Your step-by-step guide to knowing what the SOSTAC model is:

The SOSTAC model was designed by “PR Smith” to help digital marketers and content creators plan their businesses in an innovative and less complex way. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the dimensions of the market and the marketing process. So here it is, SOSTAC in one minute:

  • Situation Analysis: Where are we now?
  • Objectives: Where do we want to get to?
  • Strategy: how do we get there?
  • Tactics: the details of strategy.
  • Action: the details of tactics (systems, processes, guidelines, and checklists).
  • Control: measurement and metrics to see if ‘we are getting there’ or not.

Why use the SOSTAC model?

SOSTAC is simple, clear, logical, memorable, and structured. It can be used as a template that ensures consistency when presenting plans from different teams, departments, or regional offices throughout an organization, whether local, national, or global. People like SOSTAC because it clarifies and simplifies the planning process for everyone. It can be learned in four minutes or explored in full detail in four hours.

SOSTAC is flexible. You can adapt SOSTAC however you want. You can move a lot of the situation analysis into the appendices if you prefer. Use your own approach to writing your preferred objectives. The most flexible section is ‘Strategy’, where “PR Smith” lists the key components to consider. You may prefer to use just a handful of these components to develop a great strategy (as long as you have at least considered all the key components that “PR Smith” lists). Some people juggle subsections of tactics with the action section. That’s fine. Use SOSTAC to build your own solid, logical plan.

How did SOSTAC evolve?

Although SOSTAC is simple, it actually took “PR Smith” almost 10 years to develop. When he took his MBA back in the 1980s, he was frustrated reading books with long, meandering marketing plans that were unnecessarily overcomplicated and impossible to remember. So he kept in touch with his classmates and asked them to send him just the contents page (list of contents) from their marketing plans. He analyzed all of them over a two-year period and developed his own new structure, which went through a number of iterations for several years until he came up with SOSTAC. It was like someone had turned the light on! He knew it was a winner and registered it as a trademark.

What are the SOSTAC model's stages?

Situation Analysis:
Much analysis is required. The better the analysis, the easier the decisions will be later. Decisions about strategy and tactics become a lot easier when you know your customers, your competitors, your competencies and resources, as well as market trends. That’s why half your plan should be devoted to situation analysis. It doesn’t have to be at the front of the plan (you can dump a lot of it in the appendices), but the detailed analysis must be carried out if you are to succeed. Hence, almost half of this guide is devoted to situation analysis. The first year you do this analysis, it will be particularly challenging, but as you find better (and often free) resources for highly relevant information, this analysis gets easier, the intelligent information gets stronger, and, consequently, you make better informed decisions. This ultimately boosts your results.

What Should the Situation Analysis Contain?

    • Customers:
      Your customer analysis needs to be so thorough that it ensures you know your customers better than they know themselves. If you could only ask three questions about your customers, what would you ask? Marketers have limited resources. There are a limited number of people (men and women) who can help you find this information. Limited budget (money) to hire people or buy reports. Limited time (minutes) to search, find, collect, and digest the information. So, you have to choose your questions carefully. Try these three big customer questions:
        • Who?
          Who exactly is my ideal customer or visitor (or prospect or decision-maker)? This is often unclear or even undefined when making marketing decisions. What kind of traffic do you want to attract? What is the profile of existing customers? How can you find your ideal customer if you don’t know who they are? It’s like ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ except you don’t know what the needle looks like! So, you’ve got little or no chance of finding it unless you spend an unnecessary large number of resources. This is ‘hit-and-miss’ marketing, or worse still, ‘hit and hope’ marketing. We’ll look at defining segments and using personas to precisely answer this question in more detail later in this section.
        • Why? 
        • Because customers often don’t know and don’t tell you ‘why’ they buy or don’t buy, or why they register or don’t register, or why they follow, like, share, visit, stay, bounce (leave quickly), or return to your site. Many customers themselves don’t even know why they buy. There are often unconscious reasons driving their behavior. Ask people why they drink Coke or why they ‘Like’ Coke’s Facebook page, and they almost always give rational reasons when, in fact, it’s for mostly emotional reasons (I know you probably disagree—now do you get my point?).
        • How?
        • Includes What is their digital journey? or, if you prefer, what is their multichannel path to purchase? What route do they take (via search engine, PPC ads, website, referral site, or any other mix)? How many visits? When do they search for information, when do they decide, and when do they buy? All of these questions generate answers to another question: ‘When is the best time to post content? How do customers change channels, say, between reading offline media and interacting with online media and then visiting a physical location? Equally, ‘What are my competitors’s prices? might be categorized under ‘How’ much do my competitors’ customers pay?
      • Personas:
      • Personas bring target segments to life by describing, in more detail, the different types of customers that exist within a segment. As well as the usual demographics, personas include favorite media, type of car, partner’s job type and interests, web graphics (web experience, usage, location, platform), plus a statement related to the product, such as, ‘I’ve got loads of ideas and enthusiasm; I just don’t know where to start.’ Three or four personas are usually enough. The primary persona should be an important customer for the business plus ‘needy’ from a design point of view (e.g., ‘technically challenged’ or a ‘beginner user’). Personas have been used in advertising for decades. Today’s digital marketers use personas to focus on delivering the right content, website, and overall online experience.
      • Competitors:
        You have to know your competitors. Who are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they compete against you? How do you compete against them? Do you play to your strengths? Can you identify your competitive advantage (particularly from your customers’ point of view)? Part of your competitor analysis explores your organization’s strengths and weaknesses (compared to your competitors). The external analysis, on the other hand, includes opportunities and threats (both direct and indirect) in the external market, such as trends and competitor strategies and tactics. You probably refer to this as a SWOT analysis. So here are some questions you need to be able to answer about your competitors:
            • How good are your competitors’ websites?
            • How good are your competitor’s social media platforms?
            • What social content works for your competitors?
            • What Facebook content works for your competitors?
            • What customers say about your competitors?
            • What keywords work best in your competitors’ ppc ads?
            • What inbound links are your competitors using?
            • Do you have enough share of voice?
            • How big is your competitor’s marketing team and budget?
            • What are people saying about your competitors?
            • Who are your new content marketing competitors?
      • Partners and intermediaries:
      • Your situation analysis should also include an analysis of your partners to see which works best, whether they are intermediaries (e.g., retailers) or other strategic alliances (marketing marriages) giving you new routes to market. ‘Partners’ are the 8th P when talking about the marketing mix. Partners require resources, e.g., clear communications, to manage, measure, and nurture partner relationships; hence, some organizations recognize this and have partner managers and partnership directors.
          • Intermediaries – such as price comparison sites or aggregators.
          • Affiliates – your network of sites that promote your product.
          • Influencers – your network of bloggers, journos, tweeters.
          • Marketing Marriages/Strategic Alliances – whose brands add value to each other’s customers and target audiences overlap – sharing databases or campaign costs.
          • Link partners – partners who help to boost your SEO.
          • Syndication partners – partners who will share content online.
          • Advertising partners – whose sites share ad space in the long-term.
            Is it worth maintaining all of these partners? Or should you reallocate your resources? Your Partnership Analysis will tell you.
      • Competencies:
      • Your performance or results analysis will already indicate some of your strengths and weaknesses. However, it’s good to know these before you start spending your budget and the results start coming in. Here’s a nice quick digital marketing capability analysis that you can take any time you are ready to face the reality of where you are, or your organization is, in terms of digital competencies. It explores your digital marketing competencies in seven aspects using a score from 1 to 5 (5 being optimized):
            • Your Strategic approach.
            • Evaluation and performance improvement process.
            • Management buy-in to investment in digital marketing.
            • Resourcing and structure for digital including integration.
            • Data and infrastructure or platforms.
            • Integrated customer communications across Paid-Owned-Earned media.
            • Integrated customer experiences across desktop and mobile devices.
      • Performance/Results:

    The results of all your efforts are summarized by the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). They never lie. Never look at numbers in isolation (particularly when looking at results). We need to see them in the context of previous periods (to see if there is a trend), and we also need to see them compared to competition to see how we have performed comparatively. For example, £10 million in sales is great news if we only made £5 million last year. But if we made £20 million last year, then it’s terrible news. But what if the market had shrunk from £100 million to £20 million? Our market share would have increased from 10% (£10m/£100m) to 25% (£5m/£20m). The next strategic question is: do we want to stay in a market this size?

    • Market trends:
    • In the Customer Analysis section, I mentioned some trends in the way customers digest information: shorter attention spans, more visual, multi-tasking, mobile, etc. In addition, every market has its own specific trends that affect the market. Marketers must be aware of them, never ignore them, and always adjust their plans accordingly. The PEST factors (political, economic, social, and technological) or PESTED (add environment and demographics) need to be monitored to identify trends that can affect your business either as an opportunity or a threat. Take politics briefly; laws and regulations can affect your business.
  • :Objectives
    Although some argue that the most important goals or objectives are simply to increase:
    • Revenue
    • Margin
    • Customer Satisfaction
    • Brand Value (controlling the brand promise increases the brand value)

I take a slightly different view and start with the ultimate objectives, which are the mission and vision statements, followed by the typical KPIs, which include the above in more detail.

    • Mission:
      This is the reason your organization exists. This must include how you make the world a better place and how you ultimately help customers and stakeholders. It should also demonstrate some CSR (corporate social responsibility) while giving direction for the organization. Google’s mission statement is a good mission statement: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
    • Vision:
      A vision statement is more organization-oriented (as opposed to a mission statement, which is more market-oriented or customer- or community-oriented). A vision states where the organization sees itself in 3, 5, or 10 years’ time. Imagine writing a headline in the New York Times or the FT for your business: ‘XYZ is the number one company in the world (or Asia, China, Beijing, etc.). So the vision sets major goals for how successful your organization will be in the future. This includes the size of turnover, the size of the organization, the size of market share, and the local, national, or global position in the marketplace (number 1, 2, or 3). After this come the typical KPIs. Here is the KPI Pyramid (adopted from Joe Pulizzi, 2013).
    • KPIs:
      Key performance indicators can be broken down in more detail right down to revenue contribution per channel (or tool), cost per visit, inquiry, lead, or like, and sales broken down by channel. Note: Awareness levels, preference levels, and market position are often measured via offline surveys. You can also turn the KPI pyramid upside down (and select fewer KPI criteria) to get the sales funnel approach to objectives. The next approach turns the pyramid upside down and into the ‘sales funnel’, starting with the number of visitors, % engagement, and eventually sales objectives.

      Certain click behavior indicates whether a visitor is a prospect. It could be determined by the amount of time (‘duration’) they spent on specific product pages and perhaps whether they checked the price pages. A prospect can be categorized as a qualified lead if, say, they came back a second time, watched the product demonstration video, read some customer reviews, and checked the pricing page again. So, goals or objectives can be set for the number of visitors, leads, qualified leads, customers, and total sales revenue by using the classic sales funnel approach.

      The Sales Funnel can also be used to set objectives If youThe sales funnel can also be used to set objectives. If you know your conversion rates, it is easy to set objectives in terms of the number of visitors you need to generate a specific number of customers. If, for example, the sales objective is £1.2m (and the average sale is £10,000), then the organization needs 1,600 visitors each month, with 10% of these becoming prospects (160 pcm). If 25% of these prospects become qualified leads (i.e., 40 qualified leads per month p.m.), If a further 25% of these qualified leads, on average, convert to becoming customers, they will get 10 new customers per month, which is 120 new customers per year.

  • Strategy:
    Situation analysis answers: Where are we now? Objectives clarify where we want to go. and Strategy summarizes, ‘How do we get there?’ Strategy requires the ability to see the big picture. Yet strategy is, in fact, the smallest, yet arguably the most difficult, part of a plan. There are nine key strategic components that you need to consider carefully. We’ll explore these in a few minutes.

    Strategy requires coherent thinking that harnesses capabilities (existing or those that can be acquired) to tackle problems and exploit opportunities. It is difficult to find examples of great digital marketing strategies. Perhaps because digital is not isolated as a digital strategy but rather should be part of a broader marketing strategy.

    Blue Ocean Strategy avoids the ‘strategic hell’ of undifferentiated products competing in price wars until someone gets squeezed out. A Blue Ocean Strategy makes competition irrelevant and creates an uncontested market space. Apple iPhones and iPods did this. See more in Appendix 6. Porter’s Strategic Competitive Advantage gives companies three strategic options for competing: (1) product differentiation (which includes positioning), (2) targeting niche target markets (which includes targeting), or (3) competing at low cost (which includes targeting and positioning). The Ansoff matrix looks at target markets and products and generates four strategic options for growth: (1) sell more existing products into existing markets (2) new markets (3) sell new products into existing markets or (4) sell new products into new markets (double axes of risk!) These are all marketing strategies that involve product decisions; in fact, they are all part of the marketing mix. We are going to specifically look at digital marketing strategies and use a relatively easy 9 Key Components checklist to build your digital marketing strategy. But first, let’s start with a tragic marketing story where the wrong marketing strategy killed a great product—the world’s first e-Car.

  • Tactics:

While strategy paints the bigger picture and ensures everything moves in the right direction, tactics are simply the details of strategy. Which tactical tools will be used when, to achieve what, and with how much budget, etc.? 
Tactical decisions are driven by the overarching strategy. A crystal-clear positioning statement makes tactical decisions much easier. As it clearly defines target markets and what you are trying to achieve with them (objectives), There may even be a sequence or series of stages, perhaps some new processes (like marketing automation), and perhaps the challenge of integrating all of your customer data and prioritizing tactical tools, including marketing content. In this tactics section, we get into the details of strategy.

Tactical Tools and the Marketing Mix

Tactics can cover the old marketing mix: product, price, place, promotion, and the ‘service mix, comprising people, processes, and physical evidence. However, digital blurs the lines and morphs the mix (e.g., social media is part of the product experience, promotional reach, physical evidence, and place/distribution). Consider also ‘Location Marketing’. It identifies customers with mobile phones in specific places and then offers special prices and promotions. So here again, the old marketing mix is morphing since a single digital decision impacts several elements of the marketing mix. So therefore, let’s focus on the communications mix (also known as the promotional mix, which is one of the original ‘4Ps’ in the marketing mix) while acknowledging that detailed decisions about prices, product lines, and distribution channels have to also be carefully considered. Having said all that, a clear, overarching digital marketing strategy guides these detailed tactical decisions.

Tactical Tools

    • Advertising
    • Public Relations
    • Sponsorship
    • Sales Force/Agents/Telemarketing
    • Exhibitions, Events, and Conferences
    • Direct Mail
    • Retail Store or Office HQ
    • Word of mouth
    • Sales Promotion
    • Merchandising and Packaging
    • Action:
    • Strategy summarizes and gives direction to, ‘How are you going to get there?’ Tactics are the details of strategy, and action is the details of tactics. The action section of your plan ensures that the tactics are executed to the highest possible standard.

The Action section includes:

    • Systems
    • Processes
    • Guidelines
    • Checklists
    • Internal Marketing

All of this helps to ensure high-quality execution. Internal marketing is largely about internal communications and motivation to make sure everyone understands what the marketing activities are all about and everyone knows who has to do what, when, and how. This can include mini-action plans since each tactic is a mini-project that needs professional execution. You don’t have to include all the mini-projects in the initial plan. You can add systems, processes, guidelines, and checklists, either into the body of the plan or in the appendices at the back, or you can simply issue them later. The action section of your plan is about ensuring that your plan is executed to a high standard.

Control:

Your plan needs to include control systems that let you know whether you are on target to achieve the objectives you set earlier. You don’t want to wait until the end of the year, when it’s too late, to change your tactics. You need early warning systems. The ‘Control’ section of your plan lists which KPIs are measured daily and which are measured monthly or quarterly. This section of your plan also specifies who measures what, when, and how much it costs. This puts you in control.

Your plan should specify what will be measured, by whom, when (and how frequently), and most importantly, what happens if you are way below or above the target? Your plan may include guidelines about which manager should be alerted if something is not working and also if something is working really well. Here are the objectives we looked at in the Objectives section. The actual performance is monitored and fed into various types of reporting systems (or dashboards).

Conclusion:

After this step-by-step guide, you can set up a perfect plan based on the six elements of PR Smith by knowing where you are now. Where do you want to be? How do you get there? How exactly do you get there? Who does what, when, and how? How do you know you will get there?

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