So, You Did a Study. Now What?

By Jim Walton, CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.

Over the years, I’ve had many economic developers tell me about a study or plan they had developed that was never executed. Those reports – ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand pages – are often left forgotten on a shelf or in a drawer and never looked at again. Sometimes, one gets dusted off and given to an advisor like me who’s been brought in to do yet another study.

As I flip through these plans, I often find myself wondering why they were never carried out. The problem rarely seems to be with the plan itself but rather with those tasked with its execution. In most cases, there is no accountability to ensure a plan’s action items are pursued. This disconnect can result from a lack of buy-in and coordination among board members, community leaders, and staff. For the economic developer, this often results in criticism and blame for the poor results.

While Brand Acceleration does not produce master community plans, we do work with communities to develop strategic marketing and messaging plans. As we’ve seen our plans executed, we’ve made note of what factors lead to their success.  Based on our extensive experience, we have developed a method that involves three key elements: discovering objectives, developing strategies, and outlining tactics.  These elements are not unique to marketing plans and can be used with any type of plan you’re tasked with implementing.

Discovering Objectives:

Before a study is done or a plan is developed, you need to discover your objectives.  By having a clear definition of the objectives of the community and economic development organization, the board and staff can be better aligned regarding any future action items. Get your community leaders and key stakeholders involved in creating the big-picture vision for your organization and help them recognize how this study or plan will help bring that vision to life.  If your board and community leaders can’t buy in at the highest level, contention inevitably rears its ugly head.  Does this ensure everyone will agree on everything? Absolutely not. But it sure helps.

Example of an objective:

Attract a food processing facility to your business park.

Developing Strategies:

With your organization’s goals fully defined, the next step is to develop strategies that support these goals. For each of your strategies, ask, “Does this serve the larger vision or objectives?”  By directly relating your strategies to your goals, your stakeholders will see their role in the big picture.  This step also helps mentally prepare your organization’s leadership for the action items they’ll be asked to undertake.

Example of a strategy: 

Grow awareness among food audiences about your community’s food processing strengths.

Outlining Tactics:

This is where the rubber hits the road. With goals set and strategies in place, your staff and stakeholders can create a tactical plan. Your tactical plan is essentially a list of action items.  What specific things need to be done to achieve your goals?  The key to a good tactical plan is to establish responsibility – knowing who will do what, when, and at what cost.  Put a reporting system in place to help organization leaders see how their community goals are being addressed.

Example of a tactic:

Develop and implement a marketing campaign targeted toward food processing audiences.

As you can see, without objectives and strategies, boards have no idea about how or why the tactical plan was developed. Additionally, there may be no method to measure results. Taking the time to assign metrics and review results will help gain insights into which strategies worked and are worth additional time and resources. It will also help improve your processes and find more success in the future.


An additional note: Knowing that a well-crafted objectives-based marketing plan is crucial to a community’s success, Brand Acceleration launched a package of tools, supported by numerous allied service providers, under its Community Accelerator Program. This program helps bring community leaders, influencers, investors, and economic developers together, resulting in a cohesive, measurable plan.