Step 4: Strategic And Tactical Planning

General information

Plan your strategies and tactics and then create and test the campaign messages. Think about how to evaluate and measure success.

Plan the strategies, tactics and messages for your campaign and then test your messages and ideas with the audience. Make sure an evaluation plan is built into your campaign plan.

Set objectives: what do you want your audience to do?

Now it’s time to set your campaign’s objectives. What do you want your target audience to do?

Primary objectives = behaviors

Some behaviors that could be primary objectives of a CAM campaign:

  • Get high school students to read more
  • Get dropouts to finish high school
  • Get parents to apply for financial aid
  • Get high school graduates to enroll in college full time instead of part time
  • Get teachers to change instructional practices
  • Get school leaders to encourage all seniors to take a math course

Your primary objectives should be very specific behaviors: things you want your audience to do, do at a particular time, or do differently. Focus on actions that are as simple and easy to complete as possible.

Setting clear objectives is essential, but it isn’t always easy. Getting to college involves many choices and steps, and they’re different for different audiences. That’s why it’s so important to keep your target audience in mind as you think about objectives. If you’re trying to reach high school dropouts, your objective could be enrolling in a GED class. If you’re targeting middle grades parents, it might be participating in a college planning seminar.

As you set your primary objectives, it’s easy to get distracted by all the possible actions you want people to take. Resist the urge to use general terms or combine multiple steps. Think about what specific actions would be the most meaningful and measurable for your audiences, and, if necessary, even rethink who your audience should be. Your goal is to be as clear as possible about what your campaign is asking people to do.

Secondary objectives = knowledge and beliefs

As you get to know your target audience, you may find that you have to change their awareness or their attitudes before you can change their behavior. There may be essential things they need to know, or to believe (or stop believing), before they’re willing to act.

For example, high school freshmen may not know that they have to take certain courses to qualify for college. If your primary objective is to get them to take those courses, they first need to understand why it is important. Or, if average students believe that only straight-A students are eligible for financial aid, you may have to change that belief before you can get them to apply for aid.

This does not mean that you should make changing awareness the ultimate focus of your campaign – such changes only count when they lead to action. If you discover that changing a belief or attitude is essential to getting your audience to change their behavior, you can make that a secondary objective. You may also opt to narrow your target audience to those who already hold certain beliefs.

Goals: measurable results

Once you’ve set your objectives, you can start to set specific targets for results. These are your campaign’s goals. Linking each objective to a measurable goal is the only way to know if your campaign is having the effect you intended.

Whether you choose to make them public or only use them internally, goals are essential tools for tracking and improving your campaign’s progress. For example:

Objective: Get students to improve their grades.

  • Goal: Median GPA rises from 2.1 to 2.6 over the next four years.
  • Goal: At least 2,500 more students qualify for National Merit Scholarships during the life of the campaign.

Objective: Get dropouts to finish high school.

  • Goal: In three years, at least 10 percent of dropouts in each target county have completed their GED credential.
  • Goal: GED enrollment increases by 15 percent statewide.

Warning: Resist the temptation to set intermediate goals, such as newspaper coverage of your events, name recognition for your organization, or hits on your website. These may be important later, but at this stage of planning, what matters is the ultimate change you want your target audience to make.

The clearer your objectives are, the easier it is to set goals, and the process of setting goals can help you clarify your objectives.

Refining your objectives and goals

As you develop your campaign, you’ll use both research and experience to refine your objectives and goals. The more focused you stay on changing specific, measurable behaviors, the more likely you are to succeed.

Build a strong marketing plan: how will you get your audience to do what you what them to do?

Now you’re ready for the final stage of planning: the marketing plan. A strong marketing plan connects clear objectives and research findings to specific strategies for changing behavior. Basically, it describes how your campaign will get your audience to do what you want them to do. It should have at least three sections: strategy, tactics and budget.

Strategy: maximizing benefits, minimizing barriers


Here are some of the perceived benefits that can motivate people to change their behavior. How can you make your objective appealing?

  • Fun/Pleasure
  • Attractiveness
  • Savings
  • Excitement
  • Security
  • Popularity/Fitting In
  • Convenience
  • Respect / Recognition
  • Avoidance of Stress
  • Sympathy
  • Independence
  • Free Stuff


Let’s say your objective is to get more high school seniors to apply for financial aid. Here are some of the barriers they might face. How can you help lower barriers like these?

  • Shame about income level
  • Frustration with forms
  • Mistrust of the education system
  • Discomfort talking to parents
  • Not knowing where to get help
  • Too hard/inconvenient
  • It’s uncool
  • Peers are not doing it
  • Procrastination
  • Perceived ineligibility

First, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Use what you’ve learned from your research to plot out the potential benefits and barriers to the action you want them to take, and to the actions they take instead. Benefits and barriers can be material, social or psychological, actual or imagined, rational or irrational. What matters is that they’re real to your audience.

Now consider what your campaign could do to enhance the benefits and reduce the barriers. Which ones are the most important to your audience or different segments of your audience? Which ones are the most closely linked to your desired action? Your answers will help describe your campaign’s overall strategy.

For example, if you know that your audience really cares about popularity, one aspect of your strategy might be to associate going to college with being popular. How you do that is a question of tactics and message.

Tactics: what your campaign will do

Types of tactics

Here are some types of tactics to consider. 

Marketing and media
  • Media coverage
  • Advertising
  • Branding/packaging
  • Viral or guerilla marketing
  • Endorsements/testimonials
  • Freebies and other rewards or incentives
  • Process simplification
  • Policy change
Outreach programs, services and events
  • Peer outreach
  • Community outreach
  • Seminars and group presentations
  • Information and referral (such as 800 numbers)
  • Support services

The next step is to brainstorm about how to make it easier and more attractive for your audience to do what you want them to do. Once you’ve described a wide range of options, start narrowing your focus. Which are most likely to positively influence your audience and fit your organization’s resources and role? These are the tactics (sometimes called “interventions”) that will form the bulk of your marketing plan.

Effective campaigns use multiple tactics to get their messages across. Marketing and media tactics expose larger audiences to relatively simple messages, while outreach tactics provide more personalized contact and support. These two approaches reinforce each other and are equally necessary to move audiences from awareness to action.

For example, young people who hear their favorite local DJ encouraging them to apply for state education grants, and then see a related billboard in the subway, may think it sounds like a good idea. But if a trusted coach, former classmate or community outreach worker then hands them the application form, they’re more likely to turn that idea into action.

Remember that while using multiple tactics is generally a good idea, you don’t have to use them all at once. Experienced CAM practitioners have learned to spread their investments across tactics, and across time, to get the best returns. And they know that tactics don’t have be flashy or expensive to be effective: endorsements by people seen as peers often carry more weight than celebrity endorsements; and radio ads generally reach more clearly defined audiences and cost far less money than tv ads.

As you choose your tactics, keep in mind the range of activities and settings that offer opportunities to reach your audience. While you may be able to find them listening to the radio, watching TV or surfing the Internet, they may also be gathering at schools and community centers, job fairs and health clinics, bus stops and restaurants.

Message: what your audience sees and hears

Your campaign’s message is its public face – it’s what your tactics deliver. Message development involves translating your objective into words and images that appeal to and motivate your target audience. Effective campaigns have one overarching message but different ways of getting it across, from the choice of words and tone to the tactics used to deliver it.

When developing and evaluating messages, ask yourself:

  • How will this message motivate your audience to act?
  • What kind of tone is most likely to appeal to your audience?
  • How will your target audience know that your message is for them?
  • What is the most important piece of information you want to convey?

Strong messages are the result of both research and creativity. A catchy slogan or logo might be memorable, but you’re trying to influence more than people’s memories. And language that inspires one segment of your target audience to take action might fall flat with another. Most importantly, your message must fit your strategy and tactics.

Your marketing plan should include adequate time and resources for message development, including pre-testing with representatives of your target audience.

Even the most seasoned marketing professionals can be surprised by the way certain audiences react. Whether you hire outside communications professionals or use in-house expertise, investing in message development and testing is essential to a successful campaign.

Budget: what you’ve got and what you’d like to have

Your marketing plan should include a proposed budget for your campaign. This budget will inform your choice of tactics and your timeline. Since most of us have limited access to resources, be careful to plan within your means. On the other hand, if there are tactics you’d like to use but can’t afford, you might choose to look for outside funding or new partners to help bridge the gap.

Consider staff time and in-kind support as well as hard costs when developing your budget. Some major components of any college access marketing campaign budget are:

  • Planning and message development
  • Printing and other production
  • Dissemination and fulfillment (e.g., mail houses, Web hosting, 800 numbers)
  • Outside contractors and consultants
  • Meetings and events
  • Media and public relations
  • Research and evaluation

Consider developing a detailed timeline as part of your marketing plan. The level of detail will depend on how much of the necessary research, funding and personnel you have in place to implement your campaign.