Developing A Meaningful Financial Services Marketing Plan

“When we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.” This old adage is particularly applicable to the marketing planning process. Far too many large financial services organizations that depend on inter-departmental cooperation fail to take advantage of a marketing plan’s ability to serve as a roadmap for favorably positioning the organization and its products and services.

Over the years, we have reviewed many marketing plans. Some take a minimalist approach and consist of little more than a “mission statement” and a budget. Others have more weight—but often, unfortunately, not much more substance—and come packaged in impressive, tabbed binders with prolific exhibits. In some cases, Marketing Directors admit that they do not consider the production of these documents an integral part of the marketing process, but rather just an annual exercise that must be endured to please management and meet a deadline. Each year they enthusiastically present a new plan with the objective of making everyone feel good. Then it gets filed away. What a shame.

An effective marketing plan can help a company meet corporate objectives, most importantly by engendering understanding and support among all the stakeholders in corporate success. Therefore, the need to communicate with and get buy-in from diverse constituencies should drive every decision made during the creation of the marketing plan.

Tips for Developing an Effective Marketing Plan

We have, over time, developed a few guidelines that can help facilitate the development of an effective marketing plan.

Tip #1: There Is No Single “Right Way” to Create a Marketing Plan. The “correct” format is the one that best meets a corporation’s specific needs. Companies that slavishly follow a “one-size-fits-all” text-book template often end up with a plan that includes an elaborate table of contents and lots of data, but fails to effectively communicate and persuade.

Tip #2: Coalesce The Readers’ Thinking around Common Goals. Effective marketing plans should provide a realistic discussion of the company’s problems and opportunities, as well as its target markets, competitive environment and the strategic and tactical approaches that will create competitive advantage.

Tip #3: Brevity Can Be The Key to a Successful Plan. A clear and concise articulation of the major issues and the recommended marketing approaches is the best way to engage readers. Samuel Johnson aptly said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, a long one must suffice.” Those committed to producing a convincing marketing plan, however, will not only provide the necessary supporting data, but also take the time to create a compelling and focused narrative.

Tip #4: Two (or More) Plans Can Be Better Than One. Successful consumer products companies with multiple product or service lines avoid confusion by preparing individual marketing plans for each line. Each individual plan articulates the proposed strategy to achieve growth and profitability in its respective product area. These multiple plans, with detailed background information and specific initiatives for each product/service line, provide convincing evidence that marketing is looking to make a buck rather than pass the buck.

Tip #5: Know and Respect Established Boundaries and Limitations. It is neither practical nor constructive to propose initiatives that necessitate changing or reversing unalterable policies, procedures, practices or other “givens” in the organization or in the marketplace. A more pragmatic approach reinforces the plan’s credibility and maintains focus on the clear articulation of the plan.

Making the Marketing Plan Part of the Corporate Culture

A well-planned and well-executed communications program is critical to the successful implementation of a marketing plan. In fact, there is a point at which improving the quality of plan communications may be more effective than improving the quality of the plan.

Too many Marketing Directors make the mistake of presenting their marketing plans as a fait accompli. A successful marketing plan communications program focuses instead on eliciting—and maintaining—the support and buy-in of the entire organization.

Getting Buy-In. A series of well-orchestrated, interactive kickoff meetings is generally an effective way to engage functional groups. These meetings can be used not only to introduce the goals, strategies and tactics outlined in the plan, but also to get input and foster understanding that the plan’s ultimate success will be determined by cooperation across departmental lines. Senior management should participate in all these meetings to affirm the importance of these activities to the future of the corporation.

Maintaining Momentum. It is important to utilize every opportunity available to keep the entire organization focused on the successful implementation of the marketing plan. Marketing plan information and updates can be included in newsletters, bulletins and meetings—not only at regularly scheduled meetings such as Sales Conferences and Board Meetings, but also at orientation, training and departmental review sessions.

The Bottom Line

The marketing plan is an important—but too often underutilized—tool that can play a key role in helping financial services organizations achieve their goals. A rigorous marketing planning process—from research through plan development and implementation—provides an excellent opportunity to

  • gain important insights concerning the marketplace environment and your company’s position in it
  • explore critical issues and their attendant problems and opportunities
  • clearly define marketing objectives
  • develop integrated strategic and tactical solutions that will help your company gain competitive advantages and increase market share
  • establish a singular marketing vision and foster teamwork among different functional areas so that key employees understand how they can help the company achieve important marketing and profitability objectives.