marketing planning

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Proper Profit.

How many corporate marketing plans are created each year using cut and paste?  That is, how many marketing directors open the Excel chart from last year, copy all fields and pasted them into a new worksheet as way to start their budgeting and planning process?  Far, far too many.

Some budget line items will stay the same, others will increase to meet inflation or some corporate dictate, while others are cut. Likely as not, the line items will remain the same year to year. (As will the calculation formulas.) It’s just easier that way.  

Too much of marketing is cut and paste these days. The objectives, the strategies, and the tactical line items.  Few companies want to reinvest in the marketing planning process.  And it’s a mistake. Marketing plans should be revisited in earnest every year. Their depths thoroughly plumbed. Their objectives parsed and reparsed. Strategies discussed and vetted.

New “to task” budgets should be prepared and weighed. And for that to happen there must be serious, accurate and achievable objectives.

Just say no to cut and paste marketing plans. Marketing plans are the blood, bone and sinew of proper profit.



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Here’s an interesting brand planning question

“How complicated is your brand?”  I’ll bet 8 out of 10 C-level execs would answer “Not very complicated at all.” 

“We are a network of doctors.

We sell interactive white boards to schools.

We are an ad agency.

We are a tool used to build websites.

We are a consulting company.”

These uncomplicated answers typically focus on the Is of the Is-Does.  The question begs for simple answers. And it asks the C-level to pass judgment.  No one except for coders and surgeons likes to celebrate complexity.

Yet when I get into marketing departments and do a little deep dive, complexity always rears its head.  It is where we get into the Does of the Is-Does.  What the product does for consumers. Rationally and emotionally. We look at targets and segments. Most valued customers. Highest sales customers. Biggest referring custies. We break out the Excel charts. And because marketing is not just about making brochures and ads (though some would argue otherwise), we focus on product experience and price and line extensions and the pulsing of the bank account.

Brands are complicated without a plan. With a plan, not so much. With a plan we look at the complicated things through a lens of strategy. Always through the lens.

So, back to the original question. How does a brand go from “It’s not very complicated” to a mish mash of tactics, spreadsheets, sales reports, channel problems and lax sales. Poor planning. Peace!

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The best part about being a brand planner is that it puts you on the trail of goodness.  The world can be turbulent (as seen on TV) or it can be graceful, when grace is defined as “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action” (thanks


It may be the aging process that makes me look out the window more during a country drive analyzing what I see, or it may be the planner in me.  I choose to think the latter.

Planners need to be extroverts so people will share important feelings, not just what they think we want to hear. Planners must be introverts at times, so people feel comfortable sharing…believing marketers won’t use the information to do evil. But most important planners need an ear attuned to goodness.

There was a time in my life when making fun of things, people and behavior was humorous.  And humor is something most relish. But planning has tamed this in me. I try to see more deeply into people. I look for the good. It has changed me. My son is graduating college this year. A political science major at Plattsburgh. Sometimes when we talk politics he gears up against what is unjust – what he sees as bad. Perhaps he needs a little planners bone in his exoskeleton.   Peaceful are the planners.    

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I was thinking about what’s wrong with education and it dawned on me that a teacher could go for decades without changing his/her  lesson plan.  Okay, that might be an oversimplification but bear with me.  So let’s says that happens for an American history teacher…how does that teacher refresh? Well, one might say they focus on the pedagogy – the teaching itself. With all students being different, the lesson may stay the same but the means of getting though, packaging, and connecting the lesson to “this years” student may change. (Let’s hope.) In other words the material doesn’t change the delivery does.

So what does that mean for branding and marketing? Do we use a syllabus to create our marketing approach? I suspect we do. I, for instance, have been using a couple of planning tools over the years that have not changed much: 24 Questions and a battery of Fact Finding questions.  Sounds kind of formulaic, no?  Am I lazy? These rigors act as fishing nets for me and what I catch will vary. What I do with that catch creates the differentiation. Hmm.

But suppose I approached each assignment more like composing a song. Or creating some other form of art?  It would dash the formula don’t you think? This would be a case of getting rid of the syllabus. And going commando. Let’s think about that in 2013 and see if we can blow some doors off our approaches to strategic development. Peace!


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I was reading a fascinating article today on the grid system of NYC and the original map that laid it out.  Quite the transformative event, that grid system. Did you know city blocks are 200 feet long?   Broadway was a path that meandered the length of the island and was left alone, as were the funky streets of Greenwich Village.  Back in the late 1800s the grid thing was not well received by everyone, especially those whose houses were located on parts of the gird that were to be torn down to create the streets. But it was this planning and forethought that made NYC the great place it is.  Albeit, “great” with an internal design and art tension.

Brand planning is analogous. Smart people have asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  And I my answer, though somewhat fluid, is generally “a single brand promise, supported by three planks or proofs of that promise.”  In effect, it’s a grid.  What resides in the grid is open for discussion and debate, but everything must fit. The artistry that is brought to life within the grid is what give the brand it’s life, but whether you like the grid word or not the brand plan is an organizing principle for selling more, to more, for more, more times.  The brand plan is not just about messaging either, it guides the product itself. 

And the tension referred to in the city planning grid analog applies to brand planning.  Sometimes an amazing idea is created inspired by a brand brief that does not fit perfectly.  It may be just a little off kilter. What to do?  Debate it. Study it. Perhaps even build it — and compare it to the plan.  Humans organize. Humans also like the unexpected. So build a brand plan, see and live its beauty, and count the change (double entendre). Too many markets today start by counting the change. Peace!

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Being a brand and marketing planner is exciting because in order to be good you need to be a futurist.  I often rail against rearview mirror planners who only look to the past to develop product and brand strategies.  Certainly you need to understand the past to formulate hypotheses about the future, but watching film of swimming and understanding its mechanics is not like jumping into the water for the first time. You may feel better prepared but it is still scary.  


So why is brand planning fun? Because predicting the future, though hairy, can be  lucrative and change the marketing world. Steve Jobs comes to mind.  


Here’s an exercise in predicting the future: Car dealerships across the U.S. are closing.  Many Ford dealers have shuttered their doors and the wave of Chrysler and GM closings is almost upon us.  In 12 months time drive down the highway in your town, where all the fast food restaurants are, and you’ll see abandoned care dealerships aplenty.  The economy is awful, but should be showing signs of life by then. What business or business category will move into those fallow real estate sites?  If you had Zuckerberg money, what would you build? Peace!

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