You’re Wrong About Marketing Planning – 5 Myths Holding You Back
By Anne Boyle | April 1, 2015
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
We put so much effort and money into our last marketing campaign, but I have no idea whether it was a success!
I feel like we’re always reacting, bouncing from one idea to another without any consistency.
I’m not sure what our big-picture marketing goals are. Actually, I’m not even sure what the company’s priorities are.
We keep doing the same things, but we’re not really sure what’s having impact.
If even one of the above statements might have come from you, you need a marketing plan. This probably isn’t a huge surprise, and you probably know that having a plan with clear goals, prioritized objectives, audience personas and detailed strategies and tactics would make your life easier.
So why don’t you have a marketing plan yet? If I had to guess, it’s probably for one or more of the reasons below. Read on for some logic that dispels the myths, helps you overcome your hesitations, and gets you working toward the plan that you and your organization deserve.
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1. It Takes Too Long
I won’t lie to you – good planning takes time. You might not have lots of free time to spend on planning, but one of the reasons you’re so busy putting out fires is because you don’t have a solid plan. It’s a mean catch-22.
If you don’t have the time to step back, think big picture and develop a flexible yet strategic marketing plan, you’re in the same position as every other marketing professional I know (including myself). To make progress, I advise you to break planning into manageable chunks.
You don’t have to stop everything to plan. Take 15 minutes to outline the steps you need to plan – or get a consultant to help you – and be realistic about how much time you need for each step. Then treat each step as a mini-project and block out a little bit of time each day to work on it. Don’t worry too much about the next step – focus on what’s at hand.
Your “normal” work will continue, but I guarantee you’ll start to see things differently as you go through a planning process. Eventually, you might even find that you have more time because your plan has replaced frenzied day-to-day activities with goal-oriented tasks.
2. It’s Too Expensive
I’ll be blunt – cost is a shortsighted excuse. Yes, you need to take your resources into consideration. As a small business owner, I completely understand resource constraints. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, so we prioritize.
If you’re in business and you’re marketing without a marketing plan, you’re likely wasting money. You could be pouring funds into channels that don’t deliver results, encouraging actions that don’t align with your end goals, or even talking to the wrong people.
A solid plan helps you gain clarity: clarity about what you’re trying to accomplish (goals). Clarity about who you’re trying to reach (target market). Clarity about market considerations (competitive and SWOT analysis). Clarity about the how to best approach your marketing (strategies).
When you have clarity, you can stop wasting time and money on piecemeal tactical efforts and instead focus on finding ways to create new customers and turn them into loyal members of your customer community.
3. You Have to Have ALL of the Answers
Yes, planning forces you to arrive at answers, but they don’t all have to be the right answers. Trust your instincts and then use planning to test your assumptions (measurement) and hone your instincts.
Also remember that you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – do it alone. Marketing planning offers an opportunity for conversation and dialogue internally. You may loathe the process but the outcome of good marketing planning forces you and your team to examine some questions that you really should have figured out. Like what you’re trying to do (goals). And how you’ll know you’re successful (objectives). These conversations can be tough, but they’re necessary. Really necessary.
4. Plans Are Too Restrictive
Robert Frost famously said that “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” Marketing without a plan is the same way – plans allow for more focused creativity and keep you from trouncing around without any context or direction. Knowing what your north star is gives your creative team a point of reference.
We’ve all heard the stories of cool viral campaigns that “just came together.” If a campaign, ad or other “cool” approach caught your attention, I can guarantee there was a well-thought-out plan behind it. Sure, with the right creative minds and enough resources behind them, brilliant creative can come together relatively quickly. Apple’s iconic “Think Different” campaign is an example of this. But even these are born from focused purpose. It takes a lot of effort and planning to make something seem effortless.
Since your plan needs to be flexible, you should allow for experimentation. Take Seth Godin’s advice from The Dip and plan when you’ll quit on more experimental campaigns, approaches or tactics, especially when you get into developing your implementation plan. Deciding how far you’re willing to go and how much you’re willing to invest in the experiment – and actually quitting if it doesn’t work out – lessens the pressure around some of the big decisions and provides valuable information and lessons you can incorporate into an iterative plan.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be opportunistic and pursue shorter-term strategies – just make sure you do it strategically. Short-term planning is actually a great way to ease into longer-term marketing planning. Identifying short-term goals, objectives, customers and strategies is much easier than thinking about the same for a longer time horizon. Just be clear about who you’re trying to engage (hint: the answer isn’t “everyone”) and be realistic about what you can do in a shorter period of time.
5. It’s Hard
Okay, this isn’t a myth – this one is 100% true. But nothing worth doing is easy, right?
Take heart and remember that you’re not on your own. Planning should be a joint effort. If you’re lucky enough to have experienced marketing staff, work closely with them. They’ll appreciate getting a glimpse into your brain, and you’ll likely be impressed with the insights they bring.
If you don’t have a marketing team, work with a consultant that’s demonstrated their ability to build actionable plans. Finding the right expert can be tricky, so ask for recommendations and then pay attention to how the consultants position themselves and how they work with clients. A good consultant or agency won’t start by pitching you tactics – they’ll start by asking you smart questions. They should demonstrate a fresh perspective that will help you generate smart plans unencumbered by the day-to-day realities of your business.
It isn’t easy, it isn’t cheap, and it definitely isn’t quick, but marketing planning offers too much value for you to opt-out. If you’re already exhausted by your trials and tribulations on the tactical hamster wheel of unplanned action, take a deep breath, take a step back, and take the initiative to formulate a solid marketing plan.
Do you have any words of encouragement or wisdom for other marketers? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.