When developing a strategic plan for digital marketing efforts, there are many ways to approach the creation of the plan. We’ll outline three different approaches and note some common pitfalls to avoid.
There are many other ways to approach planning. The models described here can be combined or be used at different points in the process. Sticking to one approach isn’t required, but changing between approaches too frequently may confuse the process and stakeholders.
The conventional model for strategic planning is usually best suited for smaller organizations. Typically, within smaller organizations, individuals may wear many different hats and have diverse responsibilities. They are often pressed for time and do not have enough time set aside for planning. They are aware that some planning is required, but may not see the imminent need for planning until hitting a wall during the execution of a project.
Conventional Strategic Planning starts with identifying the basic purpose of the initiative. Goals are identified that will turn the planned vision into reality. Goals are general statements about what needs to be accomplished. Strategies that will achieve the goals are developed. These strategies can often change as time shows what strategies are working best to accomplish the goals. Action plans are created to implement each strategy. The action plans are where individuals see how their work supports the strategies that complete the goals of the overall strategic plan.
The plan is continuously monitored and updated. Internal and external feedback closes the loop to inform the plan.
A common evolution from conventional strategic planning is to an issue-based approach. Internal and external audits identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Major issues are identified using the audits. Major programs are developed to address the issues. The mission of the project is updated to solve the issues. Action plans are developed to define objectives, identify necessary resources, and determine roles and responsibilities. The issues, goals, and action steps are codified into an overall plan.
Scenario based strategic planning is often used in tandem with other models to ensure each member of the team embraces strategic thinking.
In this model, external forces are evaluated. The regulatory, demographic, or political environment is examined, and then taken through “what if” situations. Rumors and current events can inform the “what if” scenarios to explore possible changes.
For each change in force (for example new regulations like GDPR), best-case, worst-case, and reasonable case scenarios are developed as a response to the change.
Potential strategies for each of the three scenarios (best, worst, reasonable) are developed to respond to each potential development.
As scenarios are presented and potential strategies are developed in response, common themes often develop. These common themes can develop into strategic plans to account for the most likely changes in environment around the organization.
No matter what method you use to approach strategic planning, there are some common pitfalls to look out for to give your plans the best chance of success.
Unwillingness to Adapt
Even the best-made plans can fail when confronted with reality. Smart planners are constantly evaluating the state of the plan and are ready to adjust when necessary. Strategic plans must adapt to the current situational reality. Finalizing a strategic plan for a project and then hoping for the best is a recipe for disaster. The plan needs to live with the project. Revisiting and revising the plan should be done when needed. Rigidly sticking to a plan that is not working will frustrate the stakeholders and drain meaning from the effort being expended. However, there is a fine balance. Changing the plan too much causes confusion and erodes the credibility of the plan itself. Plan changes should be iterative, not dramatic. The supporting strategies and tactics can be changed frequently with success, but changing the goals of the plan should happen infrequently, and ideally not at all.
Failure to Get Buy-in From the Execution Team
Strategic plans fail when the individuals that will execute the plan are not fully bought-in. Strategy cannot be executed alone. Strategy leads often do well gaining support from immediate colleagues and upper management, but not as well ensuring that the team that will execute the plan understands and believes in the objectives and goals of the plan. Soliciting feedback and inviting contributions from the execution team is critical during the development of the plan. Individuals that will be key to the execution of the plan cannot hear about if for the first time when it’s finished. They need to feel like their perspective was incorporated into the plan and that their opinion matters and was considered. Involving the execution teams in the development of the plan will make communication throughout both the planning and execution phases most productive.
Strategic plans are often announced with great fanfare and execution begins with enthusiasm and excitement. Implementation starts strong, but gradually tapers off and often returns to business-as-usual. Keeping regular meetings focused on strategy is an obvious way to try to keep the initial momentum going. Allow time for strategic focus. Implementation of a strategic plan is doomed to fail if individuals executing the plan don’t feel like they have enough time for strategy. Give strategy the import not to be the first area to get cut when things get busy. Consider using a third-party to act as a strategy advisor. An outside perspective can bring fresh eyes to the process and prevent the process from being distracted. This doesn’t need to be an outside consultant or even someone that is paid. It can be part of the responsibility of the board of directors or an available resource from another group within the organization.
A solid strategic plan results in the best possible product or outcome. Taking the time to use the right approach to strategic planning and avoiding common pitfalls can increase the chance of success