It’s time to update your marketing plan!


by Karen Newcombe

For the past eight uncertain years, many businesses have been reluctant to put the time and effort into updating a marketing plan that could become useless overnight. Some took an ad hoc approach to marketing, adjusting on the fly from month to month. Other stuck with a tried and true plan from the mid-2000s, waiting for an All Clear signal that the economy is now strong and secure. That signal may still be several years out, and uncertainty about economic conditions is unlikely to be resolved until after the next presidential election – and perhaps not even then.

Even as the economy dragged behind, the world went right on changing. You shouldn’t wait any longer: it’s time to get out the marketing plan and give it a tune up. If you haven’t done this for more than five years, it’s probably time for more than a tune up, your plan may need a complete overhaul and strategy review. 

The keys to a useful plan are these:

  1. Useable: it should guide your actions in the real world on a daily basis.
  2. Flexible: when change is the norm, the plan must be flexible. 
  3. Realistic: we all have grand ideas, but the plan should reflect what your people can actually accomplish within a realistic timeframe.
  4. Clear: everyone in the firm should be able to explain the strategy in a sentence or two, and more importantly, understand how their work supports that strategy - whether they are an entry level admin or the CEO. 

How do you know if you need a new plan? 

I’ve visited plenty of businesses with no marketing plan. In our contemporary business environment, both individuals and businesses rely on the Internet and social media for the information that supports their purchasing decisions. Even a one-man shop can’t afford to go on without a plan for how to manage what the world learns about your business online. You’ll be left behind. 

Businesses owned by one person or a family may have been happy to get through the recession with enough work to keep the doors open and their staff employed. These companies may still be reluctant to spend money on marketing again, but with the economy recovering, excessive caution could result in the business falling short of its potential. The best way to get out of a rut is to do an honest analysis of the situation today, identify an aspiration for where the firm should be in one/three/ five years, then plan the actions needed to get there. 

Mid-sized firms often survived the recession by taking work they wouldn’t normally consider, under financial straits that no longer make sense. Low-profit projects booked earlier that won’t be completed for another year or two are tying up talented staff that could be better used on more profitable work. That calls for an interim plan – how can the firm make the best of these projects without compromising client relationships, project quality, and your business reputation? How will you transition out of emergency mode (“We take all work!”) back to a position of commanding better profits and being selective in go/no go decisions? A well crafted plan will strive to answer these questions, and give staff a reason to look forward.

Large firms usually have marketing planning on a schedule, and the resources to ensure needed updates are done regularly. If your large firm postponed planning for several years due to budget constraints or market uncertainty, now is the time to get back on schedule: the situation has changed enough in the past 18 months to warrant an update now. A large ship is slower to turn, and adjustments in large firms can take time to play out, so for them it can be useful to plan farther out for five, ten, twenty years, so the long-term heading can be worked toward through everyday actions. Holding off planning now may result in holding the firm back. 

Plan for change and uncertainty

One way to deal with an erratic economy that remains difficult to predict is to be prepared: build several contingency plans that cover twor or three different marketplace scenarios. What if the economy is dragged into a new recession by financial breakdowns overseas? What if the U.S. economy suddenly booms after the presidential election? What if it limps along at half mast for another five or ten years? 

In an upcoming post I’ll talk about scenario planning, and how it can reveal things about your market you may have missed, and why it can help your firm survive when the unexpected occurs. 


232QAWS© Karen L. Newcombe 2016     Email:   Phone: 954-428-5457