To have or not to have a plan? This is the question

I have recently had, in various business events I attended, a series of interesting discussions about agility and consistency, out of which a conclusion was clearly drawn, namely that marketing performance nowadays is based on two apparently opposing components, which yet combined generate the best results.

The accelerated digital transformation of the last years has significantly transformed the business environment and affects us all. It is a typical element of the macro environment that we cannot influence, but which influences us and which actually translates by the increasing speed of everything that happens around us and in our businesses and, in the same time, by the increasing information volume, which is exponentially multiplying and is even harder to contain and digest. All these come to create a business context much more agitated and apparently with more unforeseen elements in which we all operate. Thus, the idea of having a plan of any kind to contain a period of at least 1 year has become somehow ridiculous and to elaborate a 3-years strategy or a very detailed plan seems almost obsolete, because you do not know what will happen in such a long period of time, so maybe it is better to be prepared to adapt and adjust your actions as you go as compared to sticking to a too rigid plan.

So, a new tendency arises of not having any plan at all, no direction and no strategy whatsoever, for the alternative of testing and experimenting permanently. A correct alternative in its essence, but which in the same time provides a state of confusion and uncertainty related to the future, which I have seen in many entrepreneurs and which in the same time consumes their resources and energy. The digital world has brought with it also this test&try kind of thinking (including the applied variant A/B testing): I try this, I try that and we see what happens, I let myself surprised of what comes and try to adapt fast, without being aware yet of the hidden costs of this so called reaction speed. Because a plan built without rigidity, with the mindset of being subject to change (but not in the “essential parts”, quoting Caragiale), can give us the certainty and the direction we need and will guide us in rightfully distributing our resources.

The second important concept playing a role here, besides planning, is agility. A new concept and not yet fully understood. Most people place the equal sign between agility and adaptation speed, yet very few know that the term also includes in its right sense the strategy component, direction. All this speed and fast reaction capacity tend to infer on us also a state of actual stress and anxiety, as I said before, which in many companies leads to a high consumption of resources. And when I say resources I do not mean only money (though even all these tests, no matter how small, also cost something – be it a social media campaign or an AdWords campaign, they are also resources), yet I refer to the people who zig and zag and especially to the time factor, time in which if we had used the resources otherwise, we could have obtained better results. The same time for which we are fighting from the beginning, the same time we try to save by being fast and adaptable and by not building a longer term plan.

The companies excelling in performance succeed in practice to optimally combine these two things, namely agility and planning, without taking the word planning in its steep and frozen meaning, yet in its sense of having a clear idea about the direction we wish to take, about where we want to go and what we want to obtain, having some objectives. And by objectives I do not mean only sales objectives, but also a positioning objective, that position we want to occupy in our clients’ and prospects’ minds in a period of time, usually longer than shorter, because everything that implies work on perception and inoculating ideas, changing the way we are perceived, usually takes much more time. Because no matter how much we get digitalized and how hard we press the acceleration pedal, the human mind remains limited and needs time to be inoculated new ideas and learn new things. Even if the world jumped three times over its head and is changing in an astounding way, is continuously transforming and the information is circulating in huge amounts and in high speed, the people’s capacity to capture information and memorize it has not increased accordingly. Actually, it remained the same. The human brain has the same capacity to receive information and retain it as it had 100 years ago so it is even harder to transmit messages and try to inoculate a series of perceptions and then let them grow and get a shape into the consumers’ minds. This time cannot be shortened. We need patience, and patience has started to be a concept that tends to lose its sense in this world of speed. As actually when we talk about creating perceptions in marketing, about positioning, about the fact that we want to be perceived in a certain way by our prospects, we are talking about a construction process. And it is a construction which requires patience because the human mind needs time, even more time in the conditions of such information storm and the speed era we live in.

As a conclusion, though it is good to be fast, to be ready, to be prepared and adapt quickly, the elaboration of a plan will help tremendously and it is only then that we really are agile. The fact that we have a communication plan and that we at least know in general what we will communicate every month, if not every week, will give us a comfort in scheduling our actions and optimize our resources, which will leave us in the same time also energy to adapt when needed and when the market and the context require it.

The fact that we have a business plan which indicates where and how we get there (and here we can have commercial, operational, human resources strategy, etc.), the way we intend to work, to produce, to launch products and market them, to distribute resources and budget for it – they all help a lot, leaving us time and energy to be prepared when the unforeseen requires it. It is also valid for the marketing plan, for the communication plan and for the business plan. It does not need to be perfect, it does not need to be written in hundreds of pages, it needs maybe just a few pages or as many as considered needed to be reminded of the direction taken, to align people and resources and to leave enough energy for action in case of unpredicted situations.

 

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