This blog was originally published on Francis Moran’s blog

You’ve spent hours and sweat to design what you thought was a perfect, logical, competitive, customer-focused, go-to-market marketing plan.  It probably includes advertising. Despite all that effort, the results are underwhelming, revenue nowhere near target, and members of your team are buffing their LinkedIn profiles. You need to improve marketing. What’s happening?

Well, it could be a strategy issue or a problem with implementation, or both. Poor execution has been a weakness for many, especially in the tech and B2B sectors. The sad reality is that great implementation of an average strategy can often trump a poorly executed gold-medal plan. And while this all sounds like basic “project management” stuff, marketing implementation is arguably more complex and risky than for most business functions. Why? Because marketers often have responsibility for success without the ability to directly control all the downstream groups involved in the process!

In this post we’ll look at three ideas that can help bulletproof your marketing implementation and improve marketing overall.

1. Start with a sound marketing strategy

I know, I said this would be about implementation. But the starting point of execution is strategy. “Sell more stuff” is not a strategy, it’s not even an objective. Good strategy always passes the “GASS” test, a silly mnemonic that nevertheless helps to make sure your plan has considered and identified:

  • Goals set using the SMART philosophy (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, time-defined);
  • Allocation of resources: (People, time and money) based on logical analysis and assessment of capacity, challenges and opportunities. People, time and money are directed at things that matter most.
  • Scope of strategy is clearly defined: What is the scale required to achieve objectives? How big is the market you wish to address? Who is the target audience (users and/or buyers), what specific segments (size!) are we going after? Just how aggressive (or not) does our plan need to be?
  • Sources of competitive advantage: They must be objective and clearly identified. Increasingly, competitive differentiation is based on customer experience — not just the benefits or features of your brand(s).

2. Ensure the plan has a plan (an actual implementation roadmap!)

 

The major components of marketing strategy are decisions, not actions. Decisions regarding target audiences, positioning and marketing mix elements are usually about policy and not implementation. If your plan lacks implementation specifics, fix it. At minimum, the implementation plan should identify:

  • How the strategy and overall direction is to be communicated to all key participants (internal and external) — see 5 C’s below;
  • What is expected of all key players, including management (ex. provide support, coach, do);
  • Specific action areas that individuals and/or teams are to address (ex. Customer calls, website revisions, content development, paid advertising programs);
  • Specific objectives for all key tactics or actions;
  • Budget allocations for tactics and actions;
  • Timelines and critical path for all actions;
  • Contingency actions — or at least general policy “in case x happens”; and
  • Performance measures and review process — frequency and content of real/virtual meetings, dashboarding and so forth.

3. Align the ‘5 C’s’ of implementation

Pearce and Spracklin (The Implementation of Marketing Plans; Ivey Publishing) suggest that successful marketing implementation relies on an ecosystem of five conditions (the ‘5 C’s’): communication, comprehension, capacity, capability and commitment. If your implementation is in trouble, some element (or elements) of this ecosystem are likely out of alignment. I’ve adapted Pearce and Spracklin’s 5C’s into a checklist structure — the more positive answers, the closer you are to success:

Communication

Despite the notion that marketers are good communicators, the sad truth is that often we are not. Effective internal communication is a pre-requisite for successful implementation. A quick communication checklist:

  • Has an internal communications plan been developed?
  • Does the plan consider ALL audiences? Management? Subordinates? Peers? Others affected but not necessarily directly involved?
  • Are the messages understandable, precise?
  • Do those responsible/involved have the information required to be effective?
  • Does the plan take into account resistance to the initiative that might affect the implementation?

Comprehension

“The trouble with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw

 

Effective implementation requires that internal audiences understand and internalize what to do. Some factors to consider:

  • Does everyone understand the “must do well” elements of the plan versus the less important?
  • Have you repeated and reinforced the key messages regarding the intent of the implementation plan?
  • Do the implementers have enough knowledge to change program elements on the fly?
  • Is there a contingency plan for likely competitor responses or market changes?

Capacity

Capacity refers to the ability of the organization (and any of its agents) to actually execute the plan. Capacity considerations should be part of the overall marketing planning process (see GASS above). Here are the key questions to ask:

  • Is a formal schedule established? Does it follow project management best practices including deliverables, milestones, timelines and critical success factors?
  • Does the new program conflict with work in progress or other initiatives which implementers are responsible for? Are they swamped beyond capacity? If so, were any mitigation strategies identified?
  • Were sufficient (realistic versus excessive) resources allocated to this initiative?
  • Are implementers empowered to shift budget, re-allocate resources in order to succeed?

Capability

Capabilities refer to both human and process factors, such as the skills of the implementers as well as the processes within the organization that should facilitate execution. When assessing an implementation, some key questions to review include:

  • Has a project “champion” been identified?
  • Is the champion trusted? Will there be any commitment issues?
  • Is the champion up to the task given the particular requirements and experience that will support success?
  • Are individual task leaders up to the challenge? Do they have the skills and experience required or will they be learning on the run?
  • Have sound project planning methodologies been used?
  • Have sound project management methodologies been implemented?
  • Is there a process for formal, action-based review meetings with all key individuals?

 

Commitment

The last of the 5 C’s refers to the personal commitment of those responsible for implementing the marketing plan. As a human factor, the issue of commitment is complex and larger than just a “marketing” context — especially if change is required for success. Here are a few factors to examine:

  • Is the implementation plan consistent with the brand and the values of the organization/individuals?
  • Does the implementation planning process allow for engagement with (and input from) those who will ultimately be responsible for execution?
  • Is the marketing plan implementation aligned with how the implementers define their role?
  • Does the implementation plan identify realistic objectives (relevant at both the company and individual level)?
  • Is the implementation aligned with compensation and performance evaluation?
  • Does the plan identify meaningful incentives and rewards, especially if considerable change or new behaviour is required?
  • Will the implementation include regular, meaningful management acknowledgement of effort and support for effort?

Going forward

The ideas and questions discussed above are a good starting point for an audit of your company or team implementation effectiveness. As with any checklist exercise of this nature, the more honest affirmative answers you gather, the greater your chances of success. If you’ve had a poor execution, the checklist can be a handy tool for evaluating your next go-to-market preparation.