Times Are Crazy But You Still Need A Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a strong advocate of having a strategic marketing plan but when the world suddenly becomes chaotic, it can be easy to dismiss having a plan.

When your not sure where the world is going and what the new normal might be, what good is a plan?

While it can be easy to decide that a strategic marketing plan couldn’t possibly offer any benefits when your not sure what the world is going to look like from one day to the next, there are still great benefits to having a plan.

“My Strategic Marketing Plan Is Looking Worse Every Day”

Last December I sat down and did my planning for 2020. I did it both for the business and for my marketing communication efforts for the year. I have to say, I felt pretty good about 2020. In January I was still feeling really good about the year. Everything was in place, I just needed to execute.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t anticipate any bumps in the road. I knew there could possibly be a recession, and I planned with that in mind. What I didn’t plan for was what has happened.

By mid-February, it started to feel like the wheels might be starting to come off. By late February, I was really anxious. I didn’t like what I was seeing in the environment. It felt like things were unraveling. Things that I was normally excited about irritated me. People I really like, people who acted as quasi-mentors were getting under my skin for no apparent reason. I started to become convinced that I was living in a completely different reality than anybody else.

By early March, it felt like the plans that I made for the year were going up in smoke. I made a comment in a community that I was in that my plans were looking worse every day. When I made the comment I was mainly thinking of my revenue goals for the year but it really did seem like all the planning I did was completely destroyed.

It’s enough to make somebody reconsider putting in the time to actually plan. What’s the point if something can along and destroy the strategic plan that you worked so hard on in one fell swoop?

Many of you may have gone through or maybe are still going through these feelings.

I spent a week (ok a couple of weeks) feeling sorry for myself and then I pulled out my plans and took a look at them. Yes, the revenue figures need to be cut by 50-60 percent (ugh…) but there were goals and objectives that are still completely valid. Even in this crazy environment.

The strategy and many of the tactics are also still workable. It turns out the plan wasn’t completely decimated.

Yes, there needed to be some adjustments with a pandemic and recession in mind but it turns out the time I spent planning was a great use of my time.

However, that doesn’t mean there is clear sailing ahead. I know that because things can change so fast from the beginning of the week to the middle of the week to the end of the week that I need to be flexible. I also am going to need to be able to improvise.

That’s not true for just me. That’s for most everybody out there, including you.

What is Improvisation?

If you were to look up improvisation in the dictionary you would see the following definition:

1the act or art of improvising 2: something (such as a musical or dramatic composition) improvised

That’s not very helpful so let’s look at the definition of improvise:

1: to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously 2: to make, invent, or arrange offhand 3: to make or fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand

This definition is more helpful. You can improvise many things but when I think of improvisation, I almost always think of music. This is probably due to the fact that I spent my teen and early adult years pursuing a career in music.

You’ve heard musicians improvising many times. If you listen to rock or pop music (ok, older pop music), many times there is a solo about halfway through the song. Typically it’s a guitar solo but it could be a keyboard or sax solo too. Much of the time that solo was improvised on the spot.

Jazz is well known as a form of music that relies heavily on improvisation. It’s what makes it such a challenge to play. Miles Davis is one of my favorite musicians (the picture above is a statue of Miles in his later years). I especially enjoy the work he did with his second great quintet.

The albums they did in the studio were fantastic but it’s the live albums that really show the incredible improvisation skills that the group had.

I have a three-disc set on CD that contains three different nights on a European tour in 1967. The fun part is the majority of the set is the same over the three nights so I can hear how the songs changed from night to night. I’ve heard one piece in particular, “The Theme”, on multiple live albums by Miles. Typically the piece is 30 seconds to a minute but on the third disc of this particular set, it’s over seven minutes.

The improvisation is fantastic but it isn’t just created out of thin air. Whether it’s Miles Davis, Eddie Van Halen, or John Mayer, improvisation is always tied to something. In music, it’s chords, a melody, or for us drummers, rhythms.

In business, it’s your strategic plan.

Improvisation in Business

I used to work at a Fortune 100 company that was run by engineers. It gave the company a certain order that I haven’t really experienced before or since.

We planned and measure everything but this didn’t mean things didn’t go astray.

There were times when the circumstances we found ourselves in made our strategic plan feel somewhat obsolete. To put another way, the plan was blown up by how the situation was unfolding.

Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

This is certainly true much of the time and it definitely played out many times in this organization (it’s played out this way for me many times since then).

The plans may have been blown up but the time we spent planning was invaluable. The goals and objectives were well defined. We knew where we were going so we were able to improvise our way through as we reacted to the reality around us. More often than not, we would end up where we wanted to be.

However, we couldn’t have got there without going through the process to create a strategic plan.

You Need A Strategic Marketing Plan

I wrote about this at the beginning of the year. A few weeks ago I stated that you need to continue marketing. If you do this, you will be in a better place than your competitors who don’t.

The time spent in a planning process will help you define your goals and objectives. Sure your strategy and tactics might change but if you don’t know where you’re going chances are you will never get there.

Now more than ever, you need to be able to improvise and that starts with a strategic plan. It’s your north star and it’s foolish to navigate without it.

*Image by Mirko Sajkov from Pixabay

Shane Carpenter
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