Is Marketing Planning Pointless?

matt  lawrence
posted by matt
Is Marketing Planning Pointless?

Are marketers wasting time planning for scenarios that never happen? Would our time be better spent learning to be agile and respond quickly to the ever-changing global marketplace? Our internal marketing manager, Matt recounts his recent experience writing a plan for us at b4b.

I recently found myself questioning the ideals of marketing planning. It's fair to say this thinking was heavily influenced by recent events, with a global pandemic drastically changing the working environment for most, if not all businesses.

As I thought more, I started to question whether formal models are still fit for purpose in a World where situations change so radically and with permanent repercussions.

I've always been an advocate of traditional planning models, preferring the situation, objectives, strategy, tactics, actions and control (SOSTAC) framework. Others are available, see PROSPER and the Modern Marketing Model.

I like the scrutiny and deep-thinking involved in planning for the year ahead and working with a familiar structure. Many have talked of the benefits of planning for even longer timeframes - five, 10, or even 25 years.

To me, 2020 has emphasised the old saying that 'plans are out of date the moment they are written'. Are marketers spending a disproportionate amount of time planning for one scenario, only to end up responding to many unexpected ones? 

I started to wonder whether marketing planning was just an educational hang-up - outdated in the real world? I wanted to explore whether the planning process could be relevant for a marketer in 2020 when the entire global landscape had shifted?

Here's what I did. I hope you find it useful. I don't for one second think it's a definitive answer, but it worked for me. Please share your thoughts and experiences - what works for you?

I find the finished word-processed plan format quite overbearing. I wondered if this could be a barrier both to the reader who is looking for insight within the pages and the author whose job it is to keep them updated.

Are marketers put off updating the plan once finalised, because of the weight of effort that went into creating it?

When asked to put together an internal marketing plan for B4B, I wanted to make sure that what I produced would be based on robust thinking. It had to stand up to scrutiny and yet be designed in a way that would make it easy to understand and edit.

I am not advocating a light version of planning. The depth of analysis and thinking needs to be there and if the reader wants to explore the detail behind any aspect, we need to be able to deliver.

My approach was to design a marketing plan with distinct content blocks for each element. I favoured graphics, matrices and visuals over large blocks of text and bulleted lists instead of paragraphs. I still kept to the broad SOSTAC framework but wasn't constrained by it. 

It felt like I had put a plan together that could be more responsive, adaptable to changes inside our business or in the environment we operate in.

It's early days to be talking about results, certainly in terms of the marketing itself. But the immediate response was positive, and several senior managers followed up with me afterwards and provided further information I needed.

I have committed to review this plan monthly. That way I can track progress, make adjustments and keep the content relevant for conditions at the time.

To answer the earlier question about the value of planning, I believe that having a point of reference for the marketing team is more important than ever. Arguably, this is how you move faster and gain an advantage in the new normal. 

The knowledge of your macro environment, business strengths, audiences and tactics that work is all there in one place. Yes, it might need tweaking or, at worst, re-writing but you are not starting from scratch. You can be more responsive and more effective if you have all the facts to hand.

Have you got any examples that work for you? What is working for you? What has your plan helped you deliver for your business? What ROI metrics are you using to measure success?

Could you use some guidance with your marketing plan? I have eight colleagues in our marketing team that would love to help you.

[Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash]

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