By James Myers, Head of Strategy, Business to Business


I started off wanting to write an article about marketing plans, or more to the point the absence of them.

If you ask anyone of a certain age what they remember from their marketing courses. It would be firstly the 4Ps; secondly it would be the importance of the marketing plan. The structure was drilled into you. Situation. Objectives. Strategy. Metrics. Tactics. Budgets. Timing. When was the last time you saw one of these? Exactly.

There are various excuses for the absence of marketing plans.  

The world is different now, we need to be agile.

Analytics supports real time planning so what’s the point of a plan?

How can we plan when new disruptors are disrupting the disrupters?

… or “no plan survives a smack in the face. That’s the Tyson quote … again.

But these are all a bit dog ate my homework.

Sometimes there is a genuine reason. The marketing team don’t know the business plan because there isn’t one, so how can they do a marketing plan. That worries me so much, I will stop. There.

The reality is marketing departments don’t invest time and effort in marketing plans. They haven’t done for years, even pre-agile world. The last proper marketing plan I saw was at Alliance & Leicester. 20 years ago. The marketing director was new, I think he felt obliged.

But what makes it all the odder is there is an appetite for marketing plans. At Ogilvy as you would imagine we have a process or two, and we have created marketing plan in a day. Try offering something similar to your clients or teams, they get excited about it. It’s the structure they lack. And it’s in a day. Brilliant. Technically we could be sued for misrepresentation. It takes a little longer.

So, what do we conclude?

Perhaps marketing departments do create marketing plans and don’t share (the existence of the) marketing plans with their key agencies. That would be odd and probably defeat part of the purpose of creating one.

More likely the marketing department just don’t see them as important. This strikes as a little bit nuts. Part of the purpose of the marketing plan is to get the rest of the organisation to agree what is the role of marketing, how they expect it to work, what they can reasonably expect it to deliver, the role of brand, metrics. It’s an internal consultative sell. Without one marketing departments tend to get beaten up for not delivering leads. And without the structure of a marketing plan it is difficult to see how marketing can be taken seriously within the organisation.

The default for marketing has become short-termist campaign thinking. So, whilst organisations don’t invest in marketing plans, they do some sort of iterative planning. But in the same way dog owners look like their dogs (or is it the other way around?) the planning process reflects the culture and manufacturing process.

Software and technology operators operate in permanent Beta.

Financial institutions will minimise risk taking, they don’t want to get noticed.

Engineering and manufacturing companies like to be structured, prioritise detail over anything else.

Utility companies for some reason operate around quarterly accounting periods.

Car companies revolve purely around registration dates, car launches and facelifts.

In other words, the marketing plan process has become subservient to the culture of the organisation. That sort of assumes that marketing works in the same way as their business.

And that’s a problem.