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Three Reasons to Make Marketing Planning a Priority in 2014

Julia Brady

Principal, Perceptive Strategies 

This post comes to us from Julia Brady, Principal at Perceptive Strategies. Julia is a marketing and brand strategy consultant who has written dozens of marketing plans for consumer product and services brands.  Julia built her brand foundation with eight years at PepsiCo, followed by a decade working in healthcare and higher education marketing.  Julia partners with Rider Dickerson on various high-level marketing campaigns, bringing her marketing strategy expertise to the table to give shape and definition to the campaigns.


When I started a new position as Vice President, Marketing and Corporate Communications for NorthShore University HealthSystem in mid-2009, one of the first documents I looked for was the Marketing Plan.  You know, that fifty page, single-spaced, Word document so carefully written and sitting in a binder somewhere.

After some inquiry, I found out that marketing planning was an activity discontinued years before, seen as a futile effort in such a fast-changing organization.  I wasn’t convinced; how do we know what success looks like? What clinical areas should we invest in? What role do important investments like advertising, direct mail and public relations play in growing the NorthShore brand and engendering loyalty?

While marketing planning is an annual ritual for consumer brands like Cheerios and Gatorade, its value in building service brands, particularly in high engagement brand sectors like healthcare and higher education, is not always as clear. Having worked in both consumer products and services marketing, I can share three key reasons why marketing planning for your organization is actually very important. 


Reason 1: Marketing Planning Creates Focus

As most marketers in service organizations know, the marketing team is not always at the table when key strategic decisions are being made. This means many priorities are handed to marketing, and the team often operates in reactive-mode.  A marketing planning process forces focus and articulation of priorities, which can help the marketing department work smarter and be more effective.

Prior to instituting annual marketing planning at NorthShore, my department was reacting to frequent requests just weeks prior to a go-live date. By creating a marketing planning process, the marketing team as well as the clinical department was able to work smarter and plan for measurement, so results could be more clearly tied to initiatives. Even better, this process created more flexibility to respond to requests driven by a competitive move or a newly prioritizes services launch. In the end, both the marketing team and the clinical departments came out ahead.    


Reason 2: Creating a Smart Marketing Plan Will Take Less Time Than You Think  

I have developed and advised on dozens of marketing plans in my career, and have learned that the best plans are concise and efficient documents. There are a handful of key ingredients in a marketing plan, and each section of the plan can ultimately be contained in a couple of pages. 

An important rule of thumb is to start with clear, measurable objectives. For many organizations that can be volume growth, as well as a less financially oriented goal such as service experience improvements to drive loyalty. When working on a plan for a Cancer Center within a large health system, one goal may be to drive patients volume, and another may be to enhance patient experience through key service measures.

The other critical section of the marketing plan is the strategies.  This section calls for more focus; important decisions are made to determine which strategic initiatives will help achieve the plan objectives. For a university looking to raise its profile, one strategy may be to engage alumni as ambassadors. The strategy section should comprise a handful of key strategies, ideally three to five total. The tactical initiatives align to each strategy area, creating a logical, focused marketing program. 


Reason 3: Marketing Planning Positions Marketing as a Strategic Partner 

When done right, marketing can act as a convener, bringing together diverse areas of your organization to create a strategic document focused on driving organizational growth.  As I alluded to earlier, for a long time at NorthShore marketing was seen as the “order takers” and requests came from clinical departments for a brochure or a new web page.  Operating this way was not effective and drained the morale of the marketing team.   By instituting a planning process marketing could approach a key internal client and ask them numerous strategic questions about business growth objectives, challenges and opportunities that positioned the marketing team as a smart, engaged partner. 

If marketing planning is not a regular part of operations, your organization may be missing opportunities for driving growth through more focused marketing efforts. Creating a concise, effective marketing plan that can serve as an important platform for engaging customers while unifying the organizational vision. It should not be the arduous task some books make it out to be and can actually save money in the long run as you achieve clarity on your most important and effective marketing investments.


Julia Brady

Principal, Perceptive Strategies