Marketing Planning Doomed.
And It's Only 9:30 AM

Arturo F Munoz Open QuoteInnovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. -- Steve Jobs

For an hour this VP of Global Demand Generation had been insisting that the survey results were wrong and that the marketing planning had been misguided.Marketing Planning

"What do you mean they don't want us to measure response rate?" he kept asking, "And they also don't want us to track Sales' acceptance of our leads?"

He wasn't listening.

"That's not it. As you'd recall, the survey asked of the entire global marketing organization to point out which metrics were of least significance to improving the operation.

Campaign response rate and the rate of Sales' acceptance of our leads consistently showed up across the entire organization as being practically useless in measuring our performance."

"No, it can't be," he insisted in frustration, "There must be something wrong with the survey or with the marketing planning you did!"

There's a bit of background to this story, of course.

Marketing Planning For Results That You Don't Want

A few weeks earlier, I had been asked to formulate a survey that would help Corporate come to grips with how best to measure the performance of an entire global marketing operation, from PR and Field Marketing to direct and web marketing.

After much thinking, I based it on a thoughtful MIT study simply titled "Metrics: You Are What You Measure!" that walks the reader through 7 pitfalls that lead to counterproductive measuring of an operation.

The survey model attempted to collect the necessary information to avoid these pitfalls by securing the very measures that global marketing believed were of significance to improve its own operations. Most of the survey consisted of open-ended questions, so the participants had ample chance to explain their answers. The VP had reviewed the model, the survey itself in detailed before publication and approved the entire exercise.

Response to the survey was exceptional. For a month I crunched through the data to summarize results and prepare the brief. Four weeks and practically $20,000 later, the findings were unquestionable. That sacred cow of Marketing -- campaign response rate -- and a more recent one which tracked the acceptance or rejection of leads from Marketing campaigns by Sales got slaughtered in the survey.

The Marketing organization wanted nothing to do with them. Why? Aren't they critical to marketing planning and performance?

One key pitfall that the model called to avoid was making metrics hard to control by those who are accountable for producing them. Given a chance to plan how they'd be measured by having been told also to identify the metrics which they had little or no control over, the majority consensus from the Marketing organization was to get rid of 2 measures that they had no power to direct.

"We have no control over how many people will actually respond to a promotion. But we can control how well we treat who does respond to our offers," some marketers said.

Also "We send what we know from Sales is what they asked for. But their criteria change like the wind and often what was useful to them one week is not useful the next.
Marketing Planning
"Our time horizons are different," another marketer said, "We can control the quality of what arrives to Sales from our understanding of the quality standards that they've told us about. But we have no control over what Sales defines as quality outside these criteria."

Marketers wanted to be accountable for what they did control.

These 2 metrics consisted of too much uncertainty and factors controlled by others outside marketing.

That's not to say that Marketing did not have the power to manipulate the metrics. For years Field Marketing had engaged in some "creative maneuvering" (Read: cheating) that inflated response rates by applying arbitrary rules that reduced the baseline to that ratio and, likewise, telemarketing had learned to manipulate the definition of a lead to ensure that a steady proportion of them consistently got accepted by Sales reps.

But behind these machinations rested the wasted efforts of many marketers (and marketing dollars), whose leads sat idle and ageing in a neither accepted or rejected status, and no one could rightly say what the likelihood of getting a proportion of people to respond to any promotion might be, resulting in many campaigns being complete duds that quietly disappeared and never got reported.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a major riot broke out when an attempt was made to track budget and results via a marketing automation system. These systems can apply some serious rules to any marketing planning session!

But the point is that the organization was given an opportunity to voice its beliefs on what it could control. It voiced a view that turned the Marketing VP's world completely on its head, as he could not envision an operation that wouldn't track these 2 metrics.

In the end the big boss and the organization came to an impasse, neither one yielding to the other one bit, so that misleading metrics continued to flow upstairs and incorrect decisions on the operation continued to come downstairs to everyone's frustration. The marketing planning for the company was doomed from that first meeting ending at 9:30 AM.

Is this the way it goes? It's so only too often.

So how do you plan for the contrary?

Marketing Planning For Reality

Marketing is fundamentally about 2 things: innovation and taking a unique public stance on it. Simply put, if your company comes up with a new way of doing something better than your competition and you successfully ensure the right public knows about it, then you've done all that marketing is meant to do for a business. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, the proverbial Achilles heel to any Marketing operation seeking for continuous funding is reliably to prove how all that publicity work affected the company’s bottom line. Sounds easy enough as well, doesn't it? Don't believe it. This concept sends a chill down every responsible marketing officer, because the task is not easy to do.

Marketing PlanningSince Marketing is not Sales, after all, it can lay no direct claim to revenue generation. Marketing planning for clever marketers involves avoiding those poisoned arrows. Sticking to basics. Measuring what you do control. Estimating primarily the gains from that.

You may think that this won't do the job, not with so many marketing gurus talking about Marketing becoming accountable only through complex formulas that require configuring performance dashboard software, using sophisticated statistical models or specialized staff to set up, use and maintain it. Forget them for now. Keep it simple. Measure what you control.

And what do you control? You control how the company articulates innovation and also the stance that it takes in the market about this innovation. That's Marketing. Can you put a dollar figure to that? Call this articulation your company's degree of presence in the market. It is your baseline. It is against this scale that you should track your performance.

How then do you define your "market presence"?
  • Is it by how often you discover your company named in various industry publications?

  • Is it by the number of clients who are willing to reference you to other accounts?

  • Is it by the frequency with which some particular professionals respond to your promotions? Is it by the percentage of overlap between what you offer to your public versus what your competitors offer?

  • Is it by the rate of acceptance that you received from sales reps when you hand them opportunities that they admittedly knew nothing about before then?

However you define your market presence does matter much, because this definition leads you in the direction of monitoring what is both controllable and significant to Marketing, as the questions above show.

When you determine how to define your market presence as an innovative company, you're truly marketing planning. You will identify by extension a fundamental set of criteria (in the answers to the questions above, for instance) with which to take a stance as such in the market. These criteria constitute the basis of your core performance measurements, rates and benchmarks.

Use them to create metrics. Only then will you be ready to discuss how to optimize your operation, how to track the metrics to report on Marketing performance and ROI. In short, only then will your marketing planning turn into a plan for your organization to become what you measure and your marketing planning will take effect.

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