We all know the routine. The new marketing budget arrives at the end of the year. Yay! But wait… What the hell should you do with it? So you go to a consultant and pay him a considerable amount of money. He tells you many things you don’t understand. You feel that your conscience is clean because you’re a responsible marketer who planned your strategy well. Maybe you have said to yourself that this year you’re actually going to use it.
But two months later, you find yourself doing all the things that are not in the plan. And I don’t blame you; real-life businesses are very different from the theoretical marketing plan you wrote a couple of months ago. The business environment is dynamic and agile. Things change all the time and your business should adapt quickly. Investing a lot into writing a 160-page business plan just doesn’t cut it anymore; it’s far too big an investment in such a dynamic environment.
So if we get more clever about the area of business plans, why the hell are we still writing exhausting marketing plans for long periods of time (today marketing plans are usually built for 12 months) when marketing is by far the most dynamic domain in the business environment?
It is about time we stopped wasting our money on plans that nobody will really listen to after two months and that are being used, in the best-case scenario, only as nice pictures on the wall or, in the average case, buried under tons of books and papers.
So many aspects of the marketing world have changed with trends like marketing automation, AI, data-driven decisions, attribution, analytics, digital and more, yet this thing called the marketing plan, which is probably the most basic part of marketing, has been left alone in the dark.
5 Reasons why traditional marketing plans are dead
1. Agile business environment
The traditional way of doing business – planning with hunches for a long time (12 months) – is just not relevant anymore. We understand that it was part of the general business environment a while ago, but many new methodologies, like the lean startup, have been developed. SO WHY HAS MARKETING, one of today’s cores of business, not yet evolved similarly?
There are lots of data points, and marketers have to develop a data-driven mind, measuring and analyzing their actions on an ongoing base in order to win. Marketing channels are changing, evolving and being created constantly in very short spans of time. After all, if I asked you a couple of years ago whether you knew Snapchat, you would probably have answered, “WTF is Snapchat?” Today, in some industries, it’s a must-have channel in the marketer’s arsenal – and this is just one well-known example.
It’s about time we stopped seeing market planning as a static action. In a lean/agile business world, where build-measure-learn is the new way of developing products; marketing should be the same. Start managing your company’s marketing in short sprint cycles: Plan -> execute -> measure. Repeat.
2. Too many channels to choose from
One of the most repeated questions marketers ask after their company’s first few funding rounds, when they want to start planning/executing their marketing activities, is what are the relevant channels that suit their startup needs and goals? That is the question primarily raised by marketers in early stage companies, yet it is a huge pain for most companies in all stages!
Should they focus on social media? If so, which social channels are the right fit? Maybe they should focus on PR? TV commercials? Billboards? Google AdWords? You and I know that we can keep going like this forever. And that’s exactly the problem. There are TONS of channels, your resources are limited and you need to choose. The right answer is obviously that it depends on too many dimensions for a person to analyze by himself (or herself), or even in a group of a few people. Too many data points. Too many considerations. Too damn hard.
3. Each dollar in the mix is critical and the wrong balance could waste money
Let’s say you chose the channels that best fit your company’s properties, goals and constraints. (Hooray!) Now you need to define budgets for each (divide the eggs in the baskets). Doing this without analyzing lots of data and optimizing them is just impossible. You can still win some and lose some, but eventually each dollar counts; finding the right amount to invest in the right channels is a very (very) hard task – especially for some consultant you just met. It’s not that he is a bad person. It’s not even that he is necessarily unprofessional. It’s just that he can’t do it. He can’t analyze all of this, and surely not in advance.
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4. The need to measure and quantify results and projections
Traditional marketing plans don’t connect budgets to results. In today’s business environment, each dollar counts to the company, and saying to your CEO, CFO or board of directors that ‘this’ is your plan without any explanation, without providing expectations as to what’s going to happen to your metrics (which is the only thing your executives really care about) won’t cut it anymore. You may get some budgets, but you know that you won’t get enough. Try to understand them; people don’t want to bet on their crucial budgets. They want to know that they invested wisely and that their investments will pay off.
If you want to get more budgets for your campaigns, you need to start quantifying your results and projections, and you better do it well (you don’t want your next-year budget to be decreased by half), though it’s not so easy to implement this concept. Today, a user doesn’t just get one message through one channel. Instead, he travels through all the channels, offline and online, and he should be getting a whole 360 experience. While it may sound like a good thing, something that improves the company’s marketing efforts (and it is), it brings up the need to measure and attribute each channel’s contribution from these cross-channel efforts. These measurements and attributions are hard as hell.
5. The MarTech revolution
The MarTech revolution, and all those new marketing tools that came with it, while bringing about lots of pros, has also created many headaches for marketers. Recent findings indicate that, on average, an enterprise uses 65 apps in its arsenal. One implication of this is the need to find the right marketing stack for your company as part of your marketing strategy. Each tool has its own data to analyze, which results in lots of new dimensions and data types to handle for the modern marketer.
The even-more-significant change this revolution has brought about is the new line of tools that enables the marketer to better analyze a specific channel’s data and automate and optimize individual channels and activities (local optimizations) to help build and improve your company’s strategy and tactics. There is still a lot of room to improve in this field because you still need to compare all of this new data, which is pretty much like comparing apples to oranges. Another issue is that the new MarTech tools create new possibilities and new ways of approaching marketing, but how can one predict what to do if some of those tools aren’t released yet? How can one plan ahead?
What should you do next?
We understood that you can’t create a marketing plan today that will still be relevant tomorrow. You’re probably asking yourself, “What should I do with this information and how should I handle my marketing plan in this new world?” Should you stop planning and just focus on the execution? Probably not. Planning is the core of a good strategy. Should you create a new marketing plan each week/month? Probably not, either. This will cost far too much and take too much of your time and attention.
The first steps are understanding those changes and noticing them. Additionally, modern marketers should focus on the today, the fresh, the optimization of now. They should also decrease time spans between the plan -> execute -> measure sprints. In the next articles, we’ll go through the steps and actions you should take to succeed in this crucial task.