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Strategic Marketing: Knowing How to Run the Ball

With a husband and two sons who are pretty big football fans, I’ve watched my share of games over the years. As we were all sitting around the television one Sunday watching the New England Patriots take down the New York Jets, I began to think that good strategic marketing is a lot like a well-played football game.

The best coaches know their competition, and they recognize the core strengths of their own team. Plays are chosen and run based on the strongest abilities of the team and a thorough analysis of that week’s rival. And though the offense, defense and special teams may have different responsibilities, they are all working together to achieve the same goal. Winning requires a solid strategy and teamwork. Implementing a results-generating marketing program commands a very similar recipe.

At Nancy Marshall Communications (NMC), we create a custom “playbook” for our clients called The Marshall Plan. It is essentially an integrated communications plan that serves as a blueprint for marketing success tailored to specific goals, market strengths, target audiences, and resources. The plan is meant to be implemented in one year or up to three years, depending on the needs of the client. The Marshall Plan has proven to be highly successful in elevating awareness and gaining market share for a great variety of organizations and businesses, ranging from legal firms and banks to tourism-related entities and high-end home builders.

The reason The Marshall Plan has generated strong results for so many different industries is that each plan is cultivated from the overall strategic goal of the client. Our process is unique and involves a highly collaborative approach that requires the client to gather key stakeholders together and think through high-level strategic issues as a team. This ensures all marketing endeavors are undertaken from a strategic perspective as opposed to a scattershot tactical approach.  

Imagine if your favorite football team had no playbook, and each player just did what he thought best at the moment to win the game? Well, they wouldn’t be bringing home any championships, that’s for sure. It’s similar to creating a blog or brochure just because everyone else is doing it, or creating a Facebook page without determining what kinds of posts will most appeal to the types of followers you want. Implementing a standard laundry list of tactics with no thought behind their selection is just not going to work.

The smarter, more effective approach is to first determine who you are targeting and what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish. The next step is to decide what tools in the marketing arsenal represent the most effective means of reaching your goal.

As a first step in The Marshall Plan process, we sit down with our clients for a brainstorming pow-wow we call a Discovery Session. We like to invite a broad spectrum of stakeholders to participate, from upper management to front-line staff. Depending on the organization, we’ve also included current customers, donors, board members, and community stakeholders. This meeting, which generally spans three hours, is our opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the organization, external forces that will affect the direction of the marketing plan, and where the client ultimately wants the plan to take them. In order to produce an effective product, it is imperative that we gain a thorough understanding of our client’s industry; growth or development goals; and competitive positioning through this process.

The intelligence we gather from the Discovery Session, as well as additional research gleaned from a variety of methods including surveys, focus groups, and secret shopping, creates the basis of The Marshall Plan. Each plan typically includes:

  • An over-arching goal and supporting objectives
  • Clearly-defined target audiences
  • A path forward conveying overall recommendations that drive the focus of the entire strategy
  • A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
  • A thorough analysis of the competition and/or similar benchmark organizations
  • A series of marketing tactics chosen to best match the organizational goals of the client as well as its target audiences, financial and human resources, as well as other important factors; tactics range from traditional marketing and social media to media relations, fundraising, community outreach, advertising, Web development and more
  • A core story representing what the organization stands for and why people should value and support it; this story represents the heart of the brand and its language is used repeatedly in public relations and marketing materials
  • A message map presenting key points of an organization’s brand as a visual medium, making it easy for all team members to consistently “sing from the same song sheet,” whether they are talking to a potential client, supporter or the media
  • Measurements of success tied to individual tactics
  • A detailed budget and timeline
  • Extensive tools that enable you to carry out the plan, ranging from media contact lists and media/marketing material templates to social media posting guides and targeted networking opportunities

After being vetted by the client, this marketing “playbook” is put into action, either by the organization itself or with assistance from our agency. As in football, the winning combination of marketing “plays” outlined in The Marshall Plan is integrated to achieve maximum impact. A Marshall Plan we created for a Maine nonprofit helped increase its online donations by more than 75 percent over a period of one year. A plan we created for a community bank led to a bank product redesign that generated a significant increase in customer satisfaction. Similarly, a marketing strategy designed for a local special interest group has converted a virtually unknown organization into a publicly-recognized advocate for responsibility with high visibility in the community and news media.

In football, all winning coaches have a great playbook. In marketing, you must have a well-thought-out strategic plan in order to maximize your success. So, the next time you are gathered around the TV with family and friends enjoying America’s favorite sport, think about what the marketing “playbook” for your company or organization should look like and what specific integrated marketing “plays” could serve your team best in reaching its overall goal.

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