comes from practising the presentation like a veteran storyteller.
Calkins offers a chapter likely to be bookmarked by under-the-gun marketing teams: A template for creating a marketing plan that sings. It is “not as simple as it looks,” Calkins says, but it “will get you moving in the right direction.”
Ultimately, Calkins hopes his book will be a resource not only for those new to writing marketing plans but for seasoned veterans who review them too. Available in paperback and hardcover, the text is designed to be both a reference and a working tool.
“The goal of this book is to be very practical and effective and to help people write plans that are clear and supported and get great results in the market,” Calkins says.
It may also, as he writes in his introduction, “encourage more than a few people to deposit their current marketing plans in the recycling bin and start over.”
Calkins joined the Kellogg School faculty in 1998 as adjunct assistant professor of marketing. He became clinical associate professor of marketing in 2002 and assumed his current position in 2006. His goal is to help people and organizations use marketing strategy and branding to build strong and profitable businesses.
Calkins teaches marketing strategy, the most popular marketing elective in the Kellogg MBA programme. He also teaches biomedical marketing, one of the few courses available in the world focused solely on marketing issues in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Calkins is co-academic director of the Kellogg School’s branding programme and teaches in many of the school’s executive education programmes.
In addition to teaching at the Kellogg School, he works with major corporations around the world on marketing strategy and branding issues. His recent clients include Eli Lilly, Abbott, Bausch and Lomb and Pepsi. Most of his consulting work is done through Class 5 Consulting, a marketing consulting firm.
Breakthrough Marketing Plans is not Calkins’ first venture into publishing. He is co-editor of Kellogg on Branding (John Wiley and Sons, 2005). He has also written numerous teaching cases, all focused on marketing strategy and branding. His most recent cases include Crestor, MedImmune: FluMist Introduction and Eli Lilly: Xigris.
Rebecca Lindell is a staff writer at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.
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