Marketing Planning: the value vs the reality

Feb 01, 2023 by Mark Baines Category: Marketing

Planning is so important

We spend a lot of time planning at Marcom: indeed, we now tell our clients that we won’t start on their marketing without first creating a Marketing Plan.

The old saying still rings true: ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’. To which I would also add that ‘A goal without a timeline is just a dream’.

Many people are frightened of Plans. They require ‘thinking’ and ‘decision making’, which they would rather put off until it is absolutely necessary, as well as the setting of strategic priorities. But without a Plan it’s impossible to make marketing comms anything other than short term tactical activities, rather than long term strategic developments. You’re effectively flying blind.

Often the planning process is not formalised and is no more than a budget forecast. So you’re still flying blind, held aloft by ambition, not reality!

The good news

The good news for these people is that your Plan doesn’t need to be complex and lengthy, nor over a long timeframe. In fact it’s important to have some flexibility written into the Marketing Plan, as a complex, lengthy Plan can get in the way. It’s also easier to ensure that a simple Plan is read and implemented, as there is a lot of resistance to reading a complex Plans and as a result they tend to get disregarded.

However to make a Marketing Plan you must have a Strategy, and in a large survey of 6,000 executives in UK SMEs only 33% agreed that their company had a well defined strategy. Yikes! But this does accord with my experience – you’d be amazed at how few CEOs and CMOs I speak to can articulate their marketing strategy in anything but the vaguest terms. In the same survey 40% said they were ‘adrift’ strategically. I despair!

Marketing needs the support of the CEO and management – it has to be more than just a servant to sales – and planning should be more than just a once a year ritual. The Marketing Plan has to be integrated with other departments, eg finance and operations, if it is to succeed. Too often these departments are siloed and not aligned strategically – in which case you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The Marketing Plan can be strategic – 3-5 years – or tactical – 6-12months, but either way it has to be flexible enough to accommodate the vicissitudes of the marketplace. Our preferred methodology is SOSTAC (Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Activities, Control) but there are other models; what’s important is that however you do it, it is rigorous and covers all angles of a company’s activities and ambitions.

It’s also worth adding the brand vision, values and purpose, as you’ll be surprised how much these change over time and it’s a good idea to have a written record of what they were, when. These days you’ll also need to roll them out from time to time, for recruitment, ESG, shareholders etc.

Project Managers should be appointed to deliver the Marketing Plan. If you leave it to existing managers it’s going to fail because how can they possibly fit it in over their day job? Whereas a PM will have to take ownership of it and ensure delivery.

There are all sorts of software-as-a-service products available, as well as marketing calendars, so it’s not a difficult job, but the PMs do need to have the authority to demand that things are done in a certain way.

They need to demand colleagues’ time and also be familiar with the principles and techniques behind ‘agile’ marketing – Marketing Plans are where Agile Marketing really comes into its own.


As a conclusion, Marketing Plans will be successful if you:

  • Use your Plan as a roadmap;
  • Use it to create consensus and alignment;
  • Identify and isolate insufficient and/or unreliable info;
  • Use the insights to create segments;
  • Use it to promote clarity of thinking;
  • Identify methods for better teamworking.

Do it right and you will have a document of great value and your company will know where it is going, and how. Do it wrong and you’ll waste money and ultimately earn less profit and growth.

Mark Baines

I am indebted to Richard Mayer of CIM for his illuminating Webinar on the subject.

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