7 Reasons Why Your Marketing Plan Doesn't Work
By John Jantsch, creator, Duct Tape Marketing
Every business should operate with a set of plans Ė
a plan for the business, a plan for cash, a plan for
growth, and certainly a plan for marketing. Opening
a business with no plan is kind of like driving
somewhere youíve probably never been without a map
or GPS device.
A marketing plan is commonly accepted as standard
fare, but still, few businesses operate from any
semblance of one. In my experience itís not because
they donít think they need one, itís because theyíve
either never gotten around to creating one, or
worse, theyíve created a marketing plan only to
check it off the list and shove it in the bottom of
a drawer somewhere.
Iíve worked with many small businesses, created many
marketing plans, and I can tell you that a big part
of the problem is the current plan mindset.
Marketing plans are essential mind and stress
freeing tools, and you can and should lean very
heavily on yours - if you can avoid these marketing
1) Itís not about the plan
People think plan and immediately envision the
document. (Iíve seen people spend more time making
the cover of a marketing plan look pretty than they
take to make something meaningful inside.)
Itís a lot like Lance Armstrongís book title Ė Itís
not about the bike. The plan is a vehicle, but itís
the planning steps, stages, meetings, questions, and
inputs (training for Lance) that create marketing
plans that work.
In fact, Iíll go a step further and state that a
marketing plan, like a marketing system, is just a
start, itís a systematic marketing planning approach
that makes a marketing plan a living tool that can
power and guide your business.
To have an effective marketing plan you must have an
effective marketing planning process and that, as
youíll discover in the next set of steps, never
2) Deal with todayís reality
Almost every business, start-up to mature, wakes up
one day and decides to create a marketing plan. What
usually occurs is that they create a plan from
scratch Ė as though nothing has occurred in the
history of the business to date.
Itís as though the plan architect attempts to simply
add on rooms and floors and markets and products
without regard for retaining walls, foundations, -
maybe even budgets. Anyone who has remodeled (an
appropriate analogy I think) knows what a disaster
this approach can create.
Itís okay to have a plan thatís a stretch, maybe
even taking you in totally new directions, but
youíve got to deal with where you are now and plan
transitions that make sense for your culture,
customer, and message, or youíre destined to fail.
3) Look for the right questions
Everybody wants the magic answers (Iíve written a
marketing planning software tool and the #1 request
is for sample plans.) The problem with someone
elseís answers is they are almost undoubtedly wrong.
Throw on top of it that, even if they are right
today, they will be wrong tomorrow.
The systematic planning approach suggests that
instead of the right answers you should be focused
on finding the right questions. Answers, like a
system, are rigid. Questions, or a process of using
key questions to produce answers, are an approach
that will yield the right answers no matter the
Southwest Airlines simply wanted be known as the
low-cost airline Ė period. Thereís a well worn story
about how Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher,
used to ask his executives when they posed some
innovation whether it contributed to Southwest being
the low cost carrier or not. If they could answer
yes, it got looked at, if no, it was scratched from
4) Simplify meaning
A marketing plan isnít sufficient unless it starts
tilting towards the 50-60 page mark, right? Actually
itís far tougher, but far more useful generally, to
create one that stays in the 4-5 page range. That
way you might actually do it and potential readers
might actually view it.
The quicker a prospect can make an important and
meaningful distinction of how your message is
different, the easier everyoneís job will be. The
only way to do that is to work very, very hard at
creating simple, metaphor-like, messages that make
it very easy for people to understand instantly what
Tear everything in your business to shreds and find
ways to tell a very simple marketing story about
your products, services, people and processes. Make
it so simple that anyone can tell it.
5) Monitor friction
Marketing planning and implementation is mostly
about doing the things that slowly build momentum,
itís not about hitting it big next week. When you
dig in and look closely at every marketing action,
measure specific results of each campaign, landing
page, or direct mailing, you can begin to spot the
places that are causing friction and thereby slowing
If you donít hold every initiative accountable you
canít make your plan work Ė itís also a great way to
waste a lot of money. Failure to monitor, analyze,
and measure marketing actions is the single greatest
factor holding businesses back.
If you donít know whatís working, thereís a pretty
good bet you donít know whatís not working, either.
6) Take out the trash
You donít have to do something just because itís in
the plan. Iíve seen so many businesses so tied to
the plan document that they commit time and
resources to things that are clearly
counterproductive once released into the real
market. But, hey, itís in the plan.
Of course, this goes hand in hand with point #5,
youíve got to know what is and is not productive,
but once you do, youíve also got to take the steps
to cut your losses.
This oneís a bit tricky because some things donít
work as planned right away. Iíve seen an advertising
program bombing until the organization started to
receive some favorable press, then all of a sudden,
the advertising took hold.
7) Guess again
People donít want to admit it, certainly consultants
donít, but a marketing plan is a set of guesses,
hopefully based on some knowledge, but no matter
what, you need to commit to correcting the course.
I suggest that you meet at least every six weeks to
renew your questions, assumptions, results, goals
and objectives with an eye on using your flexibility
to make real time adjustments based on real time
The main point is that you commit to a schedule so
that your plan never has a chance to decay. There
will be things that work better than expected and
those that donít, but having a group, or even all
staff, check-in on the marketing twice a quarter you
can keep it alive and driving while you make the
adjustments to take advantage of new found
Marketing planning can be a pretty fun team sport.
---Source: John Jantsch is a veteran
marketing coach, award winning blogger and author of
Duct Tape Marketing, a small business marketing
This article is a reprint from his column at
OPEN Forum from Sep 03, 2009.
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