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7 Reasons Why Your Marketing Plan Doesn’t Work

This article is a reprint from John Jantsch’s column at AMEX OPEN Forum from Sep 03, 2009. It’s Duct Tape Marketing straight from the the founder himself and  I thought it was worth passing a long to my readers- it makes some excellent points and is full of great information.

Every business should operate with a set of plans – a plan for the business, a plan for cash, a plan for growth, and certainly a plan for marketing. Opening a business with no plan is kind of like driving somewhere you’ve probably never been without a map or GPS device.

A marketing plan is commonly accepted as standard fare, but still,few businesses operate from any semblance of one. In my experience it’s not because they don’t think they need one, it’s because they’ve either never gotten around to creating one, or worse, they’ve created a marketing plan only to check it off the list and shove it in the bottom of drawer somewhere.

I’ve worked with many small businesses, created many marketing plans, and I can tell you that a big part of the problem is the current plan mindset. Marketing plans are essential mind and stress freeing tools, and you can and should lean very heavily on yours – if you can avoid these marketing planning pitfalls.

1) It’s not about the plan

People think plan and immediately envision the document. (I’ve seen people spend more time making the cover of a marketing plan look pretty than they take to make something meaningful inside.)

It’s a lot like Lance Armstrong’s book title – It’s not about the bike. The plan is a vehicle, but it’s the planning steps, stages, meetings, questions, and inputs (training for Lance) that createmarketing plans that work.

In fact, I’ll go a step further and state that a marketing plan, like a marketing system, is just a start, it’s a systematic marketing planning approach that makes a marketing plan a living tool that can power and guide your business.

To have an effective marketing plan you must have an effective marketing planning process and that, as you’ll discover in the next set of steps, never ends

2) Deal with today’s reality

Almost every business, start-up to mature, wakes up one day and decides to create a marketing plan. What usually occurs is that they create a plan from scratch – as though nothing has occurred in the history of the business to date.

It’s as though the plan architect attempts to simply add on rooms and floors and markets and products without regard for retaining walls, foundations, – maybe even budgets. Anyone who has remodeled (an appropriate analogy I think) knows what a disaster this approach can create.

It’s okay to have a plan that’s a stretch, maybe even taking you in totally new directions, but you’ve got to deal with where you are now and plan transitions that make sense for your culture, customer, and message or you’re destined to fail.

3) Look for the right questions

Everybody wants the magic answers (I’ve written a marketing planning software tool and the #1 request is for sample plans.) The problem with someone else’s answers is they are almost undoubtedly wrong. Throw on top of it that, even if they are right today, they will be wrong tomorrow.

The systematic planning approach suggests that instead of the right answers you should be focused on finding the right questions. Answers, like a system, are rigid. Questions, or a process of using key questions to produce answers, are an approach that will yield the right answers no matter the current circumstances.

Southwest Airlines simply wanted be known as the low-cost airline – period. There’s a well worn story about how Southwest Airlines founder,Herb Kelleher, used to ask his executives when they posed some innovation whether it contributed to Southwest being the low cost carrier or not. If they could answer yes it got looked at, if no, it was scratched from consideration.

4) Simplify meaning

A marketing plan isn’t sufficient unless it starts tilting towards the 50-60 page mark, right? Actually it’s far tougher, but far more useful generally, to create one that stays in the 4-5 page range. That way you might actually do it and potential readers might actually view it.

The quicker a prospect can make an important and meaningful distinction of how your message is different, the easier everyone’s job will be. The only way to do that is to work very, very hard at creating simple, metaphor-like, messages that make it very easy for people to understand instantly what you’re about.

Tear everything in your business to shreds and find ways to tell a very simple marketing story about your products, services, people and processes. Make it so simple that anyone can tell it.

5) Monitor friction

Marketing planning and implementation is mostly about doing the things that slowly build momentum, it’s not about hitting it big next week. When you dig in and look closely at every marketing action, measure specific results of each campaign, landing page, or direct mailing, you can begin to spot the places that are causing friction and thereby slowing momentum.

If you don’t hold every initiative accountable you can’t make your plan work – it’s also a great way to waste a lot of money. Failure to monitor, analyze, and measure marketing actions is the single greatest factor holding businesses back.

If you don’t know what’s working there’s a pretty good bet you don’t know what’s not working either.  

6) Take out the trash

You don’t have to do something just because it’s in the plan. I’ve seen so many businesses so tied to the plan document that they commit time and resources to things that are clearly counterproductive once released into the real market. But, hey, it’s in the plan.

Of course this goes hand in hand with point #5, you’ve got to know what is and is not productive, but once you do, you’ve also got to take the steps to cut your losses.

This one’s a bit tricky because some things don’t work as planned right away. I’ve seen an advertising program bombing until the organization started to receive some favorable press, then all of a sudden, the advertising took hold.

7) Guess again

People don’t want to admit it, certainly consultants don’t, but a marketing plan is a set of guesses, hopefully based on some knowledge, but no matter what, you need to commit to correcting the course.

I suggest that you meet at least every six weeks to renew your questions, assumptions, results, goals and objectives with an eye on using your flexibility to make real time adjustments based on real time results.

The main point is that you commit to a schedule so that your plan never has a chance to decay. There will be things that work better than expected and those that don’t, but having a group, or even all staff, check-in on the marketing twice a quarter you can keep it alive and driving while you make the adjustments to take advantage of new found opportunities.

Marketing planning can be a pretty fun team sport.


John Jantsch is a veteran marketing coach, award winning blogger and author of Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide.

He is the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing small business marketing system. You can find more information by visiting

You may reprint this article in its entirety if you attribute the article to John Jantsch and include the information about the author above.

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