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I've been telling the "cheese house" story a lot lately.

A few years ago a marketer at a big Canadian cheese maker came to see me. He had an idea he wanted to flesh out. The conversation went like this:

Marketer: "I need to make a real splash this summer to draw attention to one of my brands."

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Me: "Tell me about your idea."

Marketer: "I'm thinking about building a house made of cheese in Yonge/Dundas Square (in the centre of downtown Toronto). Do you think it's a good idea?"

Me (in my head): That sounds like terrible idea – won't it smell/melt/go mouldy?

Me (out loud): "Here's the issue: without a framework for this discussion, I can't tell you whether this is a good idea or a bad idea. And I'm not sure good/bad is the right way to think about it. In-context/out-of-context is better: Is the idea in context with the marketing plan?

"What you have described to me is one marketing tactic. We think about marketing as an iterative planning process, where tactics belong to programs or campaigns, which belong to plans, which action strategies. And those strategies are built only after sorting out which specific value propositions and customer experiences are designed for defined customer segments, and segmentation takes place after understanding the market context."

We decided the marketer had some work to do before proceeding with the cheese house promotion.

Putting the cart before the horse is not uncommon in marketing. Ideas are not always the result of a careful, sequential research to analysis to insights to ideation process. They can be inspired at seemingly random times. But they don't have to be evaluated out of context. If you have a solid marketing plan in place, it is far easier to say "yes or no" or "continue or abandon" to marketing ideas from customers or from within the organization.

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The marketing planning process

Rigorous marketing planning seeks to answer a series of very logical, sequential questions. When we think about what marketers do all day, every day, we often think about brainstorming sessions and creativity exercises. That is part of the process – a fun part – but there is far more research, math and strategic planning than creativity when the marketing function is working properly.

Below is a marketing planning process model:





Let's focus on the start of the model, at the top: environment/market.

It is foolhardy or impossible to build a good marketing plan in a vacuum. Understanding the market context will allow you to make relative decisions – decisions relative to competitors, to channel partner preferences, to customer trends, and so on.

Mapping the marketing context is ultimately about determining how favourable the conditions are for your brand and your product or service. The outcome can either govern a go/no-go decision, or inform the size of the opportunity and future product design and marketing decisions.

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The five key questions to address in building out the environment/market portion of the plan are:

• What arena are we playing in?

• How big is our market, and by how much is it growing or shrinking?

• Who are our competitors, how are they doing, and what is the competitive intensity in the market?

• What channels or partners are available to bring our product to market, and to promote our brand and product?

• What economic, sociological, environmental, technological, political and demographic trends are present in the market?

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April 3: An in-depth analysis of the five key questions. Look for it at tgam.ca/smallbusiness

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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