Why Most Marketing (and Business) Plans Fail

To Do ListIt’s a challenge in our industry not to come across a business owner without a poor experience of working with a marketing consultant. All too often I’ve heard the woeful story that suggests someone “came in”, worked up a plan, and then left the building.

And, with that blazing gauntlet laid down on the table, my job is to overcome the sins of my predecessors with some amazing business turnaround idea that will redeem the marketing profession as a whole.

However regrettable (and common) this situation is, it genuinely doesn’t surprise me. And, in defence of my fellow marketing professionals, it’s not really their fault. (No, it really isn’t).

Only a year or so into my working life as a marketing consultant, it struck me that some of the businesses, many of whom had acquired some sort of government grant funding for the pleasure of obtaining a marketing plan, were paying for something that was rarely going to see the light of day.

Why? They simply didn’t have the funds to invest in their ongoing marketing.

So here’s the truth: the main reason that most marketing (and business) plans fail is that they are never actually implemented.

Sounds obvious? Possibly.

Let’s see if this rings a bell: Business decides it wants to grow, asks (usually a government agency) for help, is told they need a plan and said plan can attract funding. Business employs marketing consultant to create a plan, reviews plan, says it’s great, sticks it on a shelf. Marketing consultant trots off into the sunset feeling pleased with self. Months go by, business becomes frustrated that the “plan” did not work. What a waste of time, energy and money. Business does not grow.

Sound familiar? I bet it does.

When Volpa started “giving away” its intellectual property of the marketing plan right at the very start of the relationship with the client, it was perceived as unusual. But it was very much because of a genuine desire to make a difference for the businesses that we work for. In essence we give away what other marketing consultants charge thousands for. But we do it because, as a business, we’d rather be working on what actually works for a business, not what might.

Our obsession with planning up front sometimes takes new clients by surprise. And when we steer them back to the plan (entrepreneurs love to go off piste, it’s a fact), they wonder why the plan shouldn’t just “change”. Flex, yes. Change, no. Not if you are going to stay on track to achieving your business objectives. Changing the plan usually means “making it up” and we’re not great fans of that as a business strategy.

The old adage “fail to plan, plan to fail” only goes so far. I’d add “Fail to do, doomed to fail”.

I’ve seen grand plans and simple ones. But the ones that really succeed, that really make the difference, are simply the plans that actually get implemented.

In fact successful marketing of a business is not actually rocket science. You can be swung by the immense creativity of some agencies (and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be creative), or the grand idea that takes forever to create, but unless you actually do something, it’s simply not going to happen.

Although, even if you do have a great plan, and you are actively “doing” marketing, be careful not to get caught up in the detail. It can be tempting (and relentless) to constantly feel you need to come up with new all the time, but sometimes repeating yourself works too. Sometimes people don’t always get the message the first time. Or the second. So tell, tell and tell again.

In summary, if you want your marketing efforts to work, keep it simple, keep it do-able, and keep it up.