Published February 2006

The top five reasons
that marketing plans fail

If I had a nickel for every time I heard “my marketing plan didn’t work” — well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a boatload of nickels. There are five common denominators that precede a failed plan. Avoiding these mistakes should improve the outcomes of your planning.

Developing a strategic marketing plan is fundamental to succeeding in our increasingly competitive marketplace. But just going through the motions, to check it off the to-do list, won’t amount to a measurable impact.

Strategic planning isn’t a “to do,” it is an ongoing “process” that should change as your business situation and external environment evolve. A leading management consultant, Ron Carucci (partner at Passages Consulting), suggests, “A strategic plan begins depreciating immediately; the value is in the planning, not the plan.”

While it is true the shelf life of a strategic plan continues to dwindle, it’s not the reason why many plans are ineffectual. Following, in reverse order, is my top five list of why marketing plans (and business plans, for that matter) fail.

5. Accountability: Objectives are not well aligned to performance metrics. Nobody argues that measurements and control aren’t essential to executing a plan. But many plans I’ve seen don’t do an adequate job of aligning organizational goals to individual performance objectives. Without that tether, accountability is difficult at best.

4. Focus: The lack of focus, in terms of launching strategic initiatives, fragments resources and hampers productivity. It is far better to do a few things well than many things poorly. It’s a natural tendency for management to push the envelope. So keep in mind that many projects burn more human and financial capital than planned.

3. Execution: Strategic planning is a daunting task when done correctly. There is an inclination among participants to breathe a sigh of relief once the planning process has concluded. Yet, that is when the real work needs to begin. In many cases, when conducting postmortems, we find that the marketing plan was well prepared, but the team ran out of steam and the plan wasn’t fully executed.

2. Participation: Not having the right people at the planning table usually rears its ugly head during implementation. Determine (up front) who should participate in the planning process. Most objectives and many strategies cross departmental lines, so integrators and executors should be involved. And don’t limit your list to “internal” stakeholders. When we do strategic planning for our clients, we incorporate the “voice of the customer.”

1. Pre-planning: The No. 1 flaw I come across is a lack of pre-planning, along with the data gathering that is so essential to developing and validating solid strategy. Your planning participants need to have a common understanding of both the internal and external factors that have the potential for impacting your business.

Consider these five failings as you develop your strategy.

Andrew Ballard, president of Marketing Solutions Inc. in Edmonds, develops brand leadership strategies for businesses and teaches strategic marketing through Edmonds Community College. He can be reached at 425-672-7218 or online at

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