Every now and then I come across a marketing services firm that has got it right. Cognition, a provincial UK agency with an international perspective are one of those that have made the transition I am always talking about, from a traditional advertising agency approach and proven beyond any doubt that a strategy-led consultancy that is able to provide the support today’s businesses need, is the road to success these days.

This week Cognition’s CEO Tim Witcherley in his rightly entitled Resources blog covers a subject that I encounter on a regular basis, and provides a useful guide to the basics of writing a business plan.

I mentioned in a post earlier this year that Ernst & Young had published a really useful guide to the IPO process in which they quoted research that showed that more than 40% of the factors that influence investors are non-financial. In fact, it transpires that after issues of compliance and finance the most important factors that influence investor decisions are marketing strategy and management team. No business should let the fact escape them that these days all organisations are marketing organisations and this means that marketing and business strategy are synonymous. Today’s business plan IS a marketing plan.

The problem with this is that there are still too many objections from executives on both sides of the operational/marketing divide. The nature of key executive positions is changing dramatically as the disciplines within an organisation converge and there are still a great many senior executives with incomplete or the inappropriate skill sets. Marketing people remain too creative and insufficiently business orientated and the finance usually think that marketing is all far too arty-farty. The solution to this lies in your processes. You need to create an environment and a way of working that enables you to bring together the skills you need without the culture of competition getting in the way. This is how successful organisations run and good business/marketing plan should reflect this.

Having just worked with an organisation to create a business plan for an IPO and being an advisor to a few start-ups, I’m acutely aware of what investors are looking for and my Brand Discovery programme and Full Effect Marketing approach have been designed to provide appropriate channels for the information that has to go into such a document. However, the perspective you need to take is logical. A business plan sets the scene, explains your objectives and how you identified them, then explains how you are going to achieve them and introduces the people who will be contributing. A real brand model is a critical part of this because we know without any doubt now that investors buy brands. A recent post on Investor Junkie gave six reasons why investors choose businesses with strong brands. They …

  1. have an established customer base
  2. enjoy a reputation
  3. have demonstrable staying power
  4. have positive cash-flow
  5. show strength beyond finances (It’s that 40% again!)
  6. prove they are marketing savvy.

So consider your integrated business plan from the point of view of the people who will read it and change your thinking and whatever else you need to, to enable you to deliver a plan that leaves investors in no doubt that you are a sound prospect. I’m sure you’ll find that as a by-product of this change your organisation will benefit anyway, so even if you aren’t looking to raise investment, it’s a good process to go through. Try it.

Phil Darby
November 29, 2014

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