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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 27, 2007 15 years ago


Short burst of non-traditional actions will be more powerful than dated plans.


The Marketing Plan is Out,

The Scenario Plan is In!

by Lou Lasday

Short burst of non-traditional actions will be more powerful than dated plans.

Your formalized marketing plan is the acknowledged first step in seeing the future challenge and direction of your enterprise. It serves as an outline of what you believe your situation is now, and if properly extended, where you hope to go.

I personally have always regarded this important document as a kind of road map with the travel route clearly marked from point "A" to point "B", along with the estimated travel time to get you there. You can obviously detour from your travel and leave the stated path if circumstances dictate. And, while it certainly won't identify all the pot holes, it's an absolute must for corporate direction. Without a written well-conceived plan, your organization is driving blindly, with no direction, no focus and no method for determining success. Otherwise, if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there!

However, for the great mid-size enterprises in cities from Clearwater and Tampa, to Sarasota, Ft. Myers and Naples, the concept may be antiquated; or at least, inadequate. In short, the old guard marketing plan is no longer enough. This is especially true for professional service groups and Gulf Coast enterprises that are more entrepreneurial and reliant on innovation, client relationships and speed of response.

Plan for tomorrow

Here's the reality: Entrepreneurial marketing can no longer be conducted using and relying on an annual marketing plan. Instead, your most profitable moves as an ultimate risk taker are likely to be a series of short, quickly planned bursts of activity to address upcoming and previously unknown scenarios.

This shift challenges the traditional marketing planning mode.

"How can a marketing organization really predict nine months in advance what activity or what level of investment will be required...and with what identifiable message with even the semblance of identifiable results," asks Don E. Schultz, Professor Emeritus of Integrated Marketing Communications, Northwestern University, writing in Marketing News. It's a little like trying to predict where and when the next "tipping point" will be.

This doesn't mean we should give up all traditional forms of planning. But, at least for our Gulf Coast enterprises, it does mean that we really need a new era of thinking to address the rapidly expanding fluidity and flexibility of modern day commerce.

One approach is to replace the annual marketing plan - or at least supplement it - with a series of marketing scenarios. It requires your enterprise to identify potential marketplace developments rather broadly, then create a series of solutions, actions or reactions to address your alternatives. The result is not just one marketing plan, but a series of plans based on sets of assumptions. As your marketplace evolves, the "scenarios" are then implemented as needed.

Let's play 'what if'

You're familiar with the board room phrase, "worst case scenario". Within your own Gulf Coast group, consider these three random marketing scenarios. You'll undoubtedly think of more.

A national, New York headquartered firm in your exact space announces its large expansion to your Gulf Coast city with a highly visible well-known local staff exactly double your size. What is your strategic marketing response to meet this threat?

Your top new business team has just announced they are leaving to form their own well-financed competitive enterprise across the street. Consider your actions in this scenario!

Your enterprise has been favored with a tremendous onslaught of new, highly profitable business. It will easily double your volume, require a significant increase in professional staff and a possible headquarters move. What will your growth scenario be and what steps will you take to manage the effort?

Unlike a dated, etched-in-stone marketing plan that's nine months old and hasn't been touched for eight, scenario planning recognizes and anticipates change, often dramatically and then quickly.

Scenario planning is at least a forward looking way to think about marketing. It will force your leadership to consider and plan for what might or could happen, not traditionally what has happened. It's a new reality in our rapidly changing economy. The advice here on scenario planning is the same as with those platinum, gold, green and blue credit cards: Don't leave your home office without it!

Lou Lasday, an independent marketing adviser residing on Longboat Key, creates action-oriented strategic marketing initiatives for Gulf Coast emerging companies. A career direct response executive, he has been a general partner of a major national marketing communications firm and regional president of the American Marketing Association. Lasday can be reached at [email protected]

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