I've always been a big fan of the late great Spike Milligan. In addition to his pioneering comedic lunacy on "The Goon Show," Milligan also stretched the boundaries of TV's sanity on his "Q" series. Many of his comedy sketches on that show didn't even bother with an ending -- an offstage director would simply announce that the sketch was over. The cast would then march toward the camera, chanting: "What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now?..."
We're used to reacting to situations as they come up, which is all well and good as an important survival trait. But many businesses are less skilled at manipulating the circumstances that create (or prevent) those situations. In other words, they fail to plan. I've written my share of articles for the facility management industry, and the big push there is always for proactive management instead of reactive management. You can fix it every time it breaks down, or you can maintain it so it breaks down less frequently. Which sounds like a smarter way of working -- or marketing, for that matter?
Marketing without a plan is like saving money without a budget or driving a car to an unknown destination. You feel like you're doing something, and maybe you even see progress to support that feeling. But you don't really know what you're doing, how long you should keep doing it, or when you should stop doing it. In the marketing world, this results in lots of time, effort and money going down the chute with little or no idea of what the return will be or even should be. You may as well burn a goat on an altar or consult bird entrails.
I can usually tell when a business lacks a firm marketing plan, because that's when the owner starts asking me basic strategy questions: "Who do you think we should be aiming this web content at?" or "What tone do you think this content should adopt?" or "What kinds of print marketing should we try?" This tells me that the company hasn't done sufficient research into who they want to sell to, where those people are, and what those people like. This requires analyzing all the big data you can get your hands on to see how customers have discovered your business in the past, whether or not they bought something, and why they bought that thing. Until you have that data, you can't create a long-term marketing plan with any hope of delivering a predictable ROI.
Another thing I hear all the time is, "Well, we figured it was time to talk to a copywriter because we're thinking about maybe giving [blogging, a new website, an email campaign, a sales letter] a try." Well, these folks thought wrong. Why are you thinking about giving it a try? What solid indicators do you have that your target audience will respond to it? What other tactics have you tried in the past, and what results did you get? And how do those results factor into this latest notion?You would never think of just giving a new financial plan a whirl, just to see what happens. Since your marketing plan is a big part of your business plan, you shouldn't just spin the big wheel with it either.
My advice? Before you even talk to a professional copywriter, work out a detailed marketing plan with your core team. If you don't have a marketing team in place, then align yourself with an experienced turnkey marketing firm that can provide you with the data analysis, strategic planning, and reliable implementation you need for optimal success. Since I write for these kinds of companies all the time, who knows -- we might end up chatting after all!