If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it's that we need to plan for the unexpected. This uncertainty increases the complexity of an already demanding job for marketing professionals. So how can you achieve marketing excellence in 2022? Have an operational marketing plan.
An operational marketing strategy is one of the most valuable tools for marketers to lean on. This article teaches about operational marketing plans, including tips on preparing, creating, and following plans.
- What is an operational marketing plan?
- The problem with marketing plans
- The importance of operational marketing
- The role of marketing in operational plans
- Creating your operational marketing plan
- Measuring operational plans
What is an Operational Marketing Plan?
An operational marketing plan outlines the marketing mix strategy that will achieve objectives set for a marketing strategy. It is a bridge between strategic marketing and marketing execution.
Operational marketing plans help you focus on your goals, provide a direction for execution, and help adapt to changes in the business. After a plan kicks off, an operational marketing strategy is used by teams as a reference that is visible for guidance and reviewed weekly for performance.
The Problem with Marketing Plans
Marketing plans often do not get the attention it deserves. In addition, plans created rarely get applied properly over the duration of a marketing plan.
The reality is that marketers have a lot of responsibilities and rarely enough time to do them. Moreover, no one takes the time to discuss all the components that form a solid marketing plan.
Creating a thoughtfully-crafted marketing plan that accomplishes your goals and delivers a return on investment takes time and effort. Once completed, it takes diligence and discipline to carry out your plan as a guide for your marketing execution over time.
Your operational marketing plan guides the execution of the tactics and strategies. Without an operational marketing strategy, you risk your plan breaking down.
To discover the importance of operational marketing plans, it’s insightful to understand how plans can break down. There are five primary reasons a marketer's plan can get derailed:
- Plan composition: The plan wasn’t detailed enough to guide a marketing team and those responsible for carrying out a plan.
- Communication issue: The team never discussed how the plan fits with their individual functions. Marketers defaulted to what they know how to do instead of following the plan.
- Visibility/access problem: The plan was built and approved but is no longer easily accessed by team members. It’s in a presentation deck stored in Google Drive, never to be viewed again.
- Lack of cohesiveness: Each team member built his or her own plan, and they were never integrated.
- There was no plan: There wasn’t a comprehensive, goals-driven plan to begin with.
Have you been a part of a plan that has been derailed because of one of these reasons? With the growing number of responsibilities many marketers tend to have, they rarely have sufficient time to complete tasks.
The Importance of Operational Marketing Plans
For marketing organizations that are too tactical, an operational marketing strategy can dramatically improve the entire team's output.
Whether you have built a plan but don’t follow it or do not understand the value of their marketing, operational marketing plans guide teams to better execute marketing activities through campaign collaboration and budget optimization.
Most importantly, an operational marketing plan will help teams focus on outcomes that achieve company objectives, and with the goals, outcomes, and marketing spend visible in one place, you can calculate marketing ROI to truly understand the value of your marketing.
This will help with decision-making, improvement, and validating marketing investment with the CEO, CFO, and board of directors.
The Gap Between Strategic Marketing & Execution
When a marketing team doesn’t have a way of implementing a plan, a gap is created between your strategic marketing and your marketing execution. This is soon followed by marketers conducting random acts of marketing as a way to show value and look busy.
When this occurs, the death spiral quickly ensues. Operational marketing plans serve to bridge the gap between strategic marketing and execution. Teams become more focused on what needs to be completed rather than random acts of marketing.
How Digital Transformation Is Changing Marketing
There is a trend in today’s business environment called digital transformation. Simply put, digital transformation is the integration of technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate. This movement has clear benefits, including better accessibility, efficiency, and consistency in how teams work. Marketing is one of the primary beneficiaries of digital transformation.
Today, over 8,000 marketing software offerings are available, but the issue is that they only help marketers with tactical practices and marketing processes. This results in marketing organizations relying on recruiting practices where they hire people specifically because they know which buttons to press. Most software and platforms are focused on enabling marketing channels, and as a result, marketers operating these platforms tend to build a bottom-up marketing plan.
This bottom-up approach makes marketing teams more tactical and limits their ability to align with company goals and apply strategies. For this reason, many B2B companies view marketing as a support organization for sales and as non-strategic to the business.
More commonly, strategic marketing plans are not followed by marketing teams because the plan was created in a PowerPoint deck or spreadsheet and can’t be operationalized. That’s where operational marketing plans help.
The Role of Marketing in Operational Plans
Before we get in-depth into creating an operational marketing plan, let’s discuss the role that marketing plays within the organization. This will create the right mindset for creating an operational marketing plan.
To be successful, marketing teams need to set a clear strategy, get buy-in from all team members. Over time, they should continually reinforce the direction by revisiting the operational marketing plan throughout the year.
Goals and Objectives
Marketing should play a part in shaping marketing goals to achieve company objectives - determining the target audience, gathering intelligence on competitors and the marketplace, and more.
Marketing needs to be involved in messaging. The sales channels. The sales tools. These elements all fall under the 4 Ps of Marketing (and the fifth “P”, people.) In other words, marketing needs to have control over its destiny. They may not be the decision-maker in an organization, but marketers should, at a minimum, be heavy influencers in the process.
In organizations, it’s common for us to see Finance determine the marketing budget and hand it off to Marketing. One helpful tip for building an operational marketing plan is to take the time needed to get ahead of the budget required for marketing before the finance team creates one. Build your plan first, at least 6 months in advance, so you can show finance what is needed to execute the plan and achieve your goals.
These four elements will set you up for success as you create your operational marketing plan.
Creating Your Operational Marketing Plan
There are many elements that should be included in your marketing plan. Check out our Marketing Plan Builder, which lists 20 elements to help you create a killer plan. This tool has a detailed definition of each element and operational plan examples to help you create highly effective marketing plans.
What are the requirements of a successful operational marketing plan? To build and execute an operational marketing plan, you need:
- A goals-based planning approach
- A complete system view including goals, campaigns, channels, budget, and metrics
- Discipline to connect all marketing activities to outcomes (ROI, LTV, leads, sales, etc.)
- Process for measurement and optimization
- A culture of excellence, not a “check the box” mentality
Adding Agility to Your Plans
Operational marketing plans are agile to adapt to changes in the business. Things happen, and when they do, you need to be prepared. For this reason, an operational marketing plan needs to be agile—that is, flexible and built for different scenarios, both positive and negative.
If your operational plan gets derailed, you want to be prepared and have a strategy. Don’t engage in meaningless marketing activities, hoping that something will stick. After all, hope is not a strategy!
Planning is the first step toward becoming an agile marketer. An operational marketing plan that is agile contains the following:
- flexing for opportunistic marketing
- scenario planning for underachievement
- scenario planning for overachievement
Let’s explore those three elements:
Flexing for Opportunistic Marketing
You’re constantly working with the outside world, so you can’t control the timing of opportunities that may fall at your feet. Let’s say a customer wants to do a press release with you, or an industry analyst ranks your product or service the best on the planet. How do you evaluate an opportunity against your current plan?
Marketers usually pass on an unplanned opportunity for three reasons: timing, resources, and budget. But if you have real-time information on these three factors right at your fingertips, it is a lot easier to compare a new opportunity against the current plan to determine which will have more impact on the goals.
While you don’t want to let frequent and urgent opportunities distract you from your original goals-based plan, you should be flexible if an opportunity is too good to pass up.
Key Steps When Evaluating Opportunities
- Assess if it helps to achieve the annual marketing goals and is executable
- Prioritize new opportunities against existing marketing campaigns
- Collaborate with the team to plan for new opportunities and modify existing campaigns
- Reallocate funds accurately without going over your budget
- Re-engage with the original plan to get back on track
Scenario Planning for Underachievement
These scenarios are designed to prepare you for dealing with bumps in the road. It’s not necessary to create more than one scenario, but having two [slight underachievement (25%) and significant underachievement (50%)] is recommended if your business has variability or ambitious goals. If you feel there is a chance that underachievement could be greater than 50%, you may want to redo your original plan.
As we all know, when you underachieve, human and financial resources usually get tight. If you find yourself in this position, you can explore switching from paid to free marketing. Content marketing, social, viral, word-of-mouth, and joint marketing with partners to split expenses can be very cost-effective and stretch your discretionary spending. If cuts are primarily to headcount, reallocating the budget to AI-related marketing software can create many efficiencies across the board.
Scenario Planning for Overachievement
With scenario planning, you can leverage overperformance to supercharge your marketing. For plans with potential revenue upside, marketers can build an overachievement scenario. Be sure to check with the CFO to confirm that if revenue targets are exceeded, marketing will receive some of the proceeds for additional programs. Ideally, you will want to leverage the newly-acquired funds to conduct experimental marketing initiatives aimed at expanding your current repertoire of campaigns and programs.
Measuring Your Operational Marketing Plan
Finally, you need to measure your operational marketing plan to determine whether you’re on track to achieve your goals. To “speak the language” of everyone at your organization, you need to express your measurements in a universal unit. Everyone understands dollars and cents, so it’s encouraged to express measurements in terms of money. Aside from marketing team members, nobody cares about marketing metrics like clicks or impressions.
For more tips, read this article on how to present marketing results to the CEO and leadership.
To measure your plans, you can use metrics like cost per outcome, return on investment, and measure these at three different levels:
Measuring not only allows you to track your performance, but it will enable you to justify your budget demands for the next operational marketing plan you create.
Plannuh is the first cloud-based marketing performance management platform that allows you to make it quick and easy to build, track, and recalibrate operational marketing plans.
Unlike disconnected, static spreadsheets and disparate tactical marketing systems, only Plannuh offers a unified, collaborative marketing platform that delivers AI-driven recommendations, benchmarks, and process automation. Book a demo of our platform today.