Marketing without a plan is like driving into the desert with a movie camera, a crew, and some vague idea about camels, hoping that you'll wind up making Lawrence of Arabia. The fact is that all marketing success is some combination of time, budget, resources, and skill. Putting them together the right way, for the right results—that's strategic planning.

Colored paving stones


Go on vacation without a plan? Unlikely. Build a house without a plan? Never. But a lot of expensive advertising and marketing happen without a plan.

Use planning to get the most value from your marketing dollars

All of our experience tells us that planning is the most important step you can take to make sure that you get maximum value from your marketing and advertising budgets. Whether you're working on a one-time promotion, or an overall strategy that will guide your company for several years to come, planning:

  • Gets more for every dollar you spend
  • Makes it easier to introduce new products and services
  • Makes it easier to penetrate new markets
  • Builds a library of materials you can use at short notice, to take advantage of sudden opportunities
  • Keeps brands and messaging consistent across time, media, and vendors

The process doesn't have to be daunting. It doesn't have to be time-consuming. It can even start small. It just needs to be done—and we can help you make it happen.


Strategy Case Study: KnowledgePoints

New franchisees who used C3 Advertising marketing plans had grand-opening attendance that averaged five times the baseline for the company. They also had five times as many enrolled students at 60 days after opening.

(Also see: KnowledgePoints Consumer Case Study)

KnowledgePoints is a chain of tutoring centers with franchises nationwide. When we first began working with the company,

  • Their annual marketing handbook got minor updates each year, but the majority of its content—and its underlying assumptions—hadn't been updated in so long that no one could remember who wrote it, or why.
  • In the age of PPC, microsites, and social media, the handbook still had five-year-old recommendations for budgeting, and media recommendations centered around seasonal flyers and posters.
  • One of the key findings of a focus group study was that parents thought that the website was disorganized—and that if a tutoring company was disorganized on their website, they would be disorganized in the tutoring center.
  • The website didn't just look disorganized, it was structurally disorganized. Parts of it were hosted or managed by five different vendors.

So here's what we did, in fifteen months:


Identified the potential for achieving significant goals on short-term and long-term problems through careful planning and execution.

KnowledgePoints Planning Schematics

Interviewed the most successful franchisees, and learned that they all had marketing activity in four specific areas. We then developed guidelines, materials, and a presentation to help all franchisees take advantage of that knowledge, and to help the most successful to perform those activities more effectively and consistently.

Excerpt from presentation showing four ares of success


Developed a PPC program that geotargeted franchisee locations for

  • Where families live
  • Where parents work (and surf)

Created a series of templates, cheat sheets, response tracking forms, and guides for franchisees, with intranet articles, tutorials and presentations on how to do a better job of marketing and how to get more customers.

KnowledgePoints franchisee marketing tools


A web redesign was put on hold, so in the meantime, we

  • Re-organized and restructured the site so that it would make more sense to parent/visitors, and be easier to use and maintain.
  • Migrated the site to a modern hosting plan that had better reporting tools, reducing annual hosting costs by 77%.
  • Set up modern, standards-based templates for franchisee microsites, so the franchisees could easily change their own content.

Worked with KnowledgePoints Corporate to achieve consistent quality control among print and direct mail vendors nationwide, with materials that could be easily customized and printed digitally as needed.

KnowledgePoints  print creative examples
Excerpt from KnowledgePoints franchisee marketing plan

Most important, we developed custom marketing plans for new franchisees.

  • The new franchisees who used our marketing plans had grand-opening attendance that was, on average, five times the norm for the company.
  • They had, on average, five times as many enrolled students at 60 days after launch.
  • Those who continued working with us continued to grow, even as the recession hit and other franchisees saw their enrollments fall by as much as 20%.



Hanson Lab Furniture Line Palette

Strategy Case Study: Hanson Lab Furniture

Sometimes planning, even for smaller initiatives, pays off in ways you might not expect. In the seven years we've been working with Hanson Lab Furniture, we've always met immediate needs while planning for the future:

  • Shooting high-res photos for the web, and negotiating usage with photographers up front, so we'd have them for later print needs
  • Consistently adding new graphics and copy to a library that started on CDs and is now accessible in the cloud
  • Developing plans that include tactics for times of greater or lesser cash flow, to be ready for changing needs and market conditions
  • Setting up a relationship with a high-quality local digital printer to print sales support materials in small quantities on demand, instead of having a large inventory of materials that become outdated before they're used up
Hanson spec sheets

Moving ahead in the long run by taking a step back in the short run

So when Hanson came to us a year ago and said they were realigning their product lines and introducing some new ones, we started by taking a step back. Instead of jumping into the first assignment, we took a look at all the existing brands, and the brand and brand extension needs for the coming year. We thought about the web redesign that's coming in the future. We took a look at the new markets opening up for the company.

And we developed a palette, and a plan, for creating the new materials, logos, and messaging that would be needed immediately, and in the months and years to come.

As a result, it's faster, easier, and more cost-effective to add new product lines. New line cards, spec sheets, and web pages look great and have a consistent look and feel that helps customers identify products easily. In fact, everything's easier: when the client asked us to provide hundreds of creative resources to a partner, we were able to pull everything together and ship out a jump drive in a single afternoon.

Hanson line cards



Strategy FAQs

Can you point to any specific way in which marketing plans save money?

There are many -- from doing a better job of predicting budgets, to leveraging creative and content across multiple media.

One of the most useful ways that marketing plans save money is when they act as a test for opportunities that are not in the plan. When you come across an opportunity—to advertise at a steep discount, to use co-op dollars, to participate in a trade show or other event, to add some bells and whistles to your website, to get a newly rehabbed celebrity spokesperson at a bargain-basement rate—you can see how it fits in with the goals and expectations of your plan, and make a smarter and more cost-effective decision.

Well-written plans are not rigid—far from it—but they do provide guidelines that can help you determine what's right for you. Consult your plan, and in a few minutes you'll have a good idea of whether a particular opportunity suits your goals, your target audience, and your budget.

We already plan all our marketing in our heads. Is it really necessary to do a real strategic plan?

You and I and three other decision-makers can be sitting around a conference table, all believing we are in agreement about the plan we have just discussed. But trust us, we all walk out of that room with completely different ideas about what we're about to do.

The differences may be as small as which task will take priority, or enormous disconnects about mission-critical issues like budgets, talent resources, and outsourcing. Until a plan is written down, the details are fluid, flexible, and subject to the vagaries of individual memories, priorities, and perception.

For example, it's been our experience that a company that proceeds on a web project without a written plan adds a full year to their development process. Frankly, it gives us heart palpitations just to write that down.

We don't want to spend money on plans. Isn't it cheaper to skip that part?

See answer above. So far, in our collective decades of experience, it's not cheaper to skip the plan, any more than it's cheaper to skip the plan when you build a house.

Isn't it possible to over-plan?

Absolutely. Plans are meant to be executed, otherwise, they're just random words on paper. When it comes to planning, there are three kinds of marketers:

  1. Those who don't plan. They're called free spirits. Their campaigns are very expensive, and they try a great many things that don't work.
  2. Those who plan endlessly and carefully, but who never carry it out. They're called cautious. Their businesses are in a holding pattern, they miss a lot of opportunities, and they eventually lose market share.
  3. Those who plan, and carry it out. They're called successful.

Can we achieve great success on a tiny budget?

Sure! If you have time. Lots and lots of time; years, perhaps, and the capital to keep you going while you're at it. Also plenty of human resources, to be working like crazy during all that time.

As we said, all marketing success is a combination of time, budget, resources, and skill. If you're spending very little of some, you'll have to spend a great deal more of the others.