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Five best practices for better marketing planning from Ventana Research

Senior Marketing Writer, IBM

For marketing professionals, creativity is the sizzle, but marketing planning is the steak— to rephrase a familiar metaphor. It takes creativity to attract and hold the attention of customers. But to identify the marketing messages and methods that are the most effective takes careful planning. You need tools that help marketers to plan, execute and evaluate their marketing programs and course correct as frequently as necessary.

Yet in some marketing organizations, the tools are not up to the task. This is a key takeaway from benchmark research on next-generation planning conducted by Ventana Research. Ventana examined the challenges facing modern marketers and outlined five best practices that can help marketing teams address those challenges and gain an advantage over competitors.IBM Planning Analytics

1. Align plans to business objectives—and keep them aligned

What’s your primary marketing objective? Ultimately, of course, the objective of any marketing plan is to drive sales and revenue. But in the lifecycle of a product or marketing campaign, you can achieve long-term objectives through successfully executing numerous short-term objectives. At first, it may be to raise awareness in a new market or region. Later, it may be to address the claims of a competitor or generate excitement for a new product feature. Unfortunately, only 37 percent of organizations regularly communicate the need to adapt the marketing plan to changes during the year. All marketing plans should be revisited regularly to make sure they stay relevant and align to your organizational goals.

2. Use what-if scenarios to determine investment priorities

Just as marketing objectives change and evolve, marketing tactics and strategies need to evolve, too. Marketing professionals need to carefully choose where to invest their resources. Will an online campaign attract the right audience or would sponsorship of an event deliver better results? Tools that make it easy to create and compare scenarios and perform trade-off analysis are invaluable for marketing teams. Ventana says that “To efficiently measure trade-offs or create what-if scenarios, capable technology tools are essential.”

Research finds, however, that only 29 percent of organizations use software that allows marketers to assess trade-offs “well or very well.” That leaves the remaining 81 percent of marketing teams with a serious gap in their ability to assess their options. That’s a big risk to take, especially with the pressure put on marketing teams to justify every dollar spent.

Only 29 percent assess trade-offs “well or very well”

3. Use collaboration to establish and maintain marketing’s alignment with other functions.

Less than half of organizations – just 46 percent – report that they are able to collaborate “effectively or very effectively” in their marketing planning. But the right technology can support collaborative processes across your team and increase the flow of new ideas and approaches. Ventana urges organizations to adopt collaborative tools that enable a range of participants to easily share information on marketing plans, budgets and results.

4. Adopt purpose-built technology that supports marketing planning processes and users.

The right technology makes all the difference in marketing planning. But a lot of people still do the majority of their planning with spreadsheets. They assemble spreadsheets manually and modify them often, without tracking who changed what and when. Version control issues are rampant. Ventana said, “we find consistently that [spreadsheet] technology is not adequate for complicated enterprise tasks involving many people.” Instead, they recommend dedicated planning applications that are strong on usability and designed with non-technical business users in mind. Their research shows that “usability” is the criterion that the majority of participants consider “very important.”

63 percent consider usability “very important”

5. Measure the ability of current marketing investments to optimize spending.

According to a familiar business adage, “what gets measured gets managed.” I might add that what gets measured gets funded. Providing metrics to show results is one of the most effective ways to ensure that successful marketing programs receive the budget resources they deserve. Organizations should use marketing software that helps them to track and measure the results of their marketing efforts and present those results in easily understandable scorecards and dashboards. The Ventana report noted that “executive management supports business units that spend effectively and can demonstrate cost effective results.”

Growth and profitability are the product of good planning.

In a business environment where customers can compare products and services online at virtually any time and from any location, marketing organizations need to leverage every best practice they can. With the right planning tools and processes, marketers can effectively present an organization’s value proposition, highlight competitive differentiators, and create demand among prospects.

As the experts at Ventana put it, effective marketing planning can “enable the marketing department to keep up with the times, deliver the value expected of it and contribute strongly to the company’s growth and profitability.”

Read the full Ventana report now or learn more about marketing planning solutions.