Identifying The Pain & Laying The Foundation

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How-to Write a Strategic Marketing Plan that Yields ROI • Part 2 of 9

Pain provides context

What do you want out of the plan?  Often when people begin looking into writing a marketing plan, it’s either because they’re starting something new or have an existing brand that isn’t performing as well as they would like.  The following are some common pains we’ve encountered.

Common Pains

  • Not getting enough clients or leads
  • Starting in a new place and need to gain exposure again but don’t know how
  • Want the public to stop viewing them negatively
  • Want public awareness around their cause
  • Your organization has hit a plateau and needs to improve marketing
  • Don’t have any marketing strategies, mostly doing what others are doing
  • Competitors have updated marketing materials (website, social, etc) that makes yours look outdated and irrelevant
  • Need to break into new market segments

What people want

Once you’ve established your pains, then you get a better glimpse into the goals that you want to achieve.  By establishing a goal, then you’ll gather all the relevant information during the analysis portion of your marketing plan.  This information will help you better tackle your pains and create strategic solutions. For example, we have had a few organizations that came to us who had the media contacting them whenever negative publicity happened within their industry.  For Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA), the media would only call them up and ask for their opinion whenever a news story broke around the DTES homelessness or gentrification.  This meant that all the exposure they had was in a negative light.  This was the major pain for the SBIA since it prevented them from drawing people and independent businesses into the neighbourhood. Ultimately, the primary goal of the plan was to achieve positive public perception. When gathering information to write up a marketing plan, that goal stayed at the top of mind. Having a glimpse of the pain and the goals helps to set the tone of the plan. This will help provide direction, especially during the analysis phase. For the SBIA, gathering research around public perception of was exceedingly helpful because it assisted in identifying what we were hoping to shift public perception from.

General Principles

The biggest barriers in writing a marketing plan is starting up with the wrong expectations and/or mentality.  It’s important to know the general principles and rules to ensure you start off on the right foot.


  • Realizing things will be left out – A marketing plan is mostly to prioritize and have your team strategically spend their time working on a common goal. As a result, sometimes things get left out. However, this does not mean that those items will be left out forever, but just put into an ideas bucket that will be looked into the next time we look at the marketing plan again. That timeline depends on how soon you achieve your goals and what time frame your marketing plan outlines. Most are 3-5 years.
  • Prioritizing – As mentioned above, prioritizing your goals will help ensure that you achieve your goals more efficiently and effectively. As most people know, splitting efforts means you have 50% of your resources dedicated to one goal versus another meaning it takes 3x as long vs. focusing the efforts of your team in small sprints. That’s why prioritizing is such an effective strategy.
  • Open mindedness – There are no wrong answers and sometimes we may go into a plan with a plan in mind. However, that’s not a good idea as you may not be clear on the organizations major pain points and it may not be in line with the vision. The great thing about the plan is that it becomes apparent what your marketing needs are but you have to be open to whatever that may be or it becomes biased and therefore not as effective.
  • Whomever should be here is here – Don’t worry if not everyone you need to be in the room designing the plan can’t be there. It’s nice to have everyone but the plan can still move ahead. Often this may be the main reason a plan doesn’t get done and it is unfortunate but it’s better to have a plan in place and tweak it later than it is to have no plan at all. It’s wasted resources.
  • The marketing vision dictates the plan – A good plan will have a strong vision that trickles down into the mission, annual goals, objectives, concepts and measurements.  One that aligns with all that you’re working on and that inspires your team.
  • The marketing vision can take an hour or daysthis part of the process is unpredictable.  A good vision is a hard to find and so with the process, it’s important that we work with what we have and revise over time.  But the vision is something that should encompass a strong direction that even naysayers can at least agree to – they may not love it but it’s at least something they can be on board with.
  • Groan Zone – Whenever you’re planning or brainstorming, naturally people will approach a groan zone. The group starts off hopeful or open and then they reach a point midway where it feels like it’s never going to end and then three-quarters of the way through we see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to recognize that this will happen during this process but it is healthy.
  • Circle Approach – It’s important to embrace the circle approach during this process especially when you have a large group with differing opinions on the direction. The process can get a little messy, so having the group agree to the principles of circle helps get everyone on the same page.


  • Simple is hard enough – one of the biggest mistakes in writing a plan is trying to include too many things – too many adjectives in the vision, too many target demos, too many goals and objectives. As mentioned earlier, we all have limited resources so the more laser focused it is on one simple direction and objective, the more you’re setting your team up for success. Even if your organization had an unlimited budget and manpower, it would still be difficult to achieve any vision, therefore keeping it simple is one of the most important strategies.
  • Create a simple and clear vision, mission, goal  – Reiterating the point above, the more apparent your top level goals are, the more effective your front line team can be. It is natural to feel the need to include everything but in fact you’re making it more difficult to achieve. A strategy here is to include everything and slowly cut down words in the sentence until it doesn’t ring true to the majority anymore.
  • Align everything to the vision, mission, goal – Another common mistake is having a simple vision, mission and goal but then not aligning any of your objectives, concepts or measurements and including programs in here because you’ve had them forever.  Here’s where it’s important to see that things will slowly be left out.
  • Objectives should be SMART Goals based  – When writing objectives, goals or measurements ensure that you state them as SMART Goals so it’s clearly defined when you are successful or when you have failed.  Naturally SMART Goals are more effective because of it’s clarity.
  • Each individuals is held accountable  – When you reach the action plan, then each person on the team must be assigned a responsibility.  This ensures that your entire marketing team is aligned with the greater goal.  And these individuals must report to one individuals that they all respect.
  • Have a Plan B and define what is flexible and what is not  – Establishing the flexible portions is important on the plan. This is, after all, a working document. It is important to determine when this plan will be revisited and how things will be approved to be edited in the plan (i.e., majority vote or one person with final say).


Visioning Activity

Now, you’re ready to dive into the creation of the plan. At our organization, we believe having a clear and concise vision is significantly important – if not critical – and that everything that follows in the plan must align with the vision. For the marketing vision session, the key players should be present for the exercise – anyone who has great influence and impact on the company direction, including frontline managers. This can range from 3 – 10 people.

NOTE: Marketing Vision – WWe do this for organizations that either don’t have a marketing vision or are not a marketing-led organization meaning their current vision doesn’t have relevance to the marketing department. Ensure that the vision you do design does not contradict with a vision that is already in place. For those with a company vision that doesn’t fit this description, you can skip this step.

Here we do an exercise where we identify the four pillars of organizations. It usually consists of what the organization offers the world – why they exist, the people that make it happen, the people they impact and the last one is usually reserved for something unique to their industry – for SBIA it would be the shops. We put these on stickies on a large wall and then place them at four different points in the room. Then we begin putting every relevant idea on the board. Everything – one thought per sticky.

Then we begin putting every relevant idea on the board.  Everything –  one thought per sticky. After everyone’s exhausted their ideas, we get each individual to summarize what they placed on the board and why. Then, you ask the group to stack any identical stickies and put them in the right section. Some may fall in between sections, or right in the middle of all four because it pertains to all them. Then ask the group to initial two from the wall that they feel encompasses the identity of the organization. It is not an easy task The mantra “Simple is hard enough” is true for marketing plan strategies. Have each individual pitch why they chose their two stickies to the rest of the group. Take the ones with the most signatures (minimum 2) and move it to another wall. Now, each individual can add an emotion, feeling or experience word to the mix. Again, have them pitch their choices to the group. Finally, get them to initial one sticky, take the top sticky and separate it from the mix. From there, the host gathers all the feedback from the session and crafts a vision for the group to review and adjust as needed.

Here’s a guide for the host when devising the vision statement:

  1. It does not need to include the chosen word, it just needs to ensure it embodies the concept
  2. It needs to inspire
  3. It should not have multiple adjectives
  4. It should be simple
  5. It shouldn’t feel attainable – shoot for the moon and land amoung the stars
  6. Ensure it’s not too vague that any organization can adopt this

After your team has confirmed a solid vision, it’s time to move forward to missioning.

Marketing Missioning Exercise

The missioning section is intended to establish the functions of the organization, and see what aligns with the vision currently. Here we see the functions of, not only the marketing department but, the organization as a whole. This exercise will help to establish the mission and give the context for the action plan later on.

  1. With the front line managers and executives, ask them to outline all the work they do on individual stickies and place them on the wall.
  2. Overlap similar functions so that there is only one sticky representing each function
  3. Write on a large sticky the agreed upon vision and place at the top of the wall
  4. Have the team organize in order of importance in achieving the goal (sticking closest to the vision) and least effective in achieving the goal (farthest) in one straight line.
  5. Now the host takes the top 5 post-its and takes them back to form a mission statement  to achieve the vision.
  6. Bring it back to the team and adjust and edit as necessary

Here’s some tips for the host:

  1. Ensure it’s short and concise with no more than 2 functions
  2. Hint at the approach to tackle the work (perhaps a value or a quality)
  3. Establish how you’re going to achieve your goal

NOTE: The vision and mission is not outward facing messaging, this is the key message that is established in a communications plan.  However, naturally these will have elements that the key message should include.

Once you’ve established the pain, what they want out of this plan and the vision and mission, you’re ready to start diving into the analysis portion.

See the next chapter.

Check out all our posts in this series!


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Tammy Tsang

Tammy Tsang is the Founder of My Loud Speaker Marketing, which has been providing successful campaigns to major clients for over six years. Her company has attained glowing recommendations from prestigious organizations such as the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, University of British Columbia, BC Cancer Agency, and more. She is also the founder of XYBOOM Intergenerational Organization, which runs an annual conference on topics surrounding intergenerational relationships in the workplace.

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