If you've written out a marketing strategy, you’re already ahead of the game: Too many companies neglect the act of formalizing their plans, instead relying on general ideas and improvisation, which almost never turns out well.
Thinking through and documenting your strategy separates you from the pack, but there’s a harsh truth about that first draft you whipped up in the meeting room:
It probably sucks.
Like novels, poetry, scripts and any other form of creative writing, the first draft of your marketing strategy will rarely be the quality you need. So, why is that, and how can you fix it? Read on.
1. You’re working through assumptions.
Most first drafts of marketing strategies are built on previously existing assumptions. Some of these may be based on data, but the majority are usually based on assumptions. For example, you might assume that your target demographic will appreciate a certain angle of humor in your next round of advertisements, but you don't have anything to back that up other than anecdotal evidence and gut instinct.
Assumptions aren’t always bad; in fact, if you’re experienced enough, they can be highly valuable. However, when the major portion of a document is based on speculation, its accuracy should be called into question.
2. Marketing is a process of change.
Effective marketing isn’t about coming up with the best premeditated strategy; marketing is a process of testing, making changes and optimizing. Nobody ever succeeded by assembling campaign ideas and executing them flawlessly.
Instead, people work their way up, AB testing and experimenting with new directions, until they eventually mold their campaigns into something that works. There are cases when the first draft of your marketing strategy works somewhat well, yet there's still room for improvement.
3. You haven’t tried anything yet.
You have no experimental data to identify whether or not your marketing strategy is effective. If you did, what you're working on now wouldn’t be a first draft. Because you lack experience executing this type of marketing strategy for this type of business, that lack of expertise will almost always lead you astray.
So, until you put what expertise you do have to practical use and start gathering information in a grounded environment, you’ll miss the important foundational details.
4. The 'known unknowns'
There will be sections of your marketing strategy that you intentionally leave blank; you may not know how long you’ll run the ads, or which social platforms you’ll use to syndicate your content. Consider these the “known unknowns.”
Although you aren’t sure how these factors will play out, you recognize them as variables, and you’ve accounted for their unpredictability. However, in the first draft of your marketing strategy, you’ll fail to account for the known unknowns -- those variables and bits of information you’re oblivious to but know are out there. These could be significant, and could potentially derail your entire campaign.
What to do about it
So now that I’ve established why it is that first drafts are always lacking, what can you do about it?
- Accept the truth. If you go into the situation understanding that your first draft will likely stink, your expectations will be lower and you won’t be surprised or disappointed when your execution doesn’t yield an enormous return. You’ll also spend less time worrying about the minutiae of your plans, and more time preparing for future rounds of revision.
- Do your research beforehand. It’s impossible to update yourself on everything, but if you do proactive research, you’ll come in armed with the best and most accurate information possible. This will mitigate some of the errors and miscalculations that are inherently present in your first draft (though it won’t eliminate them entirely).
- Include multiple brains in the brainstorming process. If you can, include several different team members when drafting the first round of your marketing strategy. Each team member will have different experiences and insights to add to the process; this will reduce the tendency to neglect “known unknowns,” as a team effort will reduce the number of collective blind spots, and generally result in a more thoroughly thought-out plan.
- Set short-term goals and action items. Don’t look too far ahead. Set short-term goals and establish action items only for the next few days and weeks. Setting ambitious long-term goals in the early planning stages is an exercise in futility; they’ll likely change, and, besides, short-term goals will help you build early momentum.
- Keep to an outline format. You know your strategy is going to change eventually, so don’t waste time trying to flesh out every little detail of your plan. Instead, think of your first draft more as an outline. Include the high-level points you know will remain consistent until the end, and a flexible framework that will accommodate any future additions or subtractions easily.
- Be ready to switch it up. Incorporate a plan for changes into the draft of your marketing strategy. Planning to make adjustments will keep your team in the right frame of mind when you first implement your strategy in a live environment. Adaptability is key here.
If you follow these rules, you’ll stand a much better chance of producing a marketing strategy that sticks -- or at least one that’s more easily modified down the road.
The best part is, these rules and considerations apply to almost any marketing strategy you can think of -- from traditional advertising to inbound online marketing. As you gain experience, your strategy will get better and better.