Are Marketing Plans Worth the Effort?

by Sat Duggal

The ritual of annual marketing planning can consume weeks, even months, with calculations, debates, and seemingly endless meetings. Yet many marketers have felt the disappointment of seeing their painstakingly developed plans collect dust on a shelf, rarely used. This naturally leads to the question, “Is it worth it?” Other than the fact that we have to plan, is there a compelling logic for developing annual marketing plans?

We think so, but only if marketing planning is done correctly. Here’s how the right kind of planning can deliver profound value:

Taking Stock. Marketing can be quite “transactional” on a day-to-day basis. Campaigns have to be pushed out the door, creative evaluations completed, focus groups organized, customer visits planned, blogs written, and budget reviews suffered. Annual marketing planning presents a terrific occasion for stepping back, taking stock, reviewing the market situation as a whole, and thinking strategically about the business. However, this requires that planning activity be more than a blind adjustment of the previous year’s plan. For optimal benefit, time, attention and rigor must be applied to understanding industry trends, consumer insights, competitive analysis, and channel reviews with the goal of connecting all the dots to get an in-depth understanding of the salient issues facing the business.

Measure and Learn. We know the old adage that those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them, but few of us translate that wisdom into a consistent pattern of behavior. The plan development effort provides a perfect opportunity to do a thorough performance review and understand what worked last year, what didn’t, and why. While metrics and analytical models can play an invaluable role in understanding the performance attribution of various tactical components, learning from how tactics were implemented is also important to create the basis for future planning.

Goal Setting. Marketing activity in the absence of planning is like an un-aimed arrow – it will eventually hit something, but it may not be anywhere close to where you would have liked it. Solid marketing plans incorporate a clear articulation of marketing goals that clarify marketing’s role in helping to meet business priorities. These goals should be more than an articulation of financial goals or an expression of marketing inputs (e.g., impressions, promotion events, awareness, etc.). Instead, the goals should define how marketing efforts will change target customer attitudes and specific behaviors to achieve financial priorities.

Setting and Re-setting Priorities. Market dynamics can change, as can the internal situation. In most businesses, especially sizeable global businesses, marketing leaders struggle to maintain clarity and alignment as key priorities shift over time. Annual planning is a great occasion to set and re-set priorities and clearly communicate strategic focus. It also provides a “heads-up” on planned product launches and other major activities so that tactics and execution can be synchronized. Again, this is only possible if the marketing plan is more than an abject listing and calendar of marketing tactics.

Functional and Regional Alignment. Many marketers, especially in senior positions, see little value in committing their insights, strategies and plans to a formal document. They feel that they already know it all. They may not consider that others in the system – their functional and regional colleagues – do not have the privilege (nor perhaps the inclination) to read their minds. The plan document is an excellent communication device to ensure alignment of intent and action across functions and regions. This alignment is also essential to ensure the integration of marketing activities to provide a consistent and mutually reinforcing set of engagement with target customers.

It was General Eisenhower who said, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” This is certainly true for annual marketing planning. The analysis, goal setting, strategic alignment and system synchronization that are integral to effective planning are usually far more valuable than the plan document itself.

Free Guide: Using Brand Promise to Achieve Marketing Excellence

Keywords: Customer Experience Design, Market and Data Analysis