Begin marketing plans at the STEM

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Over the past few weeks, as 2015 ramps down, many marketers are deep into 2016 planning. I’ve had the chance to see many plans, large and small, from companies that are household names to companies you’ve never heard of. A fair number of those plans have the same flaws, the same lack of structure that could take a decent plan and make it great.

What structure could take a good plan and make it great? I use the acronym STEM (not to be confused with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the educational initiative). STEM in this context means Strategy, Tactics, Execution, and Measurement:


Strategy is the why. Why are you doing this at all? What’s the goal, what are the big picture methods? For example, if your plan is about lead generation, then the why could be because pipeline growth needs to be 3x next year without spending more hard dollars. There’s a goal and a general method.

Tactics are the what. What are you going to do? What are you not going to do? As I’ve said in the past, strategy is the menu and tactics are the cookbook, so what recipes are on or off the table for consideration? Recall that time and resources limit our strategy and inform the selection of tactics. In the lead generation plan example, the what could be organic search boosting and increased email marketing, since you can contain hard dollar costs on those channels more easily than on, say, display ads.

Execution is the how. How are you going to do the things you said you’d do? How will the “what” happen? This is where you determine budget breakdowns, personnel assignments, editorial calendars, orders of operations, and all the things that make a program work. Execution is when you set up objectives, milestones, scrums, etc. In the lead generation plan example, the how would be the editorial calendar of keyword-focused content and cadence of email marketing.

Measurement tells you what happened. A measurement plan ensures that you can showcase your successes and mitigate failures quickly. Measurement means setting your KPIs and diagnostic metrics and the cadence of your measurement cycles. In our lead generation plan example, KPIs would include increased inbound links and clickthrough rates in email, since both of those numbers going to zero means the plan fails immediately.

This structure, this framework, can be used for nearly anything in marketing and business. You can make it the skeleton of your strategic business plan. You can make it the foundation for your marketing plan at a big picture level or on a campaign basis. It’s well suited for sales proposals because it cleanly answers the major questions a prospective customer will have. Feel free to use it in any part of your business!

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