Making a plan to get where you want to go faster

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When I was in university, I decided to take my first solo road trip from my hometown, Tallahassee, to Orlando, Florida. It was a mere four-ish hours away and I had made the trip many times before. I just wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I also didn’t pay any attention to how we got there (or back). Driving down to Orlando, I had my handy printout of MapQuest directions to get me to Disney World where I was meeting a friend for a day spent at the happiest place on earth. After about 12 hours of exploring 3 parks, it was time for me to head back home. (Yes, I planned a day trip to Disney - as you do when you’re that young and energetic.)

This is when my planning failed me: I didn’t print out directions from Orlando to Tallahassee. And, since I had to go find a gas station before I hit the highway, I ended up quite lost in a not-so-lovely part of town back in the days before smartphones and consumer GPS. I don’t remember how I finally found the highway I needed, but I managed to get there eventually. I also made it back home safely and even went to work the next day, though I did go in late.

Planning starts with knowing your destination

I went to Orlando kind of impulsively. I didn’t have any money (poor college student). I was getting free admission from my friend whose uncle worked for Disney. I thought it was a good idea to drive down and return home in a single day, even after my friend sensibly offered me a couch to sleep on. To this day, I have no idea what my reasons were for going other than just wanting to.

Planning starts with establishing your goals so you can break down the steps it takes to accomplish them. But it’s not as straightforward as simply making a list of things you want to do. There are some questions you’ll want to consider so you start with realistic goals:

  • Why do you want to do each of these things?

  • Have you considered whether this is the right plan for your target market?

  • How do these goals fit into the larger business plan and goals?

  • Are the goals you’ve set measurable?

  • Do you have the resources to accomplish these goals?

Good questions, aren’t they? It’s tempting to get a great idea, see the goal and jump into action. But taking a step back and seeing the big picture can keep you from moving ahead with something that isn’t going to serve you well in the long term.

Outline the steps to get to your destination

The entire time I drove around Orlando after the parks closed, I wanted to kick myself for not making a better plan. I knew exactly where I wanted to end up but I had no clue what my exact steps were to get started on my way. That can be a paralyzing feeling when you have a big goal you want to achieve. Or you may end up driving in circles, going in every direction that isn’t the right one.

You can avoid this chaos by mapping out your plan so you know exactly where you are and you can more accurately track your progress. And it’s usually easier to start with the end goal and work your way back to the beginning. This process can help you gain further clarity around the resources you’ll need so you can make tweaks as needed.

Don’t forget to think about how you’re going to measure

You’ve set goals, but you need to know before you start how you’re going to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. If you don’t establish the metrics in advance, it can be challenging to get an accurate picture of how your plan has performed. And in marketing, measurement needs to be considered throughout execution to ensure the chosen tactics are set up properly to provide the data you need.

Expect the unexpected and be ready to react

Wouldn’t it be great if things always went to plan? I’ve heard that half of marketing effort should be spent on planning though I’ve never experienced that and I don’t know if it’s actually realistic. Having a plan is important but we can’t get bogged down by the planning process or get so married to the plan that we can’t adapt when it’s required. No plan should ever be etched in stone. That’s a sure way to frustration.

Enjoy the process of doing great work

Doing a day trip for the purpose of spending the day at Disney open to close wasn’t my smartest idea, but it was an adventure I don’t regret. I learned a lot from the experience, particularly the value of having a comprehensive plan that accounts for every step of the journey. Not having a plan could have robbed me of all the enjoyment of the trip, but I managed to figure it out and things worked out. Knowing that it could have gone very differently has been a good motivator for me to avoid the mistake of winging it on the wrong things.

What are your favourite advantages to making a plan?

Do you know what you're doing and why?

There are many, many really interesting and innovative ideas for marketing out the world right now. From really clever, to outlandish, to stunt-worthy, there’s a lot to pick through. Ultimately, though, it's all just marketing. And marketing tactics have to be a right fit or they're going to fall flat. 

Kind of like me trying to do ballet. (Splat, for sure.)

It's fun to watch the videos, look at the pictures, and read the stories, but is it right for you as an individual or your organization?

The answer to this question comes down to brand and objectives.

I recently found myself catching shiny object syndrome when I heard about a cool idea someone used to get attention for a particular purpose. Because I had a similar end goal, I thought I could use the tactic in a way that fit me. But something held me back from actually implementing the idea for myself. It wasn't that the tactic wasn't something I could do. It was definitely within my personal skill set. However, the more I tried to dream up how I wanted to go about the implementation, the emptier that giant blank canvas got in my mind. The idea didn't resonate with me. It didn't make me uncomfortable, but I wasn't comfortable with it either.

Eventually, I let the idea go and went in a completely different direction that felt right and good and comfortable. But the experience made me think hard about whether I truly knew what I was doing and why in the first place.

"We should do <insert newfangled tactic>. Wouldn't that be cool?"

I hear this every now and then from people I know: clients, associates, etc. I have a lot of respect for people who are brave enough to jump in and try out things that they may not fully understand. That takes an adventuresome spirit.

Hopefully, these brave souls have someone around who is willing to ask some questions before they agree:

1) What do we want to accomplish by using this tactic?

If there's no purpose, there's no point. Whenever the answer to this question is, "I don't know. Everyone else seems to be doing it. I thought it would be cool," there may not be a need for further discussion. But that's not the worst starting point for hashing out the viability of a tactic. Maybe with some creative and critical thinking a clear purpose can be defined that would make the tactic worth pursuing. 

The important first step is identifying a goal or objective - and it should contribute to achieving the overall organizational goals and objectives. At a bare minimum it should fit the organization's mandate. The second step is that your goal needs to be measurable. 

2)  How will we measure what we're doing?

No measurement, no success. Choosing to implement inherently measurable tactics is the only way to be certain that what you're doing is having an impact. It starts with a measurable objective (see #1). That cool tactic may require you and your team to stretch your creative muscles to find a way to measure its effectiveness, but it's worth it to know whether or not it works. But if you don't measure, you won't know if what you've done is effective. Maybe it was a success, but you don't get to call it a success without proof.

There are a plethora of tools that allow you to track and analyze behaviours on websites, social media, in apps, etc. Use these tools to help you measure where your audience is coming from, going to, whether they're sharing your content, etc. There are even ways to incorporate digital calls to action into non-digital campaigns - QR codes are the first tool that comes to mind, but augmented reality is another tool that's gaining attention.

3) What do you do with this information?

Act on the results in real-time and for the future. When you implement any marketing activity, take time to monitor the results while it's in progress. You should know before you execute what you want to measure. This allows you to make tweaks as needed to give your campaign a boost and maximize the impact. When it's all over, evaluate how it went start to finish.

Factor in any feedback you receive from your audience, and look at the data critically. What questions come to mind when you look at the data? What are the potential answers? Was the overall effort a success based on the data and impressions? Was there success, but not as intended?

The post-mortem of any campaign or project is typically one of the most valuable discussions for future growth and success. I love looking at data and finding the story it tells about the work I've done. Identifying the strengths and opportunities opens the door to apply those lessons learned to the next campaign so it's even better. (Don't forget to add comparison data to your tracking once you have enough instances to compare!)

Hopefully, as you start to see the value of measuring data, you'll be the person in the room asking the critical questions about what everyone hopes to achieve and how to know it works!