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SOSTAC® – a Business Planning Tool

While many people seem to use the SOSTAC® acronym as a generic term, it derives from the SOSTAC® Planning System created by writer and speaker PR Smith in the 1990s.

The SOSTAC® model and associated methodology are now used by blue chip corporations around the world and also by many smaller businesses and organisations. In some ways, SOSTAC® has been a victim of its own success – rather like Hoover means vacuum, and Xerox means photocopy – such is the price of inventing a good concept and name to go with it.

As stated in the heading the SOSTAC® acronym stands for:

  • Situation analysis
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Action
  • Control

The success of the SOSTAC® concept owes much to its simplicity. And isn't it about time that business planning was made a bit simpler?

Traditionally the task of putting together a decent business or marketing plan has been enough to strike fear into many an aspiring junior manager or budding entrepreneur:

"You want a marketing plan? Including financials? By the end of next week? Of course, no problem... ( on earth am I supposed to do this?)"

The young planner then cocoons himself or herself away for a week after asking friends and relatives for examples of good planning documents, none of which is any use whatsoever, and trying to guess what exactly the boss (or bank manager) actually needs.

Of course, most of the time the boss has no idea how to write a decent plan either – it's all a big game – and moreover, most of the bosses who do know what they want don't have the sense to coach the terrified underling as to what the plan should look like. So the inevitable reams and reams of pointless calculations and hypotheses ensue, much midnight oil is burned, and a needlessly complex business planning document is produced.

Happily not so with PR Smith's SOSTAC® tool. Common sense prevails, and we can safely get on with producing a proper useful working planning tool, instead of something that will attract a jolly good bollocking for the unwitting planner, and then be tucked away into a deep drawer never to see the light of day again.

Here's what PR Smith says himself about the SOSTAC® planning structure, taken from his book, Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions (Kogan Page 2003).

What is SOSTAC®?

What should be in the perfect marketing plan? There are many different approaches to building a marketing plan. There is no single common approach. But there are essential elements which every marketing plan must have.

The SOSTAC® planning system covers them all. It took me (PR Smith) five years to devise SOSTAC® but you can learn it in five minutes. Use it and you are well on your way to building a well-structured and comprehensive plan. You can also use this approach to check other plans to see if they are comprehensive and cover the key items which every plan needs.

  • S stands for Situation Analysis – where are we now?
  • O stands for Objectives – where do we want to go?
  • stands for Strategy – how we are going to get there.
  • stands for Tactics – the details of strategy.
  • A is for Action or implementation – putting the plan to work.
  • C is for Control – measurement, monitoring, reviewing, updating and modifying.

Add the 3m's

Now add in the 3M's – the three key resources, Men, Money and Minutes.

  • Men – the workforce, and their expertise and abilities to do different jobs.
  • Money – budgets: have we got the money?
  • Minutes – what are the time scales, schedules or deadlines? Is there enough time?

Each of the six elements of SOSTAC® is considered in much greater detail elsewhere in PR Smith's book, Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions.

If you can remember SOSTAC® + 3M's and build them into your marketing plan, you have the platform for writing a good marketing plan. In fact, you have an outline marketing plan.

Here is what some experts feel about SOSTAC®:

  • Professor Philip Kotler: "SOSTAC® is a system for going through the steps and building a marketing plan".
  • Sam Howe, Director of CATV Marketing Southwestern Bell: "SOSTAC® is a great approach for anyone going ahead and building a marketing plan".
  • David Solomon, Marketing Director, TVX: "It appears that we are following the principles of SOSTAC®."
  • John Leftwick, Marketing Director, Microsoft UK: "We use SOSTAC® within our own marketing planning".
  • Peter Liney, Concorde Marketing Manager: "I think SOSTAC® is very good in terms of identifying, if you like, major component parts of what you're doing in marketing."

Finally, one question that commonly arises: Where would you put Target Markets, Marketing Mix and Positioning in SOSTAC®?

The answer is that Target Markets pop up almost everywhere. Target Markets are so important that once you have identified them in the objectives, they pop up all over a marketing plan – in the situation analysis, objectives, strategy, tactics and so on.

A summary of the current marketing mix and positioning will appear in the Situation Analysis under a 'review' section.

The future mix, positioning and target markets are often summarised under Strategy and explained in detail under Tactics.

The above is an excerpt from PR Smith's book, Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions 2nd ed. (2003) Kogan Page, London. Reproduced by kind permission of PR Smith. SOSTAC® is a registered trade mark of PR Smith. More information at

PR Smith biography

PR Smith is a best-selling author and international speaker on marketing. He wrote the eLearning courses for the Chartered Institute of Marketing's (CIM) new Online Certificate in Marketing and the Professional Award in eMarketing, and his eLearning programmes are used by global organisations including IBM and the British Council. 

PR Smith's first book, Marketing Communications (4th edition written with Jonathan Taylor, Kogan Page, 2004) is a long-time best seller, recommended by the CIM alongside Kotler, Peppers et al. He co-wrote the ground-breaking Strategic Marketing Communications (Kogan Page 1999) and Great Answers to Tough Marketing Questions (Kogan Page, 2nd ed. 2003), now translated into four languages, and also co-wrote eMarketing eXcellence (Butterworth Heinemann 2002) with Dave Chaffey. PR Smith is the originator of SOSTAC® Planning System and trains professionals internationally including IBM (USA), BT (UK) and top communications agencies such as HHCL and BBH. 

He is a member of the CIM, The Marketing Institute of Ireland, the Institute of Public Relations and the International Visual Communications Association. He is also the Senior Examiner in eMarketing for the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a member of CIM's Review Panel for its leading-edge articles. More information about the SOSTAC® Planning System is on PR Smith's SOSTAC® webpage.

NB: accrediting the SOSTAC® model the official attribution is PR Smith and it is certainly appropriate to use the ® symbol, as seen on this page.