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Is It A Vision Or A Mission? A Goal Or An Objective?

by Alf Nucifora

I've seen and read marketing plans by the score and am often surprised by the confusion and misunderstanding that surrounds planning terminology. Today's primer lays out a precise and understandable explanation of the difference between the terms. Consider it "Strategic Plan Terminology 101." It's taken from an excellent document that crossed my desk, unfortunately without an author's name attached. Kudos to the anonymous semanticist.

Vision: A picture of the "preferred future;" a statement that describes how the future will look if the organization achieves its ultimate aims, e.g. "The widgets of choice for a value-focused world."

Mission: A statement of the overall purpose of an organization. It describes what you do, for whom you do it and the benefit, e.g. "To provide consumers with high-quality, price-competitive widgets to meet their personal, business and recreational needs."

Goals: Broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission, e.g. "Grow profitability. Maximize net income by increasing revenues and controlling costs."

Objectives: Specific, quantifiable, realistic targets that measure the accomplishment of a goal over a specified period of time, e.g. "Increase revenues by x% in 2004. Limit increases in overhead costs to y%. Achieve a z% reduction in management staff through increased automation."

Strategies: Broad activities required to achieve an objective, control a critical success factor, or overcome a barrier, e.g. "Establish a partnership with a foreign manufacturer to revamp the Northeast plant. Implement a program to widely promote our success as a quality producer."

Tactics: Specific steps to be taken, by whom by when, and at what cost, to implement a strategy, e.g. "Initiate discussions with PR firm on quality promotion. Week of 8/16/04." This is where the detailed implementation tactics reside and is the portion of the plan that provides an executional roadmap combined with goalposts for performance measurement.

Why it Matters

Simply stated, you can't plan accurately if you don't understand the territory, its pathways and boundaries. That's ultimately why so many plans are not worth much more than the paper they're written on.

Precise planning terminology forces focus in the planning process, minimizing confusion as to planning direction. All parties are on the same page, so to speak. It also necessitates thinking beyond today's tactical need, a common weakness in many marketing planning protocols. To that point, it seems that the most commonly committed mistake is the confusion between "strategy" and "tactics." As the above definition reveals, they are not inter-changeable. The mistake often arises out of an imbalance between understanding the future and the tactical process of getting there. There is also the issue of insufficient accountability in the form of metrics and follow-up. The planning process demands measurement of performance. Without that measurement, accountability is denied, responsibility is skirted and "learning from the experience" is lost.

All too often in the marketing process, failure arises from a lack of planning and an unwillingness to do the preparatory homework. It's too easy to justify the decision based on gut instinct and "been there, done that" experience. For a small company, resource constrained in its marketing support, that behavior is understandable, sometimes inevitable. But it's a bad habit. For most, the advice is unequivocal. Every major marketing initiative demands a plan; every plan needs a process.

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