I sense that the traditional marketing planning process has taken something of a back seat in recent years. I don’t have definitive proof just anecdotal comment from fellow marketers and business owners but I suspect there’s a trend developing.
The main reasons for our failure to plan appear to be time, or rather the lack of it. When I’ve pressed on the subject many get defensive and point to a myriad of additional excuses such as;
- Lack of resource to help with the process
- Nothing wrong with the plan we have just need to update it
- Too many day to day distractions
- Other areas of the business are a priority
Plus the rather worrying comment I overheard recently “It won’t make any difference if we plan or not, it’s just a piece of paper and no one ever looks at it”
You might be surprised to hear that I have enormous sympathy for those making these comments. I agree that you need the resources, time and a clear focus as to what the planning process is going to deliver for you.
In addition to the above statements I also get the impression that the increased emphasis on social media activity has created a challenge for many marketers, to “keep up”, innovate and manage the relatively new medium. This creates a dilemma for the marketing manager/director or business owner. As soon as you set out what you intend to do in your carefully prepared plan some new development, platform or nuance emerges that overrides the plan and requires either a re-write or more likely just enough reason to ignore the original plan.
Given the pace of change and pressures the obvious question would be, is the traditional marketing plan redundant, defunct and a “dead doc”?
My answer is yes and no. Yes the traditional method of planning out a year’s worth of activity, by product, service or person by location with expected outcomes, in fine detail with budgeted expenditure and suppliers, has a diminished value. It can still be worth undertaking as a broad guide to budget and activity and shape thinking but not as a firm “set in stone” plan.
If plans are going to have any real influence and ongoing relevance on the direction and success of the business they need to be dynamic and almost entirely built around a full and detailed understanding of the customer. That’s nothing new…I can hear you cry and I would agree. Many marketers already create their own flexible planning processes incorporating new technologies that are adaptive to customer behavioural changes. The opportunity is in migrating businesses to this approach so that the thought of planning remains key and is not considered a waste of time.
How do you do this? Well there are no easy “off the shelf” answers. I know there are hundreds of marketing plan templates, just “Google” the words and you’re spoilt for choice. The problem is that they are generic or too specific and invariably don’t relate to YOUR business.
The best advice is to follow a simple process…and for me it involves breaking down the overall plan into manageable projects. Here’s how……
- Talk to the business owners about the process and intention to set out a new plan
- Avoid making assumptions – obtain current intelligence across the business (examples)
- Financial performance
- Customer data (including satisfaction surveys)
- Website Google analytics
- Social media stats
- Advertising performance
- Competitor analysis
- Market research
- Factor in any political, economic, legal influences
- Skills audit of marketing staff – identify training need
- Review overall company objectives and assess relevance and need to update
- Map out financial targets by product/ service/ office/ individuals
- Create marketing project plans for specific segments of the business and include
- The objectives
- Owners of the project
- Team members and roles
- Suppliers i.e. web designer, SEO agency, printers
- Platforms i.e. press, social media channel, radio station
- Timeline of activity including regular review points
- Results and analysis (this should be factored in as an ongoing aspect of the project)
- Overarching schedule of the projects providing simple helicopter view of the marketing team’s actions to ensure that it is planned, not overly ambitious and achievable within the timescales suggested.
Today’s marketing professional needs to be an accomplished project manager, not necessarily an expert in any one particular field but capable of co-ordinating resources with the help of a straightforward plan.
Creating a method for the business owners to view and engage with the project plans as they develop would also help maintain “buy-in” and might be possible through a form of shared software platform or intranet. This can also be used by the project team to monitor their progress and avoid “lag” by identifying issues such as a specific element that has failed to deliver.
As you might have gathered I’m a huge fan of project planning and management. It’s obviously not a new concept but it lends itself perfectly to a dynamic fast paced environment which most of us find ourselves in. Not so much re-inventing a wheel but adapting it to move faster, have greater grip and flexibility.
If this is a topic you have experience of or would like to contribute toward please feel free to comment or tweet me @davidlaud