SOSTAC® marketing plan model

I have featured PR Smith’s SOSTAC® Planning framework (explained more fully at Paul’s site: www.sostac.org) in all of my books on digital marketing strategy since it provides a simple, process-based structure for creating any form of marketing plan that can be readily communicated to others. Thanks to its simplicity and effectiveness for planning it has been widely adopted in organisations of all sizes as a method of structuring marketing and other plans. It was rated as one of the most popular marketing models in a poll of marketers organised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

The SOSTAC®  framework was originally created by UK-based marketer PR Smith in the 1990s and was applied to digital marketing our book Digital Marketing Excellence from the early 2000s when businesses were first working out how to develop digital marketing strategies.

I created this wheel infographic of SOSTAC® to summarize common activities for creating a multichannel / digital marketing communications plan in 2017, it’s based on a more generic marketing growth wheel developed by Dan Bosomworth and I in 2012.

What is SOSTAC® planning?

SOSTAC® has six steps; it stands for Situation, Objectives and Strategy, Tactics, Action and Control. Here I relate it to the chapters of my Digital Marketing: Strategy and Implementation book (authored with Fiona Ellis-Chadwick).

1. Situation analysis means ‘where are we now?’

Planning activities involved at this stage include performing an digital-specific SWOT analysis, and reviewing the different aspects of the micro-environment (Chapter 2) including customers, competitors and intermediaries. Situation analysis also involves review of the macro-environment (Chapter 3).

2. Objectives means ‘where do we want to be?’

This can include a vision for digital channels, and also specific numerical objectives for the digital channels such as projections of sales volumes and cost savings (see Chapter 9).

3. Strategy means ‘how do we get there?’

Strategy summarises how to achieve the objectives for the different decision points explained in this chapter, including segmentation, targeting, proposition development (including the elements of the marketing mix described in more detail in Chapter 5 and CRM described in Chapter 6).

4.  Tactics define the usage of tactical digital and traditional communications tools?

This includes specific details of the marketing mix (Chapter 5), CRM (Chapter 6), experience (Chapter 7) and digital communications (Chapters 8 and 9).

5.  Actions refers to action plans, change management and project management skills?

We refer to some of the issues of modifications to organisational roles and structures in chapter 4.

6.  Control looks at the use of management information including web analytics to assess whether strategic and tactical objectives are achieved and how improvements can be made to enhance results further.

This is closely related to goal setting as described in this chapter and in Chapter 8, and also the coverage of web analytics and tracking in Chapter 10.

Note that each stage is not discrete; rather there is some overlap during each stage of planning – previous stages may be revisited and refined, as indicated by the reverse arrows

Why use SOSTAC® planning?

I recommend SOSTAC® because it provides a clear structure, that is simple to remember and to explain to others that covers all the stages needed to create AND implement any type of business or marketing plan.

The framework:

  • Is based on what’s happening in a company’s marketplace, i.e. it’s customer-centred and reviews the importance of potential partners, influencers and competitors (in situation).
  • Has clear objectives to achieve a vision for the future – particularly important for digital marketing (in Objectives).
  • Gives clear strategic direction and focus to achieve your objectives (in Strategy).
  • It summarizes the marketing techniques to be used to achieve your Strategy (in Tactics).
  • Has a method of tracking and review to keep the strategy on track when you’re implementing it (in Actions and Control).

Integrating SOSTAC® and RACE

This is a common question that this video explainer answers.

What are the weaknesses of the SOSTAC® framework?

All models and frameworks have strengths and weaknesses, so I teach students to be critical when evaluating and using them.

Based on my experience of discussing and using SOSTAC® for digital marketing planning with students and businesses I have found there are some potential weaknesses of the framework that it’s worth being aware of and guarding against in the planning process:

  • 1. It doesn’t specifically reference digital marketing activities. SOSTAC® was originally developed in the mid-1990s by PR Smith to support marketing communications planning before the widespread use of digital marketing. The top-level structure of SOSTAC® doesn’t reference digital marketing activities, so you will still need to consider which strategic digital marketing initiatives and tactics to prioritise since these are a fundamental aspect of marketing today. For this reason, SOSTAC® is often used with the Smart Insights RACE planning framework which defines 25 always-on marketing activities to prioritise. Since it was originally developed, SOSTAC® has been extended to reference digital marketing situation analysis, strategy and tactics. The SOSTAC® Guide to your Perfect Digital Marketing Plan available on PR Smith’s site or available to members of Smart Insights gives the details.
  • 2. It can lead to long planning documents due to the number of stages/steps. When reviewing strategies I have often seen that SOSTAC® can lead to long-form planning documents which may make it difficult to communicate the main thrust of the strategy. So as with all plans and planning frameworks, it’s essential to summarize the plan to encourage action. See, for example, this Smart Insights one-page SOSTAC® example plan. When discussing the use of SOSTAC® with practitioner students, it’s sometimes mentioned that the Objective Setting stage closely relates to Situation analysis and Control when reviewing performance and setting reviewing goals, so these can potentially be combined. For example Smart Insights recommends a simpler, Opportunity > Strategy > Action framework for planning if a shorter plan is required. Here, Opportunity includes Situation Analysis and Objective Setting and also references Control, since the first step in reviewing the performance and contribution of digital marketing should be to review marketing dashboards and Google Analytics setup specifying marketing and business goals which are often not set up adequately in my experience. When marking case study style assignments I have often seen more than half of the report covering situation analysis with insufficient detail on Strategy, Tactics and Actions. Paul explains in his book how Objectives are measured in the Control section and which ultimately feeds back into the next Situation Analysis and that there is a mini-loop between Control – Situation – Objectives – which are continually refined by feeding onto the other sections.
  • 3. The distinction between strategy and tactics can be difficult to assess. This isn’t restricted to SOSTAC®, but I have often seen students struggle with this.  If you read PR Smith’s more detailed guides he clearly explains the difference between the two, but if someone is using SOSTAC® and is only aware of the top-level headings and questions then this may be puzzling. It’s useful to distinguish between strategic issues and tactics and in his books, Paul provides another acronym – S.T.O.P. and S.I.T. to help review these strategic decisions
    • Segments
    • Target Markets
    • Objectives
    • Positioning

    and

    • Sequence
    • Integration
    • Targeting and segmentation

Note that Tactics includes the marketing mix (4, 7 or 8 Ps) although some may see issues of Pricing, Promotion (Communications Budget priorities) and Place (for example, strategic partnering and co-marketing) as Strategic issues.

Despite these potential problems that I have highlighted, and can be guarded against, I believe SOSTAC® is an excellent planning framework that I commend for all types of marketing and business planning.

About Smart Insights

Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of digital marketing advice site Smart Insights. We’re a publisher and learning platform that helps our 150,000 active members in over 100 countries plan, manage and optimize their digital marketing activities by applying the actionable advice in our planning templates, guides and interactive e-learning tools.

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