4412490199_223496cebb_mIn April 2012 I had the opportunity to attend a social media conference called Social Slam, which was held in Knoxville, Tennessee. One advantage of attending this conference is that I was able to attend a talk by Mitch Joel, a well-known agency man hailing from Montreal who has authored two critically acclaimed books, Six Pixels of Separation and Ctrl Alt Delete. Although the speech was more than a year ago, I still remember with complete clarity one of the most important points Joel made in his speech. He asked the audience when we thought mobile marketing would be a necessary tool in the marketer’s toolbox. The general consensus was “probably no more than two years.” Joel then noted that given the time it takes to conduct market research, create an integrated marketing strategy that will utilize new tools, and make sure the proper personnel and other resources are available, companies were already behind the 8-ball if they had not started planning for the onslaught of mobile marketing.

This hypothesis is not wrong, but it is only part of the story. These days, planning for the future cannot be assigned to a “planning season.” With the business and marketing worlds in a perpetual state of evolution (if not revolution), planning for the future is now more like a treadmill, less like a quick sprint.

Why Planning Your Marketing Campaign Has Changed

When I first started in the marketing business, the primary focus of our annual proposals to clients consisted of media recommendations. Most publications would send us media kits in late July or early August, and those media kits, printed as they were on expensive stock and used glossy inks, would include an editorial calendar for the coming year. Although the details of that editorial calendar might change, you could propose key issues for clients and know that your recommendation would not be hindered by a change in plans. Pricing, barring any unforeseen additions or subtractions, would not change once you negotiated rates with the publication. If you proposed something special like an inside front cover position or a belly band (do you remember those bands that wrap around the magazine so you have to rip them off in order to read the magazine?) your suggestion would not be impacted by any external forces.

All of these factors made it fairly easy to plan a year in advance. Indeed, you could not really plan more than a year in advance if the majority of your budget was based on media dollars because the editorial calendar, 12 months in coverage, ruled the day.

The first sign that times were changing came with the increase in popularity of online advertising. Suddenly, you had the option of buying digital space based on impressions, not just a flat rate. The amount of times your ad would show up would be set by an automated system that publications assured us would measure out the number of impressions for which our clients were paying. Then e-newsletters began to appear, and publications started to offer the opportunity to target certain portions of those audiences, and the audience numbers you were going to reach shifted week-to-week.

Technology, of course, became the primary fuel for this fire of change that engulfed the marketing world. Now news releases could be planned, executed, and published over a period of days rather than weeks or months. SEO came into focus, as did Google’s constant changing of the “magic formula.” SEO has never been something you’d want to just sit for 12 months or longer. And finally, needless to say, social media arrived. Now you know what your competitors are up to at any given moment. Now a publication spotlighting your product on their Facebook page can suddenly thrust your company into a very unplanned social media environment. People are perhaps talking about you or your products online, and you can’t plan for those scenarios.

Is there a point in strategizing?

All of this may make it seem like strategy should be a thing of the past. If you can no longer truly guess what will be coming your way, what is the point in creating a marketing strategy for a year or for 6 months? We actually suggest that developing a comprehensive marketing strategy is more important now than ever. Even though you may not be able to plan for those countless individual events that will require your attention, your marketing plan will offer you guidance on how you can prepare for those scenarios. A marketing plan can help you make sure that your blog posts will support and not contradict your print advertisements. Moreover, the process of developing a marketing campaign will encourage you to take the time to do the research and set your objectives. What does your company want to accomplish over the next six months and how can you get there?

While we perpetually are dealing with unforeseen opportunities for our clients, we are also getting ready to begin working on our marketing proposals for 2014. We are beginning the research that will provide us with a foundation for the recommendations we will be offering our clients. Our proposals can no longer promise to cover every potential exchange of information or every possible opportunity, but we can promise a focus on objectives, strategy, and accountability.

Is your company stifling strategy, or are you planning more than ever? If you are finding that the planning process is difficult, give us a call. We can help you out, and there’s no better time than now.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taimoo/4412490199/ via Creative Commons