Professional Studies for Screen-Based Media
Foundation Degree South West
Marketing Planning

Stages of marketing planning


Typical to most marketing planning are a series of stages that are usually followed in the sequence outlined below. Of course each organisation will adapt their marketing planning to suit their own unique set of circumstances so the following should be seen as a guideline only.

Figure 3.3 Stages of marketing planning

Mission Statement
All businesses should be able to say concisely what their main reason for existing is, to define their purpose. This should be accessible to all of the company's stakeholders (that is people who have an interest in the organisation), indeed today many companies display a mission statement in their Head Office.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution for example has decided its overall mission can be summed up with this: 'To save lives at sea'. Of course many organisations may not be able to sum up their purpose quite so easily but all should develop a straightforward statement of some sort. They should, according to McDonald (2001) define the business the organisation operates in and refer to the company¨s distinctive abilities (things it can do better than others). Many of the most useful mission statements are motivating to staff and customers.

To get an idea about what mission statements look like you might visit some of the following (note that they are not all labelled as mission statements, sometimes that are called "philosophy", or "aims")

Heather Moore, Marketing and Promotions Officer Marwell Zoo, Hampshire

Jon Weaver, Marketing Manager, Bournemouth Borough Council

Corporate objectives
The marketing department is a part of the company and so must 'fit in' with what the overall company is doing. As such it needs to appreciate what the corporate objectives are and ensure its own actions and decisions support the overall objectives. So what are corporate objectives?

A set of the most important goals the company wishes to attain in a given period of time, often one to five years. So they are concerned with the big important issues and are ways an organisation makes explicit the targets (often financial) it has set for itself. For example, corporate objectives might be about return on investment; gearing; debt and investment finances or company growth. For an example of corporate objectives see Anglesey Council.

Jon Weaver, Marketing Manager, Bournemouth Borough Council

Mission statements and corporate objectives occur at an organisational level (i.e. the Board of Directors will usually determine them). The rest of the marketing planning process occurs within the marketing department. All of the actions the marketing department makes must be justified by referring to the companies' stated mission and corporate objectives.

Marketing Audit
To audit something is in effect to take stock. If for example you ran a retail shop and audited it you would count the different types of products you buy, sell and still have left on the shelves. So a marketing audit is a way of checking all aspects of the business directly related to the marketing department. It allows you to answer the question 'Where are we now?' As Baker (2000) says, it is an unbiased review of the companies marketing operations and the environments in which the company operates. This action is closely linked to section three (The Marketing Environment).

By answering the question "where are we now?" audits clarify what the real problems are. They should also highlight the strong and weak points of the organisation. Going through an audit process also prevents busy people from just doing urgent tasks and forces them to take a step back from the frantic day to day jobs (just occasionally) and question whether what they are doing is right.

SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

It is a way of organising the material and issues gathered in the marketing audit under four separate specific categories. To carry out a marketing audit well the findings need to be carefully considered by determining whether they are a current strength, weakness or potential opportunity, threat.

  • Strengths and Weaknesses relate to things inside the company (internal), things that can be directly controlled by the organisation. For example a leisure centre might consider its large swimming pool to be a strength whilst a zoo might think its lack of exotic animals is a weakness.
  • Opportunities and Threats relate to things outside the company (external), things the company does not control directly. For example a Pub might consider the soccer world cup to be an opportunity as they can show the games on a big screen and so attract customers. See also The Marketing Environment section.


Marketing Objectives and strategy
For marketing departments the objectives and strategies relate to the companies products/services and brands and to the markets you currently/ propose to operate in. By markets we mean the groups of consumers you intend to sell to and attract as your customers. So objectives are about deciding what you are offering (selling) and to whom. Strategies are about how you are going to achieve these things. These are also covered in more detail in The Marketing Environment section.

Example: An Airline
An airline might decide that its marketing objective is: to become the largest UK airline offering low cost flights to Mediterranean holiday destinations within two years.

How might it achieve this stated goal? Perhaps by adopting the following strategy: introducing daily flights to the top 10 most popular Mediterranean resorts ensuring that their lowest seat prices are at least 10% cheaper than any rival airline. Thus appealing directly to cost conscious tourists who prefer to holiday in well-known resort areas.

In this simple example we see how the strategy is determined by the objective, in other words the route you are taking must be determined by the final purpose. Some organisations allow the routes they are taking to determine where they are going, this is generally not a sensible way to run an organisation.

Many airlines currently seem to be adopting a similar marketing objective and strategy to the one outlined. See the following for examples.

Heather Moore, Marketing and Promotions Officer Marwell Zoo, Hampshire

Marketing Mix plan
See also section five dedicated to the Marketing Mix . To ensure the marketing planning process is carried out properly it is important that decisions about the mix are made only after the earlier stages in the process have been carried out. It is easy to fall into the trap of starting with the mix because it is very familiar to marketing staff. The danger in starting your planning at this point is that you will not consider the broader, bigger issues and are likely to lack innovative ideas because you focus too much on what you are already doing.

Setting objectives and choosing a strategy means you are going to develop a plan of action. This will involve using resources. Marketing activities can be very expensive, advertising costs, for example, go up far faster than inflation each year.

The budget is the process of documenting the expected costs of the proposed marketing plan. In an ideal situation a budget would be developed from a blank piece of paper, in other words you decide what needs to be done and then cost each part (this is called a zero-base approach). In reality budgets are often incremental, that is, they are based on what was spent in the previous year. Other ways of setting a budget include; percentage of sales, comparative (i.e. to competitors), all you can afford and task method (see Blythe, 2001 page 219 for more details).

Clearly when a marketing department begins to set objectives, select a strategy and a plan to meet the objectives they must recognise the limitations imposed by budget restrictions.

Stuart Perl, Regional Director of Marketing (EMEA), Cunard Line Seaborne Cruise Line.

Spencer Brace, Sales & Marketing Manager, Bournemouth International Airport.

This is the point that a marketing team is ready to actually start putting their plans into action. This may involve spending money on advertising, launching new products, interacting with potential new customers, opening new retail outlets etc.

Most authors writing about marketing suggest it is important to ensure the people responsible for carrying out the plans are also involved in the earlier stages of the marketing planning process. This way they understand why things are to be done in certain ways and the logic of decisions made. Early involvement in this process might take the form of asking for their suggestions and opinions and holding regular update meetings with them to keep them informed.

The best marketing plans should also have some flexibility built into them (Blythe 2001). If they are to rigid, or to strict they will not allow those carrying them out to respond to unexpected events and changes in the external environment in which the organisation operates.

For example the marketing plan might say we will launch a new product range in October but you might hear in June that a major competitor intends to launch something very similar to your planned new product in September. What do you do? Your plan should certainly allow for the possibility of a change in that plan.

Heather Moore, Marketing and Promotions Officer Marwell Zoo, Hampshire

Marketers should be careful not to believe the evaluation part of the process takes place only at the end of the activities in question. If its left that late to check how things went, you risk missing lots of opportunities to modify and adapt the plan and so increase your chances of success.

Good marketing plans are evaluated by referring to the objectives set earlier. Remember we said these should be SMART and the M stands for measurable.

One way to ensure evaluation is taking place as the plan is being implemented, is to build in opportunities for collecting feedback along the way. This can include both informal meetings/conversations with the people carrying out the plan to more rigorous formal ways of gathering data from sales teams, consumer groups and other agencies (see Marketing Research section).

Good evaluation systems will capture lots of useful material to help with future planning by forming part of another marketing audit (4.4.3. above). This is why marketing planning is often referred to as a planning cycle because the last parts of one process feed into the early parts of the next process.

Spencer Brace, Sales & Marketing Manager, Bournemouth International Airport.

If we could be absolutely sure about what the future holds and what the consequences of our decisions and actions were we would not need to be prepared for the unexpected and unintended consequences. But in reality much of what marketing deals with is full of uncertainty and risk. The best plans include contingencies and so mean the organisation is, for example, at least prepared if there is an emergency.

Contingency planning can get difficult. You have to be able to argue why the plan you adopt is better than any contingency plan you also have, otherwise the question can be asked, "why not go with the contingency plan straight away?". This means a contingency plan should not be an alternative plan radically different to the one you implement. Instead it should consist of small subtle deviations based on the plan you are implementing.

Remember the airline example in section 4.4.5 (Marketing objectives and strategies). A contingency for this airline would perhaps be concerned with changing the exact resort locations offered rather than suggesting that low prices should be abandoned altogether.

Marketing planning: a critique
The marketing planning process is adopted in some form by many organisations suggesting it must have some merit. It is logical and quite straightforward to follow making it manageable. However there are some concerns and issues that people raise with it.

Firstly it can be rather inflexible some organisations stick strictly to each part of the process before moving to the next and so lose the ability to respond to sudden and urgent changes either inside or outside their organisation. They allow the plan itself to determine what they should do rather than seeing the plan as an aid to good decision making. This is usually apparent with regard to the budget section which can quickly become 'set in stone'. It can thus lead to an organisation becoming less not more responsive.

Secondly the marketing plan is based on gathering and interpreting a lot of data/ information. Some of this may be inaccurate and or interpreted incorrectly. As a result an organisation may make faulty decisions. Modern computer database systems reduce some types of inaccuracies but can not determine the right decision for us, this is still a matter of human judgement.

Thirdly some organisations can become too dependent on the planning process and so begin to lose the ability for innovative thinking, creativeness and risk taking - particularly useful attributes in a marketing environment. For more about innovation look at

Finally there is often a large gap between those who prepare the plan and those who implement it. Senior managers tend to distance themselves from implementation and more junior people tend to feel the plan has been imposed on them. This can lead to many marketing plans being grand in the design phase but never really being fully put into operation. As a marketing manager you will have to ask yourself how you will ensure that your big marketing ideas are actually implemented. This will mean gaining the goodwill and co-operation of many others inside and outside the organisation. You will clearly need to be a good team-player!