In my Planning-ness presentation, I included a Mike Tyson quote that has become something I’ve appreciated more and more since the first time I came across it. The quote was, “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”
When I saw this quote for the first time, it immediately struck me for a number of reasons. For one, I had just resigned from my job at space150 with no serious plans about what to do next. Life had dealt me a number of things at the time that made me pause and see that I didn’t want to keep going in the direction I had been, so I quit to figure things out and believed that despite not having any plans, things would just work out.
The other big thing that stood out to me with this quote was that between the state of the economy and the ever-increasing expansion of technology into every corner of our lives, a lot of businesses were getting punched in the mouth. Yet despite this, they have continued making annual marketing plans as if the next year was going to look just like all the past years.
Between that time and now, I’ve grown to believe that the days of planning for a year's worth of marketing twelve months before that marketing goes into action (or even worse, 18 months before) have to end. Things move too fast today to lock budgets and ideas down at a tactical level that far out.
I'm sure for some, that's a scary thought. But before you dismiss it, hear me out...
Annual marketing plans are a byproduct of an era when the the marketing world was predictable and media options were relatively unchanging. The forms of media you had available to you were pretty much exactly what you had the year before, and likely several years before that. It was to your advantage to get your plans done early so you could buy up the limited prime media space available and block out your competition. In addition to that, you needed all of that lead time to get everything produced perfectly and ready to arrive just in time for deployment.
But now we're living in an era where something could launch tomorrow that changes everything we're doing. It could be a new piece of technology that is the perfect way for your brand to engage people in a meaningful experience. It might be that a fairly recent start-up just added functionality or extended their reach that now makes them the perfect place to connect with the people you want to reach. Or, it might be that three kids in a dorm room just launched a major competitive threat to your business that wasn't on your radar yesterday.
Beyond that, available media space continues to grow and morph towards infinity while advancements in technology are constantly shortening the distance between having an idea and seeing it become a reality.
Annual plans can't account for the first of those things and they no longer help you gain an advantage over your competitors like they used to in buying up media space or with having bigger and faster factories or agency teams. For those reasons and more, it's time for annual plans to die a quick, painless death.
We have to quit creating marketing ideas based on frozen snapshots of the past and start creating ideas that live, breathe and adjust with the pace of life, just as we do. The world isn't static, so why do we create ideas that are using a process that assumes the media environment we operate in is?
So, what do we do if we don't have a plan?
Run around all willy-nilly?
O.K., not really.
Going back to the point of my planning-ness presentation, you don't need a plan if you have a purpose. Your purpose is your plan and you constantly move in that general direction. That's what I like about the Starbucks mission. It tells everyone in the organization what direction to move in and what the right areas are to focus on in doing it.
What this means for marketing is that planning and executing are a never-ending, iterative process instead of a linear chain of events on the annual marketing calendar.
Rather than planning an entire year's worth of stuff a year before it goes into play, you are continuously planning the next iteration of the things you're doing that have been successful along with generating a couple new ideas to test. You're constantly moving the things that have positive momentum forward and are adjusting or killing the things that don't, replacing the dead ones with your new ideas.
Of course this relies upon having a purpose that is big enough to inspire an ocean's worth of ideas. If you don't have that purpose, then what you're doing will likely lack consistent direction and feel void of meaning. And therein lies the problem with many brands. They lack a larger purpose that is about something more than making a profit.
Another significant challenge in this is that it means people have to operate differently. It would mean that we're no longer pulling out the annual planning tomes once a year and taking a few months to look at a snapshot of the market over the last year to create the plan for the next year, based on the assumption that it will look exactly like the year we just finished.
Instead, you will need a team that is continuously covering three areas—adjusting as they go according to what is necessary to achieve the brand's enduring purpose.
The first of these three areas covers constantly researching the market for unmet user/consumer needs that the brand can address and measuring the effectiveness of the ideas that the brand has already produced and deployed.
The second area includes taking all of that information and using it to create the strategies, ideas and prototypes/models for solving the unmet needs in addition to generating the plans for improve/evolve/adjust the ideas that are in play already.
The third area is executing the best of the new ideas and making the required adjustments to the ideas that have been living in the market. Once an idea is deployed, it is monitored for how it works against the desired outcomes (going back up to the first area.)
These areas could be covered by small teams of people with diverse skill sets who flow from one area to the next to constantly improve their best ideas while introducing the new ones they generate; or, it could be three small teams of experts in each given area who hand off their piece to the next team of experts.
Regardless of which way it gets done, the team is constantly moving and adapting, making measurable progress towards the far-reaching purpose that the brand aims to achieve.
I'm sure there are other issues with ditching annual marketing plans, like how to handle Wall Street and the sales force for instance. But I don't think any of these should be an excuse for continuing to make plans for a year from now based on the idea that next year will be just like last year. The answers to these things will emerge as we start working in this new way.
To pull this back to the quote that opened it up... If our big, detailed plans fly out of the window as soon as we get hit in the mouth, why have those plans in the first place? Why not have your only plan be your purpose, backed with the passion for wanting to achieve it more than anyone else in the world and staying in constant motion towards that purpose, adjusting to whatever comes next in the smartest way possible?