How Strategic is your Strategic Marketing Plan?

David Lazarenko

What would happen if you cut 20% of your traditional media spend? Would you see a significant decline in sales? Would your brand awareness drop substantially? Would the sky fall and the world end?

What about if you stopped participating in trade shows? Stopped producing physical sales collateral? Stopped doing Facebook? My guess is that you, like most of us, don't know the quantifiable outcome. Your instincts probably tell you that results would decline, but is that based on factual data or an implicit assumption that what you are doing is working and therefore not doing it will be negative?

Throughout my career, I have seen so many companies produce what they consider to be a strategic plan when in reality it is just an evolutionary or iterative adaptation of the status quo. Let's tweak a little here, adjust some things there and call it a day. Don't get me wrong, this is a great strategy if you know with certainty that what you are doing is working, but so many don't know that. We are so pre-wired to approach strategy from a viewpoint of "what's next" versus "what's best."

What's the difference between the two?
  • A "what's next" approach generally starts with last year's plan. You look at each objective, audience, message and tactic and determine what you should do to improve upon each.
  • A "what's best" approach can best be described as the new employee approach. Imagine that you were just hired to the VP Marketing position and had to create next year's plan. You would most likely start from the beginning, looking at what needs to be achieved and determining "what's best" to achieve it. While you'd review the existing plan, the goal would be to put forward a strategy that is based less on what's been done and more on what should be done.

In accounting, this is called zero-based budgeting (ZBB). ZBB is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified for each new period. ZBB starts from a "zero base," and every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Instead of starting with what is currently spent on travel, a company determines what travel will be required and sets the budget from there.

As an exercise, put yourself in the place of that new VP of Marketing. The company has hired you to help them achieve the lofty goals they have not yet been able to achieve and show them the new ways of marketing. To take them from marketing to mattering, to move marketing from an expense to an investment, to embrace the digital reality of their customers, to make truly strategic decisions. Would you consider a 20% cut from media spend? A removal from trade shows? A replacement for physical sales collateral? You bet!

Admittedly, this is not an easy change to make, however, it is incumbent upon us as marketing leads and agencies to be the best stewards of the limited resources entrusted to us. It is up to us to determine with the greatest conviction, knowledge, and data where our efforts and money should be spent. And ultimately, it is our job to put real "strategy" into the strategic marketing plan.

Communications Planning

In his Working Wisdom series, David Lazarenko shares insights and inspiration gathered throughout his 15-year agency career. Through real-life examples and an analysis of industry trends, he offers up practical advice and actionable strategies for marketers.


Sign up to receive content from our “Think” leaders: