The Demise of Long-Term Planning

Remember when planning a marketing strategy would take two, even three years? How drawn-out research and development (R&D) procedures monopolized a product for four years prior to release? All that’s about to change. Marketing strategy has entered the realm of immediacy.

We don’t have any idea what marketing practices will be in the future — not even a year from now. Outcome uncertainty is countered only by the certainty of constant change. We’re forced to consider alternate means to develop and execute cogent marketing plans for an assumed future scenario, without losing touch with present market realities.

When former U.S. President Bill Clinton toured the country, he secured his reelection. He also managed to inspire ideas for the future of effective marketing planning and execution. What was unique about Clinton’s tour was that his team established dialogue with citizens of every state in the country. In so doing, they could map each community’s view on the incumbent president’s record of achievement and understand his strengths, weaknesses, and potential.

The advance team was rumored to have visited thousands of local streets to interview local inhabitants in their own environment, then feed the information back to the Clinton campaign bus. With information in the hands of the president’s advisers, Clinton’s speeches and briefings were adjusted and rewritten to relevantly address disparate communities’ needs. The campaign tour’s contact with the country’s voters steadily increased the pro-Clinton vote.

Whether every detail in this story is accurate or the whole concept a fabrication isn’t the point. What’s critical is the process: research through close dialogue to detect and act on shifts in market preferences. That’s how a product launch should happen.

A product launch should establish milestones throughout a campaign, just as Clinton achieved them on his journey. A launch mustn’t be corralled in a predetermined direction, but instead respond to market feedback. It should be aware of competitor reactions, consumer trends, audience reception, and opinion. All these factors are difficult to predict prior to a campaign actually beginning. They’re impossible to predict two or three years in advance of a product’s release.

Planning an interactive strategy? Planners need to be among their intended audience, absorbing and responding to feedback from the streets, the Internet, chat rooms, text messages… you name it. Interactive planning strategy demands you take the temperature of the real world and reflect it in a flexible marketing plan that undergoes constant revision. The resulting brand message will communicate substantially more relevance than any long-term, predictive marketing plan ever could.

For marketers, long-term planning is facing an inevitable demise. It’s being replaced with more flexible planning processes that force companies to listen to their customers. Consumers see through the hype. They know companies can no more predict the future than they themselves can. And they know marketers depend on having a receptive finger on the consumer community pulse to achieve and retain market share.

Your planning horizon must be shortened. You’ll need to be among your target population, conducting intensive, incisive research. And you’ll need to react to feedback, not lock your brand into a strategy that’s been years in the planning.

This won’t be easy. But consumer-aware branding that’s flexible and market responsive is the objective. Consumers are moving faster than ever. Your brand has to keep up.

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