It's the season when most companies are writing their strategic marketing plans for next year. We get asked by lots of businesses around this time to review their marketing plans. Over the years, we've seen literally hundreds of strategic marketing plans for business-to-business companies.
It's always interesting to see how different companies approach the strategic marketing planning exercise. Some of the plans we see are one page, and some are 100 pages. Some start with the 4P's of marketing, and others don't touch on them at all. We have our own opinions on what should be included in a strategic marketing plan, but that's not to say that there is necessarily a right or wrong way to structure a plan. Different approaches do make sense for different businesses.
However, we do see some consistent errors in strategic marketing plans. To help you avoid making those mistakes in your company's plan, here are the four most common mistakes we see:
Bar none, unrealistic strategic marketing plans are the biggest error we see. So many companies have limited experience with marketing and don't have a realistic sense of what can be accomplished. If you've never done it before, chances are good and that it will not be as quick or as easy as you think it will be.
My advice here is that if the activity is something new to your company, estimate how long you think it will take and then multiply that by two or three. I'm not kidding.
Depending on your company's size and complexity, you will need that time to get input from colleagues and go through approvals with stakeholders. Not to mention that you have to learn how to do the task! That learning curve will easily double the amount of time it takes you. There are many moving parts to marketing, and to do it well you need different skill sets – copywriters, graphic designers, and digital marketing experts among others. It takes time to coordinate all of those parties.
Another way to approach this is to take your full plan of things you want to do, and cut it in half. Trust me, in six months' time you will appreciate that you have set realistic goals and are attaining them, rather than having that awful feeling of never accomplishing your plan.
The second most common mistake we see is that tasks on the marketing plan are not assigned, ie there is no specific owner of each project or marketing initiative. This is a problem because if there is no one responsible for the task, then there is no one to hold accountable for getting it done. Every marketing task should have an ultimate owner. And that owner should have the ability to hold individual contributors to the task accountable for getting their components done.
Here is an example of what I mean. There is a common problem when it comes to blogging. We often see that numerous individuals within a company are responsible for submitting blogs. And a junior marketing manager is the owner of the blogging task. The problem here is that the junior marketing manager cannot hold the engineers and others within the business accountable for producing the blogs. Which means that the blogs don't get done. I've seen it dozens of times. There needs to be accountability for each task within the plan.
Over the years, marketing has developed a reputation for being difficult to measure. A lot of that stems from pre-digital marketing days. And while it is true that some elements of marketing are indeed difficult to measure, it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be measuring of marketing activities and results.
It can be tempting to get distracted by the 'fun' and 'creative' side of factor. But don't be led astray; the data and analytics of marketing is where you will see all the benefits.
This is not to say that you need to measure each and every small element of marketing. There's nothing worse than having 90 data points and no perspective on what they all add up to.
Effective measurement of marketing means having a handful of key performance indicators to understand if the marketing initiatives are going in the right direction. Lead generation, revenue conversion and website traffic are often good benchmark measurements.
This is a very common problem for B2B companies, although it is not a problem within the strategic marketing plans themselves. This issue arises over the course of the year when implementing the marketing plan.
Because marketing takes time to show results, and sometimes things don't work out as well as you hope, it can be tempting to reduce the marketing budget mid-flight. The problem with this is twofold.
First, it impedes the success of your marketing if you de-budget after starting. Marketing takes consistent effort, and it is often better not to start rather than to stop and start frequently.
Second, it's demoralizing for the marketing team to have projects de-budgeted. Certainly if you've committed a significant amount of time and have not received results, of course that will warrant a change in investment. But to quickly change course on marketing investment is depressing and destabilizing for the marketing team.
Those are the four most common errors we see in B2B strategic marketing plans. Although there are many others. Are there any that you have seen committed in your career? Please share them with us!
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