Plan to Plan Ahead

In business it’s easy to feel like everything is urgent. You want your business to be nimble, to move as fast as possible to be ahead of competitors, and to roll out the newest and best you have to offer. And you should! Innovation is one of the ways you can best stay ahead of other brands in your competitive space.

As you plan these rollouts and business cycles, think of your marketing like inviting guests to a dinner party. Sure, you can send out a quick invite and see who can make it, but you’re going to have a better turnout, generate excitement, and have your guest arrive with a better understanding of what’s going on when they have advance notice to prepare for it.

When we as marketers speed to market without a plan, there is almost always fallout. Did you ever launch a new effort that you and everyone in your organization was excited about, only to see it fall completely flat? And did you ever feel, once one effort was underway, a constant feeling of being behind the ball with the next effort?

Shelve the mess. Stop struggling with the chaos. This is especially for those of you who felt some familiarity with my spaghetti marketing article, we’re going to get you organized and ready to plan for effective marketing, and we’re going to do it right now. Stop living in today, and start living in the future for the success of your company and the engagement of your audience. It’s only when we start living in “today” as three months (or more) in the future, can we plan ahead and steer our marketing where it needs to go.

Why three months?

Much more than three months or so can be difficult to see accurately unless you are involved in a massive corporate enterprise, and daunting when you’re just getting started in stepping ahead in your marketing plan. In my experience, 3-6 months ahead in marketing is ideal. This provides enough lead time for planning and developing intricate marketing systems, a realistic ability to hit critical deadlines, and still leaves room for last-minute adjustments if absolutely necessary. It gives you and your leadership team adequate time to review and feel comfortable with the strategy and materials without having to feel the pressure of going live the next day. You’ll see all the pieces together as a more cohesive, resonant, and engaging campaign, and reap the benefits of the success advance planning brings.

1. Filter the urgent from the necessary from the ideal

The first step in getting ahead when you’re scrambling to keep up is to build your master list: What actually needs to happen now? Are there printed materials or outdated messages that risk turning away our ideal customer or are inaccurate to our organization? Put those into your Urgent pile, those things that will need to truly be done ASAP to prevent brand dilution, confusion, or communicate inaccurate ideas. These are those items that will bump ahead of anything else in your timeline as they are most necessary to be completed before your next step.

Those items that need to happen, but perhaps not right away will fall into your Necessary pile. This pile is ideal for those tasks that will add value over time, and perhaps even need to be done soon, but not with the immediacy of your Urgent pile. This might include creating a well-designed material set to slide into your sales kits, or a landing page for your new product. Schedule these items into your 3 month rollout, or around any key initiatives within that rollout.

Ideal items are those that it would be nice to have, but ultimately don’t add to a sales close or a brand experience for a customer. These items are things that, as you start to truly get several months ahead in the mindset of your business and your marketing, will be great to have eventually but are bells and whistles of your marketing. This might be additional materials or display pieces that reinforce your brand and message but don’t directly work into a funnel. These items will best filter in once working ahead becomes routine.

2. Stop everything else and complete your Urgent items

If you have a stack of truly urgent, immediate must-do tasks, push everything else aside and complete these. Nothing threatens to derail a marketing push like inaccurate information in a half-dozen deliverables urgently needed by your sales or leadership team. Just make sure these items are truly urgent and not just necessary, where they could be filtered in over time to maximize your resources in prioritizing the systems that will drive success.

In the short term, consider reusing or doing light evolutions of old materials when possible. Minimize your time into the urgent so you can spend more time thoroughly planning out the next stages of your brand, and escape the pattern of always working on putting out the next fire.

3. Set goals and work backwards.

Once your current marketing backlog is filtered and urgent items are completed, it’s important to pick a pivot date, the day on which attention will temporarily turn from pushing out outward, active marketing to the inner strategic work. From this date onward, the goal will no longer be on what are we releasing tomorrow, it will be on what’s releasing three months from tomorrow.

Your first task in strategy should be to start the master plan. What are the specific goals and metrics you want to achieve over the next quarter? Typical goals I see include leads generated or a survey-measured change in brand perception. Here, a week or more of vision planning will have the greatest impact. Create a vision for what changes you would like to see in the business, the brand, your marketing, and your audience next quarter.

Once the core plan is developed, work backwards from 180 days to develop specific dates to target for specific deliverables and systems. Why 180 days and not 90? Because everything you start now rolls out as of your 90 day “future today,” and will need to be releasing forward over that quarter’s own 90 days cycle. As your progress shifts from strategy into deliverables, be mindful to find your way back to strategy on or slightly before your next three-month-out date to keep the marketing cycle spinning and working for you.

Stay Disciplined

When you stop the scramble and get in this mindset, it’s amazing the kind of marketing outcomes you can achieve. Keep the cycle going each new quarter by creating a timeline flow from strategy to execution, to analysis, and back to strategy again. Plug in necessary tasks and deliverables as well as other, ideal priorities that may not fit a specific campaign around your execution of these broader plans.

Only by living in the future of your brand will you be able to strategically plan and tackle larger marketing objectives. Start looking around at your task list and what’s urgent, and how you might shape the future of your organization through truly planning ahead, to create campaigns that drive the interest and engagement of your customer base.


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