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Effective customer acquisition requires a much more agile approach today than just a few years ago. Rapid testing, iteration/optimization and aggressive scaling of things that work define an effective customer acquisition approach today. And what works right now often won't work next month. What does a marketing plan look like under these conditions? Is it still relevant?  How do you handle planning?

  • JB

    Joseph Bentzel

    about 5 years ago #

    If a 'revenue' plan is being presented to board members or investors as a basis for funding, they expect to see the associated 'sales & marketing capacity' (human and material assets) needed to achieve the revenue plan.

    I know that in today's market, the tactical implementation of the plan will be more fungible and agile--but there is always some underlying revenue growth objective and assumptions that drive resource allocation.

    If one looks under the hood at the Box S1 (pre IPO financials) you will see that Box spends $2+ for every $1 of top line revenue. The bulk of the spend was on Sales/Marketing (human assets and growth campaigns), R&D, G&A and finally 'cost of goods sold' (their cloud infrastructure costs).

    The Box 'pivot' to enterprise markets---rather than chasing 'freemium' user growth and figuring out how to more effectively monetize it---drove up their human asset spend in sales/marketing in a big, big way. The increasing dependence on VC dollars by the Box founders is why 65% plus of Box today is VC-owned. Without the IPO, Box would run out of money in its current resource model and rapidly become an M&A target for a software or cloud superpower.

    In my book I state that I believe in 'planning' as a financial and HR necessity---especially if your deal is VC-dependent, but also advocate a 'No Huddle Offense' model for marketing/sales ops based on the situation on the ground in your target opportunity environment.

    • GG

      Gary Gaspar

      about 5 years ago #

      Awesome answer Joseph!

      I love the idea of the plan being revenue driven. The way I see it, I like to look at my business from a funnel perspective and optimize every step to maximize my bottom line.

      That being said, each new marketing idea that I have, I put it in my canevas to see the impact on the bottom line.

      Because it is a hot topic, I wanted to share the canevas we use ourselves with you guys. Feel free to make a copy and use it for yourself : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqgsALccI55UdDNGVlFQWmdRMG5JN0RrSlhBX3NYUEE&usp=sharing

      Thanks!

      • SC

        Shana Carp

        about 5 years ago #

        When you first start, you don't necessarily know what model will work best for pricing - how do you know and then match your marketing plan to it?

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 5 years ago #

      Awesome answer Joseph, thanks! I love this "...‘planning’ as a financial and HR necessity—especially if your deal is VC-dependent, but also advocate a ‘No Huddle Offense’ model for marketing/sales ops based on the situation on the ground in your target opportunity environment."

      • JB

        Joseph Bentzel

        about 5 years ago #

        Thanks for the kind words brother. Extremely valuable topic, especially in light of the emergence of many more quantifiable 'growth metrics' that drive board-level perception of a marketer's success or lack there-of. I think that in a high tech industry 'Post-Box IPO' you're going to see VCs getting more demanding--not less demanding--on the overall strategic marketing plan as well as the tactical sub-components of the plan. Box's pivot from a consumer-focused plan to an enterprise and developer-focused plan is very expensive to execute and VCs will expect to see that growth marketer's have internalized its lessons.

  • RE

    Rachel Ergo

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi All! I do think it's smart to have a high-level plan that explains marketing's role as a strategic driver of growth for the biz. Document marketing's key objectives at each stage of the business and how it will serve both internal and external stakeholders (i.e. Sales Org, Customer Success Org, Customers, etc.).

    I've had the most success with creating very focused 3-6 month program plans designed to move the biz to the next level, towards repeatable and scalable growth, as quickly as possible. For example, if we have validated market fit for customer X, create a program solely focused on acquiring new customers that fit this profile. The program would test and validate what we need to do at each stage of the customer journey to effectively attract and convert these customers. The next program plan may focus on testing and validating what we need to do to improve retention of customer X.

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    about 5 years ago #

    I really like the Lean Canvas approach to marketing/growth planning these days. You should be clear on targets, goals, messaging, initial budget, and tactical approach; but the old 'build a 50 page powerpoint marketing deck' is a relic.

    I will say that one of the main concerns I've heard from marketers at big orgs is that, much like trying to steer an oil tanker or land a man on the moon, they feel that their size and ability to course correct mid campaign is far more challenging than it is for smaller cos. That rigid structure of the company in general makes marketers feel more like they need to really 'nail it upfront' because once the horse is out of the barn (to mix metaphors) their hands are, for the most part, tied.

    • RE

      Rachel Ergo

      about 5 years ago #

      Morgan - the other week I had a large org marketer admit to me that although they understood the project we were discussing was not going to support their growth goals, they still had to do it b/c it was budgeted in the annual marketing plan. It doesn't surprise me how hard rigid organizations get hit by market disrupters

  • JS

    Jonathon Schuster

    about 5 years ago #

    If you can't plan out about 3 months you're not an effective marketing leader in my book. That's not to say that you need every test and result planned out, but without direction and goals over a longer period of time you just won't grow with any focus. Marketing isn't a game of whack-a-mole where every single piece is just iterated on- to develop brand consistency and progress that is tied to product there has to be a plan in place. The further the marketing plan reaches out the more broad it gets, however I don't tend to put any stock in plans that reach further than a year.

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 5 years ago #

      Thanks Jonathon, really appreciate the answer. Do you feel like the marketing planning process today is at all different from ten years ago? Does planning need to be more dynamic than in the past since feedback loops are faster and growth opportunities are more fleeting?

      • JS

        Jonathon Schuster

        about 5 years ago #

        The planning process is different because the feedback loops are shorter, so plans don't extend out over multiple years. Planning needs to be more cross functional in larger organizations and extends further into the technology suite. That said, I am a big believer in the agile approach for day to day operations of marketing- scrums, retrospectives, sprint planning, etc. All my experience from small startups to mid-sized/later staged technology companies.

        • CN

          Chris Neumann

          about 5 years ago #

          What I've found as a consultant backs up what Steve Blank always says: "No plan survives first contact with the customer". To the extent that an org doesn't deeply understand its customers, the plan ends up going out the window. I just had an example of this happen recently where some basic user testing found that a lot of critical information was not on the web site, so we need to allocate resources to building out this content and validating that it helps. To the extent that you've got a pretty stable company and known business model, you can probably plan a bit further out. So, I'd say it's proportional to company and business model stage.

    • TD

      Tiffany Dasilva

      about 5 years ago #

      I agree with this - I think people try to use the excuse that they are moving too fast to sit down and write a plan but I think that's usually an excuse for not being able to plan your time, and "push" back when necessary to give yourself time to process through your goals and objectives.

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 5 years ago #

      One other thought on your original answer... You suggest that effective marketing leadership requires the ability to do long term planning. How does that compare to the ability to sustain strong results? Would you rate a marketing leader higher on their ability to sustain great results with poor planning or the ability to create great plans with poor results? I think the answer is obvious, but want to hear what you have to say. Thanks.

      • JS

        Jonathon Schuster

        about 5 years ago #

        The two are part and parcel. You have to be able to do both to be a marketing leader. That said the world of marketing needs people who execute at the direction of others- different people have different strengths. To lead, you need both.

  • AB

    Andy Beard

    about 5 years ago #

    1. How you will store event data to overcome limitations of current platforms (e.g. issues with identity)
    2. Key metrics
    3. Acceptable boundaries & risk
    4. Legal framework for what you are doing - terms & conditions, privacy, conforming to data protection laws (especially when data crosses international borders)
    5. Security of data and liability - don't store credit cards, don't ask for Google user/pwd etc

    I think these things need to be understood by the whole team and in some way defined. Much easier for a 1 man team for certain.

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 5 years ago #

      Thanks Andy. What about growth goals, specific media plans, target user segments, budgets, etc.? Are those still relevant? If so, what should the planning cycle be?

      • AB

        Andy Beard

        about 5 years ago #

        Personally I am now looking on budget, both for tools & dev cycles as a job requirement rather than as part of an eventual plan of action.
        Fighting for budget doesn't just affect job satisfaction and performance, it can eventually lead to a total nervous breakdown and long-term anxiety issues (personal experience)

        So if you haven't got significant buy in from day 1, & maybe even contractual obligation, get out.

        Marketing spend budget is something different - if you have the framework in place to prove ROI in a reasonable cycle time, then there shouldn't be significant pushback.

        Growth goal = key metrics

        I would look on the remainder as part of a hypothesis to test, and I think a hypothesis should be documented especially if resources other than your own effort are required.

        I suppose a series of hypotheses in many ways is the modern "marketing plan" for a growth hacker, though how to cross the chasm with traditional marketing departments and gain co-operation is complex.
        e.g. it is hard enough to encourage an online venue to feature your video trailer (the PR guys) without requiring a link to a particular landing page or using a specific tracking link.

  • LE

    Lisa Enckell

    about 5 years ago #

    To Morgan's point I do think it's a big difference if you're working at a smaller or larger company. (I work for a start-up with approx. 40 employees). I've found it very helpful to set a plan and strategy for the general direction and overall plans, but we have to be very flexible within that plan, and ready to change and adapt. Having said that, I see a bit of risk to run for the "latest thing in marketing" and follow what others are doing instead of looking at our unique needs, and do things that really make sense for us.

  • RC

    Rob Carpenter

    about 5 years ago #

    Mostly, I do believe that the old marketing plan is not as useful as it once was, simply because plans change, assumptions get proven wrong, the feedback loop is quicker, the kinds of businesses that exist today require different focus at different stages, etc.

    However, in nearly every startup I've worked with 5 problems consistently arise within marketing teams and efforts.

    1) They often did not have focus with their goals. They would see a metrics to improve, and go after it without considering how it contributes to actual business growth.

    2) Things like brand values, brand voice, positioning statements, competitor analysis, and SWOT analysis are not defined anywhere, or at least not truly followed and utilized when executing. This results in disconnected messaging and a kind of "multiple personality disorder" for businesses. Everyone that contributes to marketing, especially those that execute, should be fully aware of who the business is, how the business should speak to their audience, and understand the market landscape.

    3) Because they did not have a focused, overarching objective or a clearly defined voice and understanding of their market, their strategy and subsequent execution was all over the place. Instead of leveraging all efforts together to drive a specific metric that matters, they celebrate with individual, lesser important metrics are improved (even though they don't end up contributing to actual business growth).

    This isn't to say that increasing social followers, blog traffic, Foursquare badges, whatever are not important (except maybe the latter). It is saying that it matters how you improve those metrics. Do you run a Twitter retweet promotion to drive traffic to a landing page that converts emails, that can be nurtured to do drive sales [the core metric], or do you run the retweet promotion to growTwitter followers [the core metric]? That distinction matters a whole lot.

    4) Everyone that works on marketing would have their own ideas for driving growth, and those ideas were often not communicated openly and prioritized across the team. Resulting in, again, disconnected efforts that are not fully leveraged.

    5) Best practices, specific tactics and processes, specific tools used and how they should be used are often not documented anywhere. So, when someone new joins the team, training either takes longer than it should, or the new person goes about executing in their own, disconnected way.

    For all of these reasons, I believe having a document that guides marketing execution focus with a specific growth goal, strategy, and defined processes matters. Especially for startups where resources are limited.

    Companies today need to define what their core growth metric is, and a specific goal that they should strive to achieve within a specific time period. I call this a "Primary Aim". That focus will help you define clear execution objectives that can directly contribute to meeting that goal.

    Even defining daily, weekly, and monthly must-dos can help create a consistent marketing machine that sustainably drives growth. Optimize that kind of system to be time and resource efficient and that will open up time to work on new campaigns as opportunities arise, without sacrificing growth while you work on those campaigns.

    Today's "marketing plan" should:

    - Define who the company is, and how they should go about marketing the business, considering variables such as competitors, the product, market opportunity, the brand, etc.
    - Define a clear growth goal ("Primary Aim") and the metrics that matter most to growth.
    - Define areas of execution that directly contribute to achieving the Primary Aim, and define an execution schedule to strive towards in order to be more consistent and optimize time/resources.
    - Be a repository for ideas and growth opportunities that can contribute to the Primary Aim or other core growth metrics so that the team can prioritize campaigns and work together more efficiently.
    - Document processes that have been proven effective, including the tools and how they are best used together and leveraged.
    - The "plan" should be a living document. Plans change, assumptions get proven wrong, etc.. You can use a document like this as a guiding light, but also update it as you learn what works, what doesn't work, what matters, and what doesn't matter.

    You may have many of these things defined in separate docs already, but I've found it really useful to have one document that houses all of this information. That document ends up being used and referenced more than when spread out in different docs in different folders, etc. You can call this document a "marketing plan" if you like. I usually call it a "Growth Plan" myself and it has always been very useful in helping me and the teams I work with stay focused.

    This ended up being a much longer answer than I intended.. So, thanks for reading.

    • SC

      Shana Carp

      about 5 years ago #

      Most people are also not used to defining big goals (see, 3-4) - how do you define them for companies to make it easier to have marketing objective that work.

  • EM

    Elia Morling

    about 5 years ago #

    Effective customer acquisition requires a much more agile approach today, but you still need a clear idea about
    1) Who you will be creating value for (target group analysis, target groups)
    2) What makes your value unique (competitor analysis, positioning, messaging)
    3) A set of clear defined goals
    4) An idea about key channels and activities (surely you are doing recurring activities and attending conferences etc)
    5) An idea about the resources you will be needing
    6) A list of the KPI:s you will be using
    ---
    Growth hacking is not an excuse to get lazy, or sloppy.

    Many startups, especially at an early stage, will target niches / tribes of people that gather around a common passion. In that case you should add on: purpose, beliefs, and values. You're dealing with interconnected people after all, and not robots.

  • JM

    Jason Miguel

    about 5 years ago #

    The initial plan / positioning is extremely important to me...

    I use https://leanstack.com/ as a framework + my own custom 50 checkpoint spreadsheet when launching.

  • JM

    Jason Miguel

    about 5 years ago #

    Im currently upgrading my startup spreadsheet. Ill provide the template free for download in a few days for the community.

    http://screencast.com/t/ZGR1FFLVibTS

  • SG

    Si Gornick

    about 5 years ago #

    Agile is key, but the size of a company and its marketplace are critical factors. I guess it's always good to have a plan, but it's also important to realize that plans break down fast once they come face to face with the real world, whether you're on the line of scrimmage or launching a small startup like we are. Just getting noticed in the midst of the content deluge is all we want right now. That's not something a large brand has to worry about.

  • DS

    Daria Shualy

    about 5 years ago #

    About a year ago I met with the founder of OutBrain, who's an advocate of the Lean Startup approach.

    In OutBrain they have one list of priorities for the entire company. When they want to decide on an effort, be it R&D or Marketing, they ask themselves one question: does it serve the company's priorities. This keeps everyone in focus.

    So, yes or no to a Marketing plan? I think you need to know your company's goals and high level objectives, if you stay focused on those, everything else will fall into place by answering: will this Marketing effort serve our long term goals, as they manifest themselves in high level objectives (like big features).

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 5 years ago #

    Thank you all for your help answering this question. @morgan and I took all of your answers into consideration for this article that was published on Entrepreneur.com today: http://growthhackers.com/do-you-still-need-a-marketing-plan-yes-but-constant-updating-is-key . Would love some feedback on the article. Thanks!

  • CO

    Chris Out

    almost 5 years ago #

    I think the real challenge is pivoting an organisation from a traditional marketing approach to an agile marketing approach.

    This article gives some tools for this pivot but I'm really curious how these traditional organisations would approach this challenge as outlined in this article.

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