Highly detailed 12-month marketing plans are a thing of the past. You need a more agile way to plan your marketing activity that still allows you to think ahead, but also is built to be responsive to changes in your business and the market.

Enter the marketing road map. This version of agile planning can be accelerated or decelerated as needed. It can help you evaluate new opportunities, as well as the effectiveness of past activity. The only failure with it would be to execute it exactly the way it was planned.

Remember all of that time and effort you spent planning last November? If you were like us and our clients, you were probably feeling excited about the potential of your spreadsheets and calendars. This is going to be a big year! It seems laughable now to think about it.

Whether 2020 has meant opportunity or heartache for you, you didn’t plan it.

As we stare down 2021 with all of its uncertainty, how the heck do we plan? But if we don’t plan, how will we capture opportunity quickly enough to compete?

At Six-Point, we’ve been developing some techniques that hit that sweet spot between agility and planning. Lately, we find that a “map” feels more appropriate than a “plan.” After all, we know that in plotting any kind of route, there are always variables. You can speed up or slow down. You can take a side trip to check out something else of interest. You can plot a detour if there is a roadblock of some kind. 

But you don’t have to give up on the destination. When you are building out a marketing road map, there are a few critical features that make it different from a traditional marketing plan.

  • Old rule: You set a budget/plan and track variances to it throughout the year.

New rule: You build in the ability to handle frequent and substantial changes. Our road maps assume that the leadership team is revisiting and revising planned activity and expenditures at least quarterly, and doing so in the context of the market and the company’s performance. These conversations are held with the expectation of change… scanning for it, and embracing it, instead of seeing it as a failure. The biggest fail in the mapping mindset would be to execute everything exactly as it was laid out, as it probably means there was a missed opportunity along the way.

  • Old rule: You make annual, predictable commitments to vendors, media, and internal stakeholders.

New rule: You allocate resources in a flexible way to respond to emerging opportunities. This flows naturally out of the quarterly revisions, but it needs to be stressed. You need to keep plenty of “dry powder” (as one of my clients likes to say) in 2021. This doesn’t mean that you are thinking about a marketing budget as a potential resource to fund operations (obviously, it happens, but you don’t want that mindset). It means that you aren’t earmarking every dollar of the budget, or locking it all down with contracts that can carry penalties. Instead, you are thinking about your marketing budget as a combination of “infrastructure” spends (the basics you need to make your strategy successful), and “opportunity” spends (resources that you will use to propel the company forward).

  • Old rule: You spend a lot of time and energy having stakeholders review and revise budget line items and timing spreadsheets.

New rule: You invest quality time in conversations that develop and internalize strategy. Again, this is a natural outflow of the other two. In order to be able to execute on a marketing road map effectively, your team needs to know three things:

1. where you are now

2. where you are going

3. what you can’t or won’t do

You don’t spend time on spreadsheets and line items. You spend time making the destination crystal clear for your team (including a conversation about how you will know when you get there…what you will see, what you will hear, what you will feel). You also need to make sure that people clearly know where the guardrails are. Your company’s strategy will determine any DO NOTS for your team, and if those are clearly shared alongside a clear goal, then spotting opportunities, responding quickly, and allocating resources efficiently will be infinitely easier. I have been pleasantly surprised with the number of “feasibility studies” our team has been called on to perform over the past two months. This means that people are valuing a “no” answer as much as they value a “yes” answer, which is the most critical part of any strategy. You need to know what not to do. It’s not as fun as a yes, perhaps, but it is also much more valuable.

“Strategy is not what you’re going to do. That’s Planning. Strategy is what you’re not going to do.”

– Patty McCord, Former Chief Talent Officer, Netflix

  • Old rule: Marketing is a department with a siloed budget and siloed success metrics.

New rule: Building a marketing road map is a collaborative, engaging, and energizing process for the whole organization. The annual planning and budgeting process is a soul-sucking one. But planning a trip? That is exciting! I love looking at maps, plotting routes, seeing potential stops along the way, and anticipating the experiences we’ll have along the way. What if your 2021 marketing plan had that kind of energy around it? It can.

Want help to apply these new rules of marketing planning to your team? Check out our new workshop in which I’ll work alongside your team to build out your 2021 marketing road map.

Or contact us and we can do the heavy lifting for you. Our strategists can do intake and research and deliver you a strategy and a road map in a few weeks so your team can focus on keeping things running.

There have been no easy or painless lessons in this pandemic, but I do believe that small and mid-sized businesses are capable of embracing the sweet spot between uncertainty and data, between agility and planning. And if we do, we can turn it into an incredible competitive advantage.