Building the yearly Marketing Plan is a methodical, plodding process that is becoming out of step with the speed at which business planning is needed. The pace of change in digital communications and consumer conversations should be forcing marketers to question the current approach. This was even a topic at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, Marketing’s Shift from Waterfall to Agile, in Austin in March 2012.
Why Stick with a Yearly Plan?
The corporate benefits of a yearly plan are clear to marketers. Financial projections rely on a firm understanding of the necessary investment and of the resulting demand forecast. Customers (retailers) of consumer goods manufacturers plan far into the future (one year out is becoming the norm) and want to see the commitment of compelling and detailed opportunities well in advance.
Marketers see the value to the organization of early planning even though it may have little to do with demand creation. Yearly planning requires deadlines which limit learning from current market activity and cannot account for the speed of technology changes that effect execution.
Three Alternatives to the Yearly Marketing Plan Approach
Here are three options which can help facilitate a more flexible planning approach while satisfying the needs of the rest of the business.
1. “Roll with it” Planning — Creates a plan that is revised quarterly but locks in the upcoming 12 months. Every quarter, a new plan is confirmed on the backend. This is a common enhancement to yearly planning and allows for plenty of lead time but builds in flexibility for the out-months. The downside is a lack of communication in overall program goals.
2. “Open Space” Planning –- Starts with a solid base year plan, but identifies several pockets of unplanned activity that will be considered at a future date. This uncommitted investment sits under a strategic focus area and is flexible to adapt to opportunities. The risk to unplanned money is obvious if budget cuts need to be made.
3. “Project” Planning — Rather than using time to dictate planning, this approach uses projects to determine cycles. A project is planned, a season is planned, an event, a campaign, etc. are discreet items with plans, and measureable deliverables. The time frame is different for each project. There is no completion at the end of any given calendar or fiscal approach. The project gets clearly outlined and executed and another follows on its heels.
I like the idea of the Project-based plan since it allows for maximum planning flexibility and customer support.
What do you think?