Here’s something to get your dinner party off to a flying start: let’s talk about marketing planning!
And yet, if you listen to Robert Ainger and Dave Stevens talking about it, it’s actually half an hour well spent. Because they’re both men with a lot of experience, especially in B2B marketing, and they’ve got strong views on the state of the marketing nation.
The strongest of those views is that marketing planning is a neglected and under-valued craft. One that urgently needs a bit of revisiting and respect.
Robert is an Associate Director at TMP. Dave Stevens is a B2B marketing director with experience spanning Telefónica O2, Barclays and EY (Ernst & Young).
We set them up for a discussion because we also feel that marketing planning is not the priority it should be. We hoped for an argument; we got forcible agreement.
“The trouble is, marketing planning is often foisted on marketing teams from above – often by the finance team, or a project manager,” observed Dave. “It’s seen as a box-ticking exercise, rather than an essential tool.”
It gets worse. Dave Stevens thinks that the other problem with marketing planning is that professional marketers are not very good at it.
“I’m disheartened by the number of marketers in key roles who don’t understand basic concepts like SWOT analysis,” he told Robert.
Marketing in transition
It may also be that, although marketers are aware of the concepts that drive marketing planning, they’re often subject to business pressures that stop them applying them.
“A lot of marketers on the front line these days might say, ‘Hold on, marketing has gone through some massive transitions in the past few years,’” Robert pointed out.
“These days we’re talking about marketing as publishing, or marketing as a conversation. Now that things are so fluid, you could argue that marketing planning is either a futile exercise, or at least that we need a fresh approach to the discipline.”
In fact, the vehement consensus reached by Robert and Dave is that marketing planning is more than just a useful discipline – it’s absolutely essential, especially when marketing is going through such momentous change.
“If we’re talking about true marketing planning,” said Dave Stevens, “then it’s about the marketing audit, objective setting, strategy, budget – the core disciplines of professional marketing.
“With new channels to market, fragmenting audiences and the media in turmoil, planning is more valuable than ever. In particular, it’s the best way to communicate what you’re trying to achieve to the people who need to know, and who’s support you need – including the marketing director, who needs the insight to decide when it may be appropriate to intervene.”
In his previous roles, Dave has appointed a dedicated specialist to supervise the planning process and, crucially, to be responsible for delivering the plan.
“That’s a great way of demonstrating the value and importance of marketing planning,” agreed Robert. “It’s essential to show the team and the rest of the business that you’re serious, and to get their buy in.”
“What I’d really like to see is these skills applied instinctively at every step,” concluded Dave, “rather than as a separate, template-driven exercise. Marketers should always have the principles of marketing planning at their fingertips and their planning must be flexible, evolving to meet fresh demands and scenarios.”
Planning is indispensable
One other sobering thought emerged from this discussion between two seasoned B2B marketing professionals. It was the much-quoted epigram attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are useless. Planning is indispensable.” Matched only perhaps by Mike Tyson’s pithy “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
If this blog has inspired you to reach into your desk drawer and dust off your marketing plan, then the point is made. When was the last time you looked at it?
On the other hand, if you’re protesting that your planning is bang on track and everyone knows exactly where they are with it, let us know. We’re still hoping for that argument.