3 Secrets to Creating a Better Marketing Plan


Originally published in INC. Magazine on August 27, 2013

Great marketing begins with great marketing plans. Here are three tips to jumpstart your marketing planning to ensure you see results.

You’ve scheduled the retreat. You’ve got a banker’s box chock full of Sharpies and Post-Its. And you’re ready to get to work on another year of marketing planning.

But before you clear the schedules, reformat the corporate template, and ask your creative team to come up with a snappy “2014 Plan to the Summit!” theme and logo, consider this: nine out of ten strategic plans fail to be implemented successfully, according to research done by the Bridges Business Consultancy. Yikes.

It is not exactly surprising though, is it? As marketers (and business people, for that matter), far too often we keep working a plan until it is “done,” at which point it gets printed, put in a binder, filed on a shelf, and promptly forgotten as we return to the daily routine of e-mails, meetings and short-term deliverables. We fail to truly prioritize, communicate, or execute our strategic plans in meaningful ways. And this is unfortunate, because killer strategy is often what separates winners from losers—in marketing and business alike.

So, granted that there is something flawed with how we transform marketing plans to marketing action, let’s take a fresh look at this entire process. Here are three secrets to making better use of your organization’s people and resources as it relates to your marketing planning (and beyond).

1. Create a Planning Plan

Yes, create a plan about your planning process. It might sound crazy, but before you fire up the planning engine, stop. Really think about what you’re hoping to get from this planning exercise. What are the guideposts? Mandatories? Parameters? Where do you really want to go as a result of this plan — as an organization, business unit, or brand? If it’s a year (or three, or five) from now, how will you know that your plan “worked”? And what are you willing to risk or invest to get there?

Further, given that one of the principle virtues of planning is setting aside time to put the important ahead of the urgent, what are the areas in which you’ve been craving strategic exploration? Key trends? Key concerns? Key opportunities? Potential white spaces? By starting with a “planning plan,” you can make sure that you’re building a process that can efficiently and effectively reach your desired outcomes.

2. Create an Execution Plan

Sad, but true, many organizations simply fail to migrate from “big thinking” to “detailed execution planning.” While there is a wealth of research on this topic alone, at the risk of making the complex overly simple, I would submit that there are three keys to effectively shifting from “thinking” to “doing.”

The first is to prioritize. Most organizations have ambition that exceeds their bandwidth. When you complete your marketing plan, take a step back and create clear priorities — perhaps as simple as boiling your work down to the top two or three new initiatives for the year.

Number two is to delegate. Far too often, marketing plans don’t leave the hands of their authors. If you haven’t included key managers in the planning process (which is another discussion altogether), now is the time. Delegate both responsibility and authority. Create clear expectations and timelines. And build an ongoing management protocol to help them succeed.

Finally, magical number three: communicate. If your organization doesn’t know what they’re expected to accomplish, how will it ever happen? In our culture of “what have you done for me lately?”, every marketer has an overly-full plate. And unfortunately, communication is often the first thing to go. Remember, when it comes to execution, creating space for a clearly-articulated vision, rich dialogue, and ongoing feedback loops is critical to success.

3. Create a Culture Plan

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Tom Peters sure got that one right. Culture is what truly drives the day-to-day behaviors of an organization. As such, it’s important to think about how your culture fundamentally thinks about planning. Is it valued? Or do eyes roll when the issue is broached? Does your process start with last year’s spreadsheet (which you call a plan), or is it overly dreamy and never drives to action?

Take some time to reflect on the role of planning in your culture (and your culture overall as it relates to strategy). And based on what you learn, again, put together a thoughtful approach to addressing the critical issues that your organization is facing.

The bottom line is that without vision, inertia prevails. If you think of marketing planning as “painting an inspiring, yet actionable picture for the future” instead of “going through our internal planning process,” what might it look like? How might data and insights inform possibilities and innovations? How could you create an efficient, effective planning process that is stimulating, powerful and, dare I even say, fun?

There’s only one way to find out: Start planning.