One big thing your marketing planning process is missing

Planning season. A term coined because planning was once an actual season lasting three months. September ushered in fall leaves, football and planning. This season has now extended, like Boston’s winter. 

In the months leading up to a new budget, there is intense scrutiny on the marketing team. Focus on actionable insights and ROI is at an all-time high due to investments in tools and technology that are often implemented but not fully leveraged. For this reason, marketers rely on the rigor of a well-established planning process to develop strategic plans and metrics. The marketing planning process is a tried-and-true framework consisting of five basic steps:

1. Situation assessment

  • Assess the situation—yours and your competitors’
  • Determine gaps to fill in the marketplace
  • Engage stakeholders in conversations to uncover additional opportunities

2. Strategic planning

  • Establish objectives in support of company goals
  • Identify the audience(s) most likely to buy your product/service
  • Develop strategies that most elegantly influence audience behaviors

3. Tactical development

  • Research channels and communications most relevant to your buyer
  • Design tactics that most effectively drive desired outcomes
  • Determine how—and when—success will be measured

4. Resources & timing

  • Outline internal and external resources needed to implement plan
  • Consider the best and next-best executions
  • Build realistic budgets and timelines

5. Alignment & approval

  • Develop the business case for proposed elements of the plan
  • Anticipate answers to difficult questions from stakeholders and leadership
  • Build consensus around the plan, budget and timing

At the end of this process, marketers know the channels, communications and cost. With stakeholder support and leadership approval, it’s time to implement the plan. Life is good! 

So why is it that six months later so many marketing plans fall short of achieving their ultimate objective? The process failed to consider one big thing—contingency planning. 

What’s missing from most marketing planning processes?

A plan for change.

Your plan will inevitably change. At least elements of it. Plan for it. Sometimes it’s a budget cut midyear. Other times campaign learnings point toward a new direction, and new creative is needed. The best plans consider the worst scenarios.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” 

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The next time you are planning, consider plan A, B and sometimes C. Expect a few dragons along the way. And add this to your process:

6. Contingency planning

  • Anticipate actions when your plan doesn’t go according to plan
  • Create a formal test & learn plan
  • Look for opportunities to optimize tactics

In the end, your marketing plan is only as good as its ability to demonstrate delivery of desired results. And results are rarely reliant on a single tactic, so measure, without staying married to, your original tactics. Using an agile marketing approach, you can increase the results from your plan and have a great story to tell in the process.

You’re smarter today than you were yesterday—and you’ll be even smarter tomorrow. Build your plan to capitalize on it.


This post first appeared on the Elevation blog at