According to a study recently concluded by The Chautauqua Center for Forensic Linguistics, two sentences occur together more frequently than any others in business contexts. The first is a simple declaratory: We need a plan. The second is a perplexed interrogatory: What the hell happened?

The first is enthusiastically uttered at the onset of many a critical marketing endeavor. Its intent is to convince ourselves and our superiors said endeavor’s chances of success are more favorable than the garden-variety crapshoot. We dejectedly utter the second later in the endeavor, when it’s alarmingly clear we’re going to be in deep kimchee because they (in the rhetorical sense) haven’t actualized the magnificence of our plan. Worse, our superiors know it.

Disaster could have been averted had we known that most marketing plans fail because they’re never used to run the business. They’re developed in all good faith for the betterment of the enterprise. Then they’re abandoned with all due haste for the comfortable and the familiar. (“But that’s not how we’ve always done it.”) Such plans needn’t fail, if these tenets are borne in mind:

  1. Separate daily management from marketing activities. If marketing isn’t separated from daily operations, the urgent isn’t distinguished from the routine. The expedience of decision-making isn’t commensurate with the immediacy of opportunity. And here’s the toughest nut for most companies: If hierarchy trumps functional autonomy — if bureaucracy trumps agility — opportunity is lost.
  2. Make the mission clear and deploy it fully. Carefully craft a credo for everyday operations: noun + verb + object = purpose. (Example: Megasurance makes happy policyholders profitable.) Make it identify the differentiation your company demands of itself. If you practice it as effectively as you preach it, your employees will be able to describe how their jobs support the mission.
  3. Make the program’s objectives clear and support them. Objectives provide focus, a unifying cause, a source of motivation when things get challenging. But, like the mission, they need the full commitment of the organization, in every department, at every level. When employees see objectives adhered to by their management and their peers, they invest ownership in achieving them. Nothing succeeds like an enterprise unified philosophically and operationally in a common cause. Nothing.
  4. Put empiricism before opinions. If opinions take the place of objective truth and verifiable data, the person with the best debating skills, the loudest voice, or the most juice wins. Team members become associated with — and separated by — their opinions. Attention is diverted from the common cause. Consensus becomes difficult to achieve. Direction becomes impossible to set, obstructed by disagreement, resentment, suspicion of hidden agendas, and opinion-driven factions that don’t interact or cooperate.
  5. Stick to the plan. You’ll spend more time with your marketing program and its materials than anyone else. Don’t abandon them because you’re tired of them. Brands take time to root. And brand familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It builds comfort among your target constituents. By sticking to the plan — even as it evolves — you reinforce your brand and give your prospects the opportunity to know who you are and what you stand for.

Create your marketing plan with passion. Conduct it with conviction. Maintain it with the vigilance to make course corrections as needed. And sustain it with the courage to let your trusted designees act with authority. If you do, you’ll create a productive new reality.

And you’ll replace aspirational rhetoric with inspirational results.

Image by geralt, courtesy of