After 30 years in marketing and technology not many things surprise me anymore. But I have to confess, I’m still astonished at how little attention is paid to marketing planning.
For such a crucial area, it’s a little neglected. If your marketing plan is off-target, achieving the results you need becomes more of a lottery than a logical outcome of the marketing process.
There are seven besetting sins of marketing planning as I see them:
1. Lack of Insight
Too many marketers are office- or desk-bound. They spend the bulk of their time servicing the needs of other departments such as sales or product rather than meeting and talking with customers and gathering insights – seeing the “whites of their customers’ eyes”.
Insight is what should power the marketing plan by pulling the triggers that will truly motivate your customers to buy whatever you’re selling.
If you have a research budget or an active creative agency partner, you may be able to get some of the insight and intelligence you need that way.
Failing that, make sure the key results from past marketing activity are at least captured and referenced when your next marketing plan is being created, and you’re drawing conclusions based on data to fine-tune the next marketing plan.
But your interpretation of that data should still be informed by your knowledge of and insight into your customers.
2. Lack of Investment
Not enough budget is allocated to improving the planning process and ensuring the marketing plan is on target.
Here’s one example: 29% of marketing spending is now allocated to marketing technology, according to Gartner, but less than 1% of that spending goes on technology to improve planning.
Instead, the bulk of that budget goes on technology to support execution via owned, earned and paid media channels.
It’s surprising, particularly when a lot of marketers face the planning process with reluctance rather than excitement.
Why? Most marketers see themselves essentially as creative people, but most marketing plans are documented in spreadsheets.
And unless you’re one of the new breed of numbers-driven marketers, spreadsheets are often seen as an antidote rather than an encouragement to creativity.
3. Lack of Alignment
How does your organisation communicate key marketing objectives to the marketing team and the broader organisation? Once, probably, as part of the CEO’s annual presentation. There’ll be a slide or two sent around in a follow-up email.
How often is your marketing team likely to reference these? Once or twice during the up-front planning process, most likely.
After that, most of them will struggle to find them again, let alone recall them and incorporate them into their day-to-day marketing work.
What should be happening? These should be clearly referenced in the business case for every marketing activity and included in briefs to agencies so management, your marketing team and their partners are always on the same page and understand exactly how your marketing activity contributes to your broader objectives.
4. Lack of Adaptability
Many organisations and marketing teams reassess their progress quarterly. Business goals shift according to board objectives and how the business plan is progressing.
Marketing plans change – often because early deadlines were missed or activity was pushed back.
Your sales forecast may change, but does the marketing plan get updated?
Spreadsheets are static documents – they’re only as good as the information being fed into them. And because marketing plans are often out-of-date just weeks after being completed, they become less relevant as the year goes on.
Even when they are updated, it’s so easy to make a mistake.
That can mean your marketing team can spend large parts of the year effectively working blind.
In an ideal world, if your marketing activity changes, your marketing plan should update dynamically so it’s always current.
5. Lack of Visibility
How good is your internal filing system? Do you know where all your marketing team plans are kept? Are they consolidated in one overarching document?
Can your CFO look ahead and see what has been committed to in future quarters – especially if plans have changed or market dynamics have shifted?
Too often, what’s in the marketing plan is a complete mystery to everyone outside marketing.
Marketing plans should be live, accurate and accessible in a central location that doesn’t change depending on whether your new CMO prefers Sharepoint or Slack.
6. Lack of Collaboration
Marketing is increasingly being centralised around key functions, or consolidated into hub-and-spoke models that allow autonomy at the product or local market level but protect consistency of customer data, brand governance and the broader customer experience at the global level.
Feasibility planning is always fun. But it can descend to new depths if there’s no single source of marketing truth in terms of a centralised marketing plan.
It’s too easy to end up competing with other divisions of your company for the attention of your audience or finding out there’ll be no call centre support for your next campaign without a platform that facilitates cross-functional planning, co-ordination and collaboration.
7. Lack of Accountability
This is a big one. What were the key results from your core marketing activities? If targets were missed, what went wrong?
This data should all be centrally accessible.
Unfortunately, with the explosion of marketing technology – more than 7000 tools available for marketing use — too often there’s data confusion. Key results are locked in channel-based execution dashboards or disseminated infrequently by your central data team.
When there’s a single source of marketing truth, not only are all your resources focused on achieving the right outcomes, but your key results are captured to give you a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t.
The answer to the marketing industry’s planning issues is live calendar planning in an intelligent marketing resource management system that consolidates teams, tools and data sets around one vision, executed through one ecosystem of technologies that all feed into one platform. It’s not rocket science. It’s Simple.