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Do These 5 Things And Your Marketing Plan Will (Virtually) Run Itself

If you’re struggling with how to write a marketing plan or marketing strategy, you’re not alone! Every marketer has struggled with the gargantuan task of figuring out what needs to be done to launch that great idea or product. And getting the big picture down on paper isn’t even the hardest part. The hardest part of marketing strategy? Taking the plan off the page and into reality.

Countless marketing plans fail during implementation as a result of skipped steps, unforeseen conditions or general confusion. But engineer enough inertia into your marketing plan, and it will be resilient against all of those unknowns that lie in wait to stall or sink your efforts during implementation.

Consider a Rube Goldberg-style chain reaction machine, consisting of intricately choreographed chain reactions intended to achieve simple outcomes. Absurd as they are, there is elegance in the design and orchestration of a sequence of events that can continue without operator intervention once the initial switch, marble or domino is loosed.

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When you think about it, writing an executable, self-propelled marketing plan isn’t so different. So here are 5 tips you can use in devising your next chain reaction machine or marketing plan.

  1. Start at the end.

Imagine all the ways in which the world will be different once the plan has run its course. Then step your way back to the present day by listing each condition that has to come true before that end result is possible. Suppose you’re building a chain reaction machine that will serve a slice of toasted bread on a plate. In order for your machine to do that, it will also need to align the toast with the plate, remove the toast from a toaster, depress the lever on the toaster, drop a slice of bread into the slot, remove the slice from the bag, undo a twist-tie, etc. If any conditions need to be met by a certain deadline, start matching adjacent actions with appropriate deadlines that are based on realistic lengths of time to complete the required tasks. Work your timed list back and forth a couple of times to ensure that nothing is missing or out of order and that the promised result is feasible in the allotted time.

  1. Inventory every available piece.

Before you settle on the tactics you’ll actually use, it can be useful to list every resource you can think of, even if they aren’t all “practical.” If you’re designing a Rube Goldberg machine, your go-to tools are everyday objects—marbles, dominoes, matches, strings, candles, blocks, cranks, ramps—but if you can imagine a benefit to using a robotic arm or a trained cockatiel, list them as possibilities. If you’re designing a marketing plan, your go-to tools may include search marketing, email blasts, traditional media, collateral, etc., but could you enhance your plan and meet your goals in a more interesting way by figuring out how to source a less conventional idea like a flash mob or skywriting? As you match elements with milestones, be as specific as possible (e.g. specs, deadlines, cost and reach) to save yourself time and decision-making stress during implementation. Use this process to get familiar with every item you and your team will need to resource or produce—when you’ll need it, how you’ll get it, what it will cost, etc.

  1. Get real.

One of the most common marketing plan pitfalls I encounter is the tendency to invest too much into outlining theoretical “best practices” that should work, and not enough into the tactical approaches that those best practices are built on. For example, a marketing plan that calls for a “print and outdoor media buy aimed at the target audience” is just as ineffective as instructions for a Rube Goldberg machine that calls for “a line of dominoes.” Both are too theoretical to be executable. The moment your team sets out to build that machine, they’ll be back for more information. Where does the domino line start? Where does it stop? What’s the total length and how many dominoes should we order? Are there twists and turns, slopes or obstacles? How close together should the dominoes be placed, and is their force sufficient to initiate the next action? Each and every real-world question your plan fails to address spawns a delay, a snap decision, a judgment call, a course correction, a scramble, a dropped ball, an error, or worse—a combination of these!—and exponentially increases the risk of overall failure. Check your plan for excess theory: Have you left behind any unanswered questions? If you have opted for any wild ideas—the robotic arms, cockatiels, and skywriters—hold these up to extra scrutiny by asking yourself whether they’ll actually meet your goals and whether they enhance or detract from your staple efforts.

  1. Rehearse it in your mind.

Start at the beginning of your plan and visualize each action, in sequence, from preparation to completion. Every. Single. Step. It’s not enough to imagine hearing your ad on the radio. Visualize the script being written, the script being approved, the voice talent being engaged, the cut being produced, the airtime being purchased, and the metrics being reported—not to mention all of the other moving parts that run concurrently or subsequently. Clearly picture every person your team will interact with, every deliverable, every handoff, every bill that will need to be paid. Repeat without interruption, adding clarifying notes and instructions to help your team understand how to keep the plan moving without your involvement.

  1. Let it breathe.

Give yourself a pre-deadline so you can set your plan aside for 24 hours to a week or more. When you return to it with fresh eyes, the rough edges of your marketing plan—gaps in logic, nonsensical tactics, incorrect sequencing—will be glaringly obvious. Plus, your passive mind may have come up with even more material to add while you were working on other things. Give the plan a final polish before getting buy-in, then begin setting your pieces. This time, when you flip the proverbial switch, you can be confident that you’ve produced more than a marketing plan—it’s an executable, self-propelled marketing machine.


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