By Greg Linnemanstons, Market Smart
Retired U.S. Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf once said, “The nice thing about not having a plan is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by doubt and worry…”
While this may sound like a criticism of the ongoing war in Iraq, it was actually a tongue-in-cheek observation by Gen. Schwartzkopf about the important role planning played in the successful outcome of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
For our troops, having a plan meant knowing where and when to deploy people and resources, having clearly identified objectives and supporting strategies, and knowing through measurement of actual performance whether the plan was succeeding or needed adjustment in process.
It seems pretty obvious what Schwartzkopf demonstrated 15 years ago in the desert should apply to most businesses today in the form of marketing plans: know what you are trying to accomplish, develop strategies that recognize your situation and goals, and execute tactics specifically focused on the end in mind.
Unfortunately, that’s far from true. We stopped being surprised when we discover a small-to-medium-sized business without a marketing plan in place.
Many business owners and managers tend to view a marketing plan as something that’s really only necessary for big advertisers. They may believe that they’re not spending enough on marketing to justify the effort and expense to develop a formal plan, or maybe they’re convinced their selling approach is so simple that a plan is really not necessary.
If any of this describes your philosophy, please refer again to the above quote.
Then consider for a moment all the ways a marketing plan can benefit your business. First, a good plan helps you to prioritize opportunities so you can evaluate and make decisions objectively and focus on the best opportunities, no matter how you define “best.” With limited available resources, planning to go after the best opportunities first makes sure you’ll at least have the necessary money to pursue these.
Next, planning helps you avoid missing the best opportunities. So many of the most effective marketing tactics require commitment months before they’re executed. Major events, sponsorships, and cross-promotion with other businesses are prime examples. If you don’t plan these tactics, odds are you won’t be able to pull them off reactively.
Lack of good planning also leads to the inevitable marketing mistakes that happen when most of your marketing decisions are reactionary.
How many times has your company sponsored a community event that has no good connection to your business positioning or prospects, but someone said yes because they couldn’t come up with a reason to say no.
A thoughtful plan provides that reason, by deciding in advance how to commit resources, and by providing some decision filters (Is this focused on our target? Does this reinforce our customer promise?), which make you better at evaluating new opportunities on the fly.
Finally, a good plan gives you something to measure against. Are you generating the leads and prospects you need to hit the growth you’re after? Is awareness growing at the pace necessary to get your phones ringing? By measuring performance against objectives, you’ll know earlier if reinforcements (more resources) or redeployment are appropriate.
Your accountant or chief financial officer also will appreciate a disciplined plan. While it’s almost impossible to project with 100 percent accuracy what your business will spend on marketing in the next year, a plan will help you predict and control your spending so that when opportunities or needs arise, you’re prepared to look instantly at potential trade-offs of planned activity to fund something more critical.
Putting a plan together can be much easier than you think. Help can come from many directions, whether from your own staff, outside marketing professionals, or local nonprofit agencies such as SCORE.
No business needs to suffer the complete surprise of unexpected marketing failure.
Greg Linnemanstons is president and partner of Weidert Group Inc., an Appleton-based marketing strategy and communications firm.