The Counter-intuitive Guide to Marketing Planning

The Counter-intuitive Guide to Marketing Planning

In today's fast-paced business environment, marketing planning is crucial for success. However, relying on conventional tactics may not always be effective. In this article, we will explore some counter-intuitive marketing truths that can help you create a comprehensive marketing plan that drives growth.

Don't Ignore the Long Game

For as long as we can remember, companies have faced pressure to focus on achieving short-term goals. However, neglecting the long game can lead to missed opportunities for sustainable growth. This is why it's crucial to invest in long-term initiatives that may not yield immediate results, but can build a strong foundation for future growth. Examples include brand development, digital transformation, measurement & efficiency tools, and passive interest audience media.

Let’s talk about passive interest audiences for a moment. These audiences typically represent the 95% (or more) of a company's total market that is not actively searching for a solution like that company offers. While it's essential to maximize the short game by reaching that 5% of audiences that are actively interested in solutions, smart marketers understand that investing in passive interest audiences can generate a substantial tailwind that boosts future marketing efforts. The key to this approach is starting at a comfortable budget level and scaling up over time with growth.

Case in point: 

A large B2B company with a diverse product line decided to invest in the long game by firing their agencies and bringing media buying in-house. They organized their marketing team with an Active Interest team and Passive Interest team. The Active Interest team managed always-on channels like Google Search, maximizing the variable margin $/ad spend for each product line. Meanwhile, the Passive Interest team became audience experts and drove highly targeted media to the types of audiences that normally buy their products. As a result of this strategic shift, the company achieved a 22% CAGR and $200m in EBIT growth over three years.

Budget for Experimentation

In the world of marketing, it can be tempting to rely on tried-and-true tactics rather than experimenting with new ones. However, budgeting for experimentation can pay off in unexpected ways. By building your budget with room for testing, you may discover a new marketing channel, an existing channel strategy, or a messaging strategy that drives significant growth. A smart budgeting tactic would be moving the bottom 10% of your marketing spend to testing.

Case in point:

A well-known retailer tested the long tail of search keywords by reverse engineering their product catalog, generating millions of keywords instead of focusing on the top 100. A single proof-of-concept test of 30 thousand keywords resulted in significantly lower CPCs, cost-effective customer acquisition, and ultimately a 10x scale-up in spending that drove industry-leading e-commerce growth and increased enterprise share.

Similarly, a large equipment manufacturer tested a version of their offer that improved media ROAS by 2.5x, leading to enterprise share growth after years of decline. Leveraging this learning across their entire ecosystem allowed them to achieve sustained growth and success.

Know Your Audience, But Don't Assume You Know Everything

A lot of marketers talk about understanding your target audience. This is essential—but it is equally important to recognize that you do not know everything about that audience. Ongoing research is necessary to keep up with your audience's changing needs, preferences, and behaviors. This approach allows you to identify insights that lead to new marketing opportunities and strategies, which can help you stay ahead of the competition. In terms of marketing planning, investing in audience research must be combined with actionable insights, testing and measurement tools across the customer journey.

Case in point: 

A niche software company discovered that a group of their users was utilizing their software in unexpected ways through customer research and usage data analysis. This small but loyal user group only used a fraction of the full software solution, and the complexity of the software was a hindrance to the larger market this segment represented. The marketing team made a recommendation to partition the software with this use case in mind, creating a "starter" package that became their largest and fastest-growing offering and generated more customers for their full offering. This strategy allowed the company to tap into a previously untapped market segment and influence their original market, which they wouldn't have uncovered without ongoing research.   

Be Willing to Pivot

As a marketer, it's easy to become attached to a specific marketing plan and budget. However, it's important to remember that no plan is perfect and unexpected changes in the market or customer behavior can impact your results. This is why it's important to be willing to pivot your plan and reallocate your budget to better-performing channels and tactics. Smart business leaders insist on flexible marketing plans. Smart marketers pivot daily and typically reforecast monthly.

Case in point: 

A good example of this is a financial services company that heavily invested in content marketing, conferences, and PR to drive business growth. While these efforts were effective in the early years, they neglected to invest in branding and digital marketing. As market conditions changed, web traffic and revenues declined, prompting the company to pivot and invest in brand messaging and visualization, digital transformation, as well as Active Interest and Passive Interest online media. The result? A 30% revenue growth after five years of decline.

Quality First, then Scale

As marketers, we are often focused on generating a high volume of content to support our brand's messaging and goals. However, in our rush to create more content, we can forget the importance of producing high-quality content that resonates with our target audience. Quality content not only saves time and resources but also helps to position your brand as a thought leader in your industry.

It's crucial to note that content marketing should not be limited to social media channels or blog posts. It should be an integral part of your brand's fabric, inspire current and prospective partners, employees, stakeholders and create positive unaided awareness when potential customers are considering solutions like yours. Content marketing is an excellent opportunity to showcase your expertise and differentiate yourself from competitors.

Case in point: 

For example, a medical device company recognized that their daily social media posts across multiple channels were not generating engagement or SEO value. After pivoting their strategy to produce one thought leadership article per month, they saw an immediate increase in social media engagement and site visits and lower costs. Articles were then partitioned into bi-weekly posts and blog content resulting in a significant SEO impact that tripled organic search results within the first year—and the company leaders were invited to speak at conferences.

3 Year Marketing Plan (financially-modeled), every year!

Creating a three-year, financially-modeled marketing plan every year may seem counter-intuitive, but it can help you stay ahead of the competition and achieve long-term growth. This approach ensures that you are always working towards a clear, long-term vision for your business with an eye on results, ideally forecasted and measured in terms of enterprise-level incremental variable margin.

That's why creating a three-year marketing plan every year can be a powerful exercise. By conducting an annual review with a 3-year window of your marketing vision, strategy and goals, you can ensure that you are staying ahead of the competition and taking advantage of new opportunities. Moreover, this approach allows you to annualize prior wins in your financial model to build a strong starting point for your plan as well as forecast your investment spending and returns over time—and help ensure that you are using your budget in the most efficient and effective way possible. 

LENKER is a Growth Consulting and Marketing Services Firm based in Minneapolis.  The LENKER “Focus Engagement” (link) specializes in helping clients identify growth opportunities and building marketing plans & budgets to drive GROWTH. Our team of expert strategists (including PHDs, Successful Client-side Marketers & CFOs for large & small business, and Award-winning Brand Gurus) has received high accolades from previous clients and is ready to assist. Contact us today to learn more.

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