5 Reasons Your Marketing Plan Will Fail

Ian Lurie

Marketing plans are to 21st century marketing what the F-22 is to 21st century warfare: Cool and shiny-looking, but pricey and unhelpful.
Your carefully-prepared 12-month marketing plan will fail. Here’s why:

  • It assumes a static situation. You can’t create a marketing plan that looks 12 months out and accounts for even a fraction of the possible changes in your audience. So you make assumptions based on right now. Which just passed you by – here that? Whoosh. There goes another one…
  • It assumes you’re selling to computers. You grind the demographic data, conduct focus groups and then take the oh-so-spontaneous answers you get as gospel. Then you’re surprised when consumers in the real world look at you like you’re insane. People aren’t computers. You can’t predict how one person will behave based on another’s answer. Especially when you get that answer by bribing them with free sandwiches and coffee.
  • You’re planning to interrupt. Your marketing plan says you’ll spend $nn on pay per click marketing, $nn on banner ads, another $nnnn on e-mail, and maybe $nnnnnnnnnn on print advertising. Then you’re gonna hope folks see you and divert their attention. That worked in 1968. It doesn’t work now. Now, you need to be there just when someone decides they need that shiny widget. Then you have to sell them on your particular version of that shiny widget.
  • The plan smacks of desperation. See the previous. You wrote your plan based on the fact that you need your customers. Only they don’t care. You need to be there when they need you, instead.
  • You haven’t checked your premises. You plan to spend $x to make 3 times $x. What if you make 10 times $x? 2 times $x? You haven’t checked your premises because you can’t yet. By nature, a marketing plan is self-defeating. The moment you launch it, it will affect your audience, throwing your assumptions all over the map.

Instead of a plan, try a playbook. Playbooks give you steps to take in different situations: “If X happens, we’ll go to Y.” Write a playbook that accounts for checking data, re-evaluating results and going where consumers take you, instead of plunking down $400,000 on a monstrosity of a web site and then ending up stuck on a one-way road to the unemployment line.

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. You’re right about “being there when you need it”, but demand generation still has its place at the table, as does all the interruptive direct response media strategies you’ve listed.

  2. Agree with Mark. Depends on entirely on what you are selling. If you’re selling air filters for cars, I 100% agree with your statements. People don’t buy those because they saw an especially cool one, they buy them when they need them. If you’re selling designer handbags or some other luxury good then “interrupting” and brand building is actually going to have a lot more to do with your success.

  3. @Meredith I think I need to clarify: I am not saying that interruption marketing, per se, is a bad thing. What I’m saying is that, a year in advance, you can’t possibly know HOW or WHEN to interrupt. See what I’m saying? Interruption marketing has its place – I help clients with all kinds of display advertising, direct mail, etc.. You just can’t plan it out waaaay in advance and expect it to work.

  4. Concise and clear explanation of the drawbacks of marketing plans, should be helpful to a lot of people out there who don’t fully understand the principles behind marketing. It’s so easy to hear phrases like ‘social media marketing’ bandied around and just assume that a solid plan based on doing as much as humanly possible is the best strategy to adopt, and this explains some of the reasons why this may not be the case really well. Although I agree with Meredith, brand building is important, and a marketing plan can certainly help with that.

  5. All good points. I still think my biggest issue is focus. Its tough to block out the noise and the next ‘big thing’. I always end up doing too many projects at 75% effort instead of just dedicating to one at a time!

  6. very true. I like how you put them in words. so straight to the point. great post! 🙂
    for me, I believe in careful planning.. also in backup plans especially in situations where I couldn’t afford to fail. plus, keeping an open eye is very important because you’ll never know when a great opportunity would come your way.

  7. I like the post but have to disagree a little. While it is correct that you can’t predict how every person is going to react, you can make some assumptions about groups of people, especially if the groups are large enough. If you do your analysis correctly and do proper testing you can get very accurate with your demand generation, even calculating your rate of error so you know how far you may fall off track if worst case scenario occurs. What I did like about the post was the idea of a playbook. Often when a market situation changes/an unexpected market event occurs marketers are left building a new strategy or plan. If these if/then scenarios are already worked out then you can spend your time reacting properly instead of planning.

  8. assumes a static situation. You can’t create a marketing plan that looks 12 months out and accounts for even a fraction of the possible changes in your audience. So you make assumptions based on right now. Which just passed you by – here that? Whoosh. There goes another one…
    this is definately true

  9. Is this spelling deliberate or an American spelling “… passed you by – here that? Whoosh.”
    Should it be “hear that”? Anyway I’m enjoying browsing the blog and having just read the misuse of words at SeS San Jose it has probably sensitised (spelled with an s not a Z in the UK where I am) me.
    I’ve only posted a ‘spelling/grammar police’ comment anywhere only once before ever – honest.
    I particularly appreciate your material on web design which is more my thing rather than trying to sell. Thanks for your insights and advice. I’m learning.

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