Has anyone told you that your marketing strategy is crap? Well from now on, you can feel very proud if anyone does. Forget S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely), and focus on C.R.A.P (Clear, Reasonable, Assessable, Punctual). It’s basically the same, but in this case we’re not pretending that ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ are actually two separate things because crap doesn’t need quite as many letters.

The whole point of C.R.A.P. is to set the criteria for designing the marketing plan. It must be clear – which means that your aims must be defined accurately and communicated plainly to the people involved. It must be reasonable – which means the objectives must not be beyond your capabilities given the limitations imposed by your circumstances. It must be assessable – so that you will know exactly how you define success, and you will therefore know exactly whether you have achieved it. Finally, it must be punctual – so you must state exactly by when you will have achieved your objectives.

There is, however, a further point to remember about your marketing plan. Your plan is there to be used – not just written down and ignored, so when you’re creating it, try to do so with an idea of how you’re actually going to apply it in practice.

Before you set those crap objectives, some background analysis is necessary. There are a number of things you need to ask yourself. Who are your target customers? What are your hotel’s strengths? What is special or unique about your hotel? How are you better than the competition? What is the typical customer feedback about your product? What is your underlying philosophy?

The answer to these questions should begin to clarify your understanding of your own position, and form the basis of your objectives. A good example of a suitable objective would be to achieve a 10% increase in the number of direct bookings through your website over the coming six months. This is certainly clear, probably reasonable, definitely assessable, and has a timeframe attached.

If you look around for advice on the next step for your marketing plan, you’ll often see the 4 P’s mentioned. Product, Place, Price, Promotion. Procrastination is not one of them. However, very few articles will actually go on to explain how these P’s are relevant to your objectives. After all, if your objective has already been carefully constructed, then vague generalities like the 4 P’s don’t really add very much.

Much better is to look at your clear objective and research some possible ways it might be accomplished. If we want our 10% rise in direct bookings, we would consider common strategies to do this. For example, we could increase traffic to our site; we could improve our conversion rate with existing site traffic, or we could try to get repeat guests to switch to using this channel. You’ll observe that we still haven’t got any strategies yet, but we have broken down our objective into very precise sub-objectives (which I’d love to think of as subjectives, but the word’s already taken).

Note that if you ask some of your other hotel departments for input here, they might come up with things you hadn’t thought of. This is good for your chances of success, plus if other people think it’s their idea they’ll work harder to make it happen.

We do now need to come up with a few ideas to achieve our sub-objectives. What you choose will depend on your starting position, your particular attributes, and all the stuff you already thought about in your general background section. Every hotel is different – but you might, for example, add some destination-content to your website to attract more traffic. You could ensure that your ‘Book Now!’ button is more prominently featured. Or you could give every guest a ‘thank you’ card containing a QR code link to your website so they can see your promotions.

You then need to monitor the results and see if we can achieve that 10%. One problem here is that if you introduce three things at once, you might not know which one is responsible for any positive outcomes you observe. And if you only introduce one idea, it would theoretically not be as effective, since many of your ideas have to work in tandem. With our example there may be opportunities to break down the data somewhat. You could measure increases in website traffic in addition to measuring the target increase in bookings. All the data you examine will be helpful in guiding future strategies.

Of course, your plan will be much bigger than a single objective with a handful of sub-objectives, but as long as you keep to the principles of C.R.A.P. then you’ll have the clarity and precision that’s essential to make sure your planning is carefully focused and well-directed. Keep that plan to hand throughout the year and refer back to it often. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments where necessary, and remember that a changing business environment can easily mean you need to develop a response to market disruptions outside your stated plan and timeframe.