As global business increases competitive pressures, marketing departments face new challenges. They must anticipate and respond to frequently changing customer preferences and produce effective programs and campaigns to attract them. In the online world where customers can jump instantly from one company to another, Marketing must develop new ways to catch and hold their attention. Doing this well requires systematic, flexible planning that begins with the CMO and engages the entire department to utilize the full portfolio of resources and act as one to serve their mission.
In this fast-changing environment, Marketing itself must modernize with the times, adjusting its efforts to shifts in markets and keeping up with the accelerating pace of change. Aligning the department’s activities with strategic corporate goals is more than ever an essential activity for Marketing, and to do that requires planning. And marketing planning is a required part of what every CMO should have established in what is called marketing performance management that I have recently discussed. However, our research finds that many marketers aren’t satisfied with their department’s ability to do effective planning. Fewer than half (48%) of marketing organizations participating in our recently completed benchmark research on next-generation business planning said they are satisfied with their organization’s current process of creating marketing plans. More than 40 percent said the marketing planning process is too slow, has too few skilled resources and lacks readily available data; more than one in three (36%) said their technology is inadequate. In addition the frequency in how often organizations create, review and revise their marketing plans is in half of organizations done annually or quarterly. Clearly not as frequently as they should be reviewed and revised to adapt to changing requirements. Overall only 15 percent of research participants said they manage their marketing planning process very well.
Executive management expects Marketing’s allocations of budget and people to align with the organization’s strategic goals and correlate directly to sales and revenue results, but it can be a challenge to connect marketing spend to planning, execution and outcomes. A major reason is that marketing business planning requires data to enable comparisons between actual spending and the budget and results. Many organizations lack complete information about their marketing and sales environments and activities; without it, developing plans and setting objectives is difficult. For example, most marketing plans can’t compare actual spend information to the budget without time-consuming manual effort.
A further complication is what is goes into plans. One-third of our research participants reported that the accuracy of their plans depends on having accurate and timely data from other parts of the organization. Thus effective marketing organizations must integrate data about sales, customers, operations, suppliers and accounting to develop a complete picture of activities. Only with such a picture can the organization improve the accuracy of the marketing plan. In addition, having data on marketing activities is essential to determine how fully goals have been achieved.
To achieve this level of integration, organizations should build a single repository for all marketing-related information. Doing so will enable them to use analytics to measure the results of marketing efforts and track alignment between spending and execution. Such an information repository can help marketers accelerate the review process, which most departments need to do. According to our benchmark research, more than one-third (36%) of marketing organizations currently take 10 days or longer to review marketing spend vs. budgeted amounts, and nearly three-fourths (73%) take at least seven days. To manage strategy in today’s business environment, this is too long.
Furthermore, rather than being done once and remaining untouched thereafter, planning should be a continuous process designed to manage marketing performance to achieve objectives. More than half (53%) of organizations in our research create a marketing plan annually or semiannually. Fewer than that review it quarterly (28%) or revise it quarterly (34%). In our view, greater frequency improves effectiveness in management. Organizations that perform these activities less often are likely to struggle in aligning marketing spend to the budget.
Marketing should be able to update plans when changes necessitate it, but the research finds that organizations have difficulty in developing such flexibility. When major changes take place from the original plan, the largest percentage (34%) do a shorter revised plan while only one in five (22%) do a complete revision. In large measure that’s because most organizations use inadequate technology tools, primarily spreadsheets, for planning. For example, in linking their plan to the budget, 38 percent consolidate individual spreadsheets manually, and one-fourth (24%) each link them on the server or paste information from systems and spreadsheets into other systems and spreadsheets. Two in five (39%) use a spreadsheet by itself for marketing planning, and one-fourth (25%) use spreadsheets in conjunction with another application. Yet among those that use spreadsheets almost half (42%) admitted that those tools make it difficult to manage the marketing planning process. To determine the impact of the budget on marketing and business, most organizations copy and paste data into spreadsheets and manually update it. Very few (5%) use a dedicated business planning application.
To develop flexible, accurate marketing plans is a complex challenge that requires focusing on all aspects of planning: people, process, information and technology. It is a challenge well worth taking on. Toward that end we offer the following five suggestions for practices that if instituted can provide an advantage over competitors.
First, Marketing should align plans to business objectives – and keep them aligned. Marketing should have the ability to use what-if scenarios to determine investment priorities and be able to conduct collaboration to establish and maintain Marketing’s alignment with other functions. To perform what-if requires ability to conduct trade-off analysis and scenario planning are key tools for discovering the best opportunities and deciding where to shift investment priorities if necessary. Yet when trying to assess potential trade-offs, fewer than one-third (30%) of organizations said they have all or most of the numbers needed to measure their impacts on the plan’s alignment to strategy. This will require the adoption of purpose-built technology that supports marketing planning processes and users and can measure how well current marketing investments optimize spending.
Second, in today’s fierce competition for customers and market share, marketing groups must be able to judge immediately the effectiveness of their spending and its impact on sales and business results. In our research just 10 percent of organizations said they can accurately measure their marketing plan’s effect on the rest of the company; the largest percentage (45%) have only a general idea of the impact.
Third, Marketing should plan routinely. Groups that do this are more able to track alignment to goals than those plan sporadically. Frequent planning can ensure that necessary changes are made promptly. However, doing this requires appropriate processes and tools that most organizations don’t have. Marketing leaders must take responsibility for the accuracy of their plans, but our research shows that many cannot assure this. Only 37 percent said their marketing plans are accurate or very accurate; most (48%) are only somewhat accurate. In addition only a slight majority (56%) measure the accuracy of their plans. Even fewer (10%) can accurately measure their plan’s impact on the rest of the company.
Fourth, managing marketing planning effectively requires applications that support these efforts. It’s never too soon to modernize marketing practices and improve the department’s contribution to the company’s competitiveness. Implementing a dedicated tool for marketing planning can alleviate a number of issues, such as those mentioned above, that hinder productivity and diminish the department’s importance to the business. An effective tool can enable the organization to move beyond sporadic, partial reviews and manual tasks that waste time, and use that time for core functions that add value to the business.
Finally, we urge marketing leaders to take steps to achieve excellence in their organizations. They should assess current marketing performance and its alignment to corporate objectives; review the portfolio of assets and resources that are managed by the CMO or head of marketing. Identify areas where small improvement can have a large impact, and select systems that can help realize the improvements. Use the new systems to track progress toward objectives. Focus on efforts that can optimize spending to reach revenue goals. Review planning to adjust marketing activities to reach performance goals.
If marketing planning is taken seriously as a process and has a dedicated application to support, the CMO and marketing department can improve outcomes from its budget and resources and add value to the enterprise and do what I have written and master the marketing mayhem in a meaningful manner.
CEO & Chief Research Officer