Copyright 2002, Professor Jerome M. Katrichis
What the Explorer is Meant To Do
What the Explorer Wont Do
Reasons for Marketing Plans
Information vs. Assumptions
Welcome to version 3.1 of the Marketing Plan Explorer. This section provides a general introduction to marketing planning and the Explorer. For instructions on how to use the Marketing Plan Explorer hit your back button and go to the instructions page.
What The Explorer is Meant to Do
The purpose of the Marketing Plan Explorer is to assist the user in developing a comprehensive marketing plan document. The Explorer allows the user to zoom in on particular sections of a marketing plan that they may be having difficulty with and access descriptions and examples.
The explorer provides a "generic" format for marketing plans. That is, not all sections are pertinent to all situations. The explorer is meant to be exhaustive, so all of the sections that you might need for any particular planning situation are available. There may however be more in the Explorer than your plan calls for.
What the Explorer Won't Do
The Marketing Plan Explorer will not write your marketing plan for you (although you can download an outline on the opening page). Examples are for illustrative purposes only to provide the user with illustrations for what worked well for particular situations.
Because the Explorer provides a "generic" outline of a marketing plan, it also won't help you decide which particular portions of the outline are pertinent to your particular situation. These are decisions you will have to make for yourself.
Reasons for Marketing Planning
There is in general today a trend toward formal planning in business and other organizations. Formal written plans are of value to organizations for three main reasons. Formal written plans assist organizations as a communication vehicle, as a device for organizational learning, and they provide an organization with evidence of what they are trying to accomplish and how they are trying to accomplish it.
Probably the most important use of a marketing plan is as a communication vehicle. The plan lays out in a general sense, what the organization is trying to accomplish and how it expects to accomplish it. The plan does not address every little decision that the organization makes or expects to make. If individuals in an organization are aware of the marketing plan however, they can use the direction from the plan in helping them make the "little decisions." These are the kinds of decisions that managers are called on to make every day. Every one of these "little decisions" can be made in ways that are consistent with the plan if everyone in the organization is aware of the plan. In other words, it assures that "everyone is on the same page," or that everyone is trying to accomplish the same things.
An extremely important use for marketing plans comes about when the plan doesn't work the way the organization expected it to work. Very rarely is the cause of this failure a lack of logic, or inconsistency in the logic of the plan. However, the plan lays out a number of assumptions about the environment that the organization is working in. It is usually errors in these assumptions that cause the plan to not work as expected. Because the plan is a formal record of these assumptions, it allows the organization to go back and determine which of these assumptions was faulty. As marketing managers learn more and more about their markets, their assumptions tend to shift and may be very different after a plan is executed than before it is created. The plan provides a record for them and future marketing managers regarding what assumptions the plan is based on. There are two important points about this learning the marketing managers are doing as the plan progresses. First, without the plan, the marketing managers would be learning, but the organization would not. That is, if these managers left the organization, their learning would go with them. The formal plan allows the organization to have a record of that learning. Second, and more importantly, anything that marketing managers can learn about their environments that contributes to the successful execution of their marketing plans creates what economists refer to as "barriers to entry" into their specific business. That is, any competitor is going to have to make the same mistakes and learn the same things before they can catch up. So in a very real sense, this learning provides a basis for competitive advantage.
This organizational learning phenomenon also contributes to a completely dimension of marketing planning. that is, some organizations do not stop at writing formal marketing plans for themselves, but compose plans for other organizations, most notably competitors and customers. Gaining a complete understanding of what these types of organizations are trying to accomplish and how they are trying to accomplish, it can only help insure your own organizations success.
The third reason for a plan is to provide a concrete record of what the organization is trying to do and how it is trying to do it. There is an old saying, "If you don't know where you want to go, any road will get you there." If plans don't work, it can only be that it was either a bad plan, or it was bad luck (assumptions didn't work). If the board of directors wants to know what went wrong, bad luck may help you keep your job. Bad plans will not. Plans are also frequently used today as evidence in litigation that organizations are called on to participate in.
In general, marketing planning is a continuos process. It never ends. A marketing plan is a formal snap shot of that process at a particular point in time. There may be as many different formats for marketing plans as there are organizations. The marketing plan in the Explorer is meant as a fairly exhaustive, but generic plan. That is, it should fit almost any situation, but probably needs to be trimmed back in many situations. The format used in the Explorer is particularly strong on the conceptual side of the marketing plan and pays less attention to the financial aspects of the plan.
Most software designed to assist in marketing planning is not very strong on the conceptual portions of the plan (the part that really can't be automated), but does a very nice job on the financial (easily automated) portions.
Plans tend to be done at various levels of an enterprise and tend to vary in terms of scope and planning horizon. Lower level managers may be involves in planning weeks or months ahead, while upper level executives may be involved in planning five or more years into the future. In general the higher you move in an organization the longer is your planning horizon and broader your scope. Of course broader scope and longer time horizons generally lead to greater uncertainty, so a logical conclusion is that the higher you go in an organization the more you have to deal with uncertainty.
Information vs. Assumptions
One of the greatest challenges marketing managers face is the problem of when to gather more information, and when to just go ahead and make a decision. In general, better information can always be acquired but it has real costs involved in terms of both time and money. For any decision situation however, "perfect" information is not available. So managers have to make decisions under uncertainty which means either explicit or implicit assumption making. The marketing plan document attempts to make as many of these assumptions as possible explicit and hence testable. Your ability to make good decisions under uncertainty, and your ability to make solid assumptions will in large part dictate your career success, not just in marketing but in all of business and most other types of organizations.
The examples built into the marketing plan explorer were created by students at the University of Hartford. They are provided for you here (with slight editing) to serve as illustrations of what can work, and are provided as a courtesy from and with permission from those students.
Example one was created as a marketing plan for Sports Authority and was originally conceived and developed by the following students:
Nicole T. Shorey
Example two was created as a marketing plan for Barnes and Noble Bookstores and was originally conceived and developed by the following students:
The Marketing Plan Explorer is programmed by GARY RAMSAY & SULEYMAN SAYGIN SIMSEK
My personal and professional thanks go to these students for their hard work.