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Home | Not Marketing PLAN, but Marketing PLANNING


Monday, June 29, 2015



Years back, when we were both working in Marketing at Coca-Cola USA, during months and months of endless work-days and nights we would tell our wives, “Just wait until we present Brand Plans in October, then our hours will be more regular and reasonable.”  To which our wives would invariably reply, “We’re not holding our breaths because, regardless of what happens in October, you all are always engaged in planning!” Feminine intuition? Hardly. But rather, a statement of fact from their real-life experiences with us.


In fact, the situation in most companies today is quite similar to ours at Coke back then. We often hear marketers bemoan their never-ending planning efforts: starting early in the year (usually, February) most are already knee-deep in preparation of their next year’s Strategic Plan; shortly after that is “presented” (usually around May) heavy-lifting work is underway for next year’s Operational or Marketing/Brand Plan; once that is presented (usually in October!), early number-crunching and thinking begins for the next year’s Strategic Plan. And so it goes—verily, the planning never completely stops, or even takes a break. But here’s the ironic part: most marketers are really engaged in plans not planning; and there’s a big difference.


This difference came home to us recently while working with a longtime client. We were leading their most popular training workshop, Marketing Plan Development (which we co-developed with them). In that three-day workshop, marketers can actually complete a workable draft of their combined strategic and operational plans for the coming year. Early on in that particular workshop, one of the client-participants commented, “You should change the name of this workshop to Marketing Planning Development...because that better describes what we all are trying to do.” He said this not because planning never ends; no, he said this because planning is a much more valuable endeavor than merely presenting a plan.


You may think the distinction between a plan and a planning process is a subtle one. But if you consider the typical “mindset” behind each, things don’t seem nearly so subtle. To make this clearer, we took a shot at a side-by-side comparison:


Marketing Plan
Marketing Planning

        Most marketers we’ve encountered tend to conceive of a plan as an “it.” A document or slide show that gets “presented” to senior management. After that, it often goes on a shelf somewhere.

        But marketing planning is an action, an implied on-going action at that. As such, it gets revisited and updated regularly. It’s a bit like a critical path with set dates and gates that are to be met; and it must be constantly senior management cross-checked to ensure all happens as intended.


        Consistent with being an “it,” many marketers think of their plan as a “deck,” or a “pitch”—as already noted, ultimately nothing more than a presentation (albeit, an important one). With this mindset, the natural desire is to get through and “sell” the plan to senior management…to get approval to it with, ideally, very little pushback or alterations.




        In a good many organizations, “presenting a plan” has other, ancillary objectives. For example, when a Brand Manager or even a Marketing Director takes the stage to deliver a marketing plan, he or she is also getting face-time with senior management. It’s a chance to “see how well” the manager handles himself or herself. As such, then, the actual marketing strategies and tactics are not the only thing being observed—and assessed.

        As an on-going action (or a series of actions), however, marketing planning is anything but a one-time presentation. Marketers who are engaged in planning want their initial senior management sessions to be more of a guided discussion and to instigate a dialogue. Why? Because, even with their very best thinking and ideas, they know that their senior management can add significant value. They also know that “no one likes to be sold”—including senior managers; rather, they like to be consulted and listened to.


        Because marketing planning is inherently a conversation or dialogue between the Brand Team and Senior Management, there is much less focus on the individual presenting. Instead, there is active engagement and “give & take” around the really important things like Expected Results and Causal Factors, Critical Success Factors, and Market Segments with their Behavioral Strategies.


You may not be totally convinced by these comparisons, and that’s all right. For us, the real question isn’t so much “Is our organization doing marketing plans or engaged in marketing planning?” Rather, the real question goes something like this: “As an organization (Marketing and Senior Management) are we committed to a collaborative and an on-going inspection of what we expect approach to marketing?” If the answer to this question is affirmative, then our take is that marketing “plans” will, by definition, be much more productive.   After all, just (as the saying goes) “ a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” so it is that “senior management experience and perspective is also a terrible thing not to take advantage of.”


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

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