5 Signs Your Marketing Planning Process Needs an Update
“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” That’s the claim of time management guru Alan Lakein. So why don’t more marketers look forward to planning with a sense of anticipation rather than a sense of dread?
“I don’t see it as a creative process,” one marketer told Simple. “It feels like one of those things you have to lock yourself away and force yourself to do.”
The fact is that the planning process that most marketing teams go through has changed little in recent decades. For most sizeable marketing teams, it’s a painful, drawn-out process. Neither the frequency at which plans and budgets are set and reviewed, nor the most commonly used tools and processes has changed materially.
This is despite the emergence of disruptive technologies — voice being just the latest — and fast-moving digital rivals that can disrupt a brand’s comfortable existence in a matter of months.
Couple that with downward pressure on budgets in many sectors, and a vastly increased appetite for agility and responsiveness in the corporate world and the case for change is strengthened.
So what are some of the signs your marketing planning process needs updating?
1. You spend more time looking back than forward
Be honest: how many of us plan next year’s activities based on what we did this year? And then tinker around the edges to fit in with the new year’s strategic objectives?
It’s a logical first step (especially when the budget is based on last year’s figure or a percentage of revenue): ‘What did we do last year, and what results can we expect if we do it again?’
But plan this way too often and your tactics will not only become old and predictable — they’ll be telegraphed to your competition.
> What you can do
- Many FMCGs now favour a zero-based, bottom-up approach to planning and budgeting in which the previous year’s budget allocations are disregarded in favour of detailed information about how much marketing activities have influenced sales and what it actually takes to deliver those outcomes. The advantages to this method are that the best and most ambitious plans often win more budget.“It’s just a better, more strategic way to plan your marketing,” says Melbourne Business School adjunct professor and columnist Mark Ritson. “In reality, what happens is that senior managers bet their resources on the better marketers with the better plans and the better opportunities, and reduce investment in the crappy marketers with crappy plans.”
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2. Prioritisation is a political bunfight
While marketing planning might occur at a set time of year, that doesn’t mean there’s a clear, efficient process to follow, or a uniform way to approach it. That might not matter so much in a small team, but it makes life difficult when there are several business units all competing for budget or space on your internal channels.
So often planning at this level is a drawn-out, push-and-pull process of negotiation. Forming an accurate picture of planned activity across all business units is difficult; figuring out if what is being proposed matches up with your strategic objectives is impossible.
> What you can do
- Implement a marketing operations platform that allows for the request and approval of budgets, and the prioritisation of work. It should also enable the team to visualise activity across all business units, and slice-and-dice that activity according to whichever attributes are important to your company. That way you’ll not only be better able to manage the planning and budget allocation process, but you’ll always be able to know and show what’s planned and how it meets your corporate objectives.
3. Responsiveness is a foreign concept
If you’re in the business of marketing toll roads or airports, your competitive situation probably doesn’t change too often. For everyone else, responsiveness and agility are increasingly business-critical. But how do you make marketing planning more agile when it’s often tied to annual budget cycles and quarterly reviews?
> What you can do
- Consider agile marketing, which offers frameworks for incorporating changing circumstances and priorities into your planning process via a ranked backlog of work or regular sprint cycles in which the most important projects are prioritised above those that are less important but perhaps happened to be planned first.
- Maintain a discretionary reserve in your marketing and media budgets for contingencies and opportunities. Just make sure it’s transparent to the business, and you reassess at regular intervals how this might be allocated to avoid having unspent budget at the end of the financial year.
4. There is no appetite for innovation
Does your organisation have a culture that fosters innovation? Or does a fear of failure mean that new ideas get short shrift and marketing plans are expected simply to repeat trusted formulas? Building a culture of innovation takes work, part of which is allowing risks to be taken and talking openly about any failures and the lessons that may have resulted.
> What you can do
- Make experimentation before implementation a mandatory step in your planning process when you’re looking to innovate.“Experimentation through a test-and-learn process is a very effective way to help reduce the risk of new innovations,” says Dr Amantha Imber, founder of innovation consultancy Inventium and author of ‘The Innovation Formula’. “This involves setting hypotheses as to why you believe an idea will add value to the customer and creating a minimum viable product (MVP) — the most basic version of the idea that will still allow for learnings. You can then set up an experiment to test your hypotheses using the MVP and based on the results, iterate or change course accordingly.”
5. You don’t know what you don’t know
If you’re planning entirely in spreadsheets, chances are your marketing plan is static, and up-to-date only at the beginning of the year. That means new activity may not be incorporated into the plan and budget tracking goes out the window. Maintaining brand consistency is a struggle without access to your creative executions from your planning tool. On top of that, if you don’t know how you’re tracking against your strategic marketing objectives for the year, chances are you’re over-allocating budget to tactical expenditure, or over-spending to reach a particular customer segment, rather than maintaining a strategically balanced marketing activity mix.
> What you can do
- Try using a marketing operations platform with a marketing calendar that facilitates continuous planning by incorporating new activity into your live planning tool, storing the creative executions in a digital asset manager and automatically updating your marketing activity mix data.