How to Avoid the Five Pitfalls of the Typical Marketing Plan

Kellogg Professor Tim Calkins just released a new book, "Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth." He wrote an introductory article that sets down the core of the book that resonates with most marketers I know.

Professor Calkins establishes the premise that a lot of effort goes into their development, but most marketing plans contribute little to the growth of the organization.

Five percent of marketing plans are good. Most of them suck wind.

He proposes four pitfalls.

Pitfall 1: Too Much Information

Most marketing plans spend too much time on providing information and too little on the recommendation. Good marketing drowns in the morass of too much data.

The effective plan focuses on action. In fact, I prefer to call the marketing plan an "action plan."

The SWOT analysis, competitive assessment, key market research and maybe a pricing study make the information phase overwhelming. I think these are useful, but they belong in the appendix and should get an executive summary in the primary document.

Pitfall 2: No Clear Strategic direction


Good marketing plans need to lay out the objectives and the strategies for achieving those objectives along with the tactics for each strategic initiative.

But the overwhelming amount of data in most plans bury the strategy portion of the plan. The strategies and tactics remain fuzzy and fail to provide actionable direction.

Many plans do not contain the strategies and jump directly into the tactics.

The author contends that businesses can focus on only three or four things a year. So the marketing plan must identify those key strategic initiatives.

This is where the plan creates value. If we do these things, will we achieve our objectives.

Pitfall 3: Lack of Rationale

The marketing plan's reason for being revolves around two things. First, it lays out the plan to build the business, and secondly, it garners support from both management and peers.

So a good plan contains the rationale necessary to persuade by describing what must be done and why it will work.

My take is that the marketing plan starts out as a proposal and ends up as an action document once it gets budget approval.

Pitfall 4: No Cross-Functional Involvement

As with any corporate wide initiative, no successful marketing plan can be developed by the marketing team alone.

The plan may originate there, but the marketing group should lead the process to get buy off from all affected departments.

By including people throughout the company, everyone whose support will make or break the marketing effort become co-authors and defenders of the final document.

This makes the plan credible. For example, a plan that recommends using an on-pack coupon, when it is impossible to actually apply on-pack coupons, seems simply half-baked.

Pitfall 5: No financials

Direct marketers cannot get away with creating marketing plans without financials. But in the gooey world of brand and positioning advertising, the financials often consist of costs without accompanying revenue commitments.

All too many marketing plans never connect to the P&L.

Why do marketing at all if it does not deliver on the financial goals of the company? Yet marketers everywhere still create detailed spending plans without tying them into financial projections.

Do not lay yourselves up to the idea that marketing is an optional activity by not demonstrating the direct relationship between marketing investments and the company's ultimate financial success.

The bottom line?

Create a marketing plan that provides the rationale for clear marketing initiatives and tactics. And do so by involving people and departments so the whole organization is accountable for he plan's success.

Posted on October 1, 2008 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy.