22nd May 2016
Marketing strategy and planning are irrevocably intertwined. The most brilliant strategy is worthless without the ability to execute. And without strategy, tactics are just a whole lot of useless noise.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
But I suspect that many of us are actually not very good at developing our marketing plans.
As we come under mounting pressure to ‘prove’ marketing value within our B2B organisations, the marketing planning process has become increasingly and overly complicated. It’s too often regarded as a chore, imposed upon us from above. And we go through the motions because it’s required of us in order to secure our annual budgets. In fact, time and again I see marketers start the planning process with budget – this is how much I’m going to ask for, based on what I had last year – and then back-filling with the tactics that uses up this budget.
The marketing plan shouldn’t be about budget!
Another challenge is the complex and changing nature of the B2B commercial landscape. Many of the marketers I speak with tell me they feel that their marketing planning efforts are wasted, that the market is moving so fast that any plan quickly becomes redundant. They use terms like ‘flexible’ and ‘agile’ when describing what they do, when – without a plan – they actually just end up being reactive to the demands of the business.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
― Benjamin Franklin
The marketing plan is an essential tool of our trade. By its very nature, it’s meant to be fluid, not a by-product to the ‘real work’ of marketing. Most importantly, developing the marketing plan is an opportunity to deeply engage with the business, so that it’s done with the business, not to the business.
And we have got to keep it simple if we’re going to be taken seriously by our businesses. I see way too many marketing plans that are dozens and dozens of pages long, filled with excruciating detail that is more fluff than content, as if the sheer number of pages will testify to the strength of the plan. Our stakeholders just don’t have the time or interest to wade through pages and pages of marketing justification.
For the bulk of my career I’ve used an 8-step planning model to co-create what is, in effect, marketing’s contract with and accountability to the business.
These steps involve answering 8 sets of critical questions with the business:
Why are we doing this and what do we want to achieve? Are we in alignment to the business/marketing strategy?
What is the environment in which we’re doing business?
Who will we engage with? How will we segment and select?
Through which channels and with what content?
What programmes and campaigns over what period of time?
What resources do we need? Beyond the budget, do we have the right marketing people and structure?
How will we measure success? Are our metrics meaningful and clear?
Is this memorable? Does it matter to our customers?
It’s not complicated (though not easy) and when completed can be rendered clearly and concisely on 8 slides (or other preferred format) that everyone can understand and align to.
But more importantly, this model and these questions act as a catalyst for different kinds of conversations with the business so that we’re able to develop and execute marketing plans that actually make a difference.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.