What's Wrong with Marketing Plans?

What’s Wrong with the Marketing Plan?

As a professor of Marketing, I know it would be easiest for me to be praising the importance of a Marketing Plan for you and your Marketing team.  From high school to MBA courses on Marketing and Marketing Strategy, the mighty Marketing Plan is put on the pedestal as an ultimate and important skill set in the arsenal of the Marketing Executive.

Like my previous discussion on The Death of the 4Ps the concept of a Marketing Plan and its component elements were born before many of the people who work for you (and perhaps even you?) were born.  The Marketing Plan emerged at a time that predates the World Wide Web, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  It was born out of an era of thinking in which the customer was a silent, passive player and the mighty Marketing Manager held all of the power.

Times have changed, and so must the Marketing Plan.

Marketing today revolves around the creation, development and delivery of value.  This is very easy to say, but true value is difficult to create, develop and deliver. After teaching MBA students and Executives from around the world for the past 13+ years, it has become crystal clear to me that the Marketing Plan, and the typical way in which these are created, stands in the way of such value-building efforts.  That is why I have written my book, The Value Plan, and it is at the heart of everything that I teach in my classes at Doshisha University’s Graduate School of Business.

To be more specific, here are the five top reasons why I strongly believe that you and your team should put away your Marketing Plans, and instead, focus your energy and efforts on how to build true Value for your customers, company, partners, community and Nature:


Reason #1:  Marketing Plans are built upon Goods-Dominant (G-D) Logic

In their ground-breaking work on the underlying logic of Marketing, Stephen Vargo and Robert Lusch go to great lengths to outline the old, neoclassical economics-driven thinking of early Marketing practices.  As they elegantly explain, the origins of Marketing grew out of the need to “move more boxes,” that producers in the 1930s were making.  If you’d like to confirm this point yourself, please take a look at the 1935 American Marketing Association definition of Marketing here.  Vargo and Lusch go on to define this focus on the goods (or boxes), and their movement from producer to consumer as “Goods-Dominant Logic”, whereas the focus on service as “Service-Dominant (S-D) Logic”.

Service Dominant Logic has value at its core, while Goods Dominant Logic has product sales at its core.

After working with Marketing executives from around the world, it has become clear to me that ene in 2015, when using the Marketing Plan framework, executives easily slip into G-D Logic, rather than focusing on value.

Strike 1 against the marketing plan.

Reason #2:  Marketing Plans Make us Fill in Boxes
Since I was a child I remember being repeatedly taught that the best thinking is “out of the box” thinking.  But as I learned the structure of a marketing plan and how to create them, the goal always seemed to be to find the right information to fit into the waiting boxes.

The empty situation analysis box would stare at me as if it were saying “Hey, I need a Situation Analysis placed inside of here,” and off I would go searching for information to fill in the box.

“Philip, competitive analysis box here.  I need some good 2×2 competitive grids, and a Porter’s Five Forces Analysis”.  With little more prodding than this, I would run off and create them.

Do you see how easy the Marketing Plan becomes with such box-filling?  And how dangerous?

While it is easy to fill boxes with information, it is much harder to actually fill in these boxes with important and valuable information that is focused on the development and delivery of real value.

Now as a professor, it would be much easier for me to give my students a simple Marketing Plan template and let them fill in the boxes.  It would be easier for me to grade, and easier for my students to understand what I was expecting of them in order to receive a good grade.

But business is not the same as business school, and marketing professors don’t think the same way as customers with real, tangible problems that need solving.

You can run a quick Google search right now and find a wide range of Marketing Plan templates available, all of which hold empty boxes just waiting to be filled.  But before you use these for your next Marketing project, please answer this one question:  How much of the information that you put into these waiting boxes is truly useful and of value, and how much of it is simply box-filling?

Stike two against the marketing plan.

Reason #3: Marketing Plans Create a Great Barrier
Marketing plans are made in offices.  Products live in the real world, where customers have real and tangible problems and are searching for the best possible solution to solve this problem.  Harvard Business School’s professor Clayton Christensen famously sent his research team to actual fast-food restaurants looking for reasons why customers “hire” a milkshake.  They found an entirely new and previously unknown problem related to a long morning commute for which the viscous milkshake was hired (you can watch the video here to hear their conclusions).

Entrepreneurship guru Steve Blank calls this “getting out of the building”, and it is something that Marketing Plans don’t require.

It’s easier to create a marketing plan inside of our offices, surrounded by all the people we like seeing each day.

But this isn’t actually doing marketing, it’s report-writing. And approaching the job of marketing in this way simply creates a giant barrier between you, your company and your customers, partners, community and nature.

Rather than taking this approach, today, marketing executives need to get out of the office and interact with those people for whom your products and services are made.  You need to meet and speak with people in your community, with your partners, and also build a first-hand understanding of how your products and services impact nature.

That’s strike three against the marketing plan.  But here are two more reasons just in case you’re still not completely convinced.

Reason #4: Marketing Plans Ignore the Five Value Actors
As I explained in my previous article on The Mindset of Marketing Success, having a value mindset requires marketers to think not only of their company and its customers, but also to think about how products and services can offer value to partners, the community and nature.

When marketing was first defined in 1935, its only purpose was to focus on profitably moving products from producers to consumers.  And today’s marketing plan templates and books continue these practices, ignoring and de-emphasizing the importance of these other value actors.

Take Tom’s Shoes as an example.  They have a very clear focus on social value as a part of their marketing strategy and plans.  For every pair of shoes you buy, another pair is donated to a child or person in need.

Now, as a contrast, please look at a traditional marketing plan template.  Can you find any mention of value creation, or any of the five actors beyond your company, its competitors, and customers?  No, you can’t, and that is an unprecedented strike four against the marketing plan.

Reason #5:  Marketing Plans Create Gaps
If you’re experience is like many of the marketing teams with whom I have worked, you’ve experienced long, unbearable gaps between the creation of your marketing strategy and marketing plan, and its implementation.

The marketing plan concept was created at a time when executives had the luxury of time, and having a significant gap between when their ideas were formulated until when they were implemented was not in any way harmful or painful.

But today, marketing and business approach time use differently.  In a world where every second matters, and great advantages can come from a single Tweet (Oreo’s famous “you can still dunk in the dark” during the 2013 American Super Bowl is case and point), the process we use to create value propositions and marketing strategy must be flexible and real-time.  Marketing plans, as I’m sure every marketing executive has experienced, are neither.

That I believe, makes strike five, with marketing plans being “out” beyond a reasonable doubt.  In their place, I offer you The Value Plan, which is a process for creating products and services that have real and long-lasting value.

The Value Plan is also a “plan” but one that is built around creating value for all five value actors, and in a way that avoids each of the five strikes against typical marketing plans that I’ve outline above.

I’ve already outlined the mindset required for effective marketing today, which is Section 1 of The Value Plan book.  Section 2 highlights each of the Twelve Building Blocks of Value, which will be the focus of my next blog post and article.  And Section 3 offers a step-by-step process to apply each of these 12 building blocks for the development of breakthrough products and services that optimize value for all five value actors.

As I build this site further, I am very interested in receiving your feedback from working with and implementing The Value Plan on your product, company or business.  If you have any questions or comments on any of The Value Plan steps, I look forward to discussing them with you!


About The Author

Philip Sugai

Dr. Sugai joined Doshisha Graduate School of Business in 2013 where he teaches Marketing, eMarketing, Marketing Research, and Sustainable and Responsible Marketing to Global MBA program students. Prior to joining the Doshisha University faculty, Dr. Sugai taught at the International University of Japan in Niigata since 2002, where he taught similar courses and served both as Dean and Associate Dean for more than 6 years. He received his Doctoral degree from Waseda University’s Graduate School of Global Information and Telecommunications Studies and his M.B.A. in Marketing and Operations Management from New York University’s Stern School of Business. He has worked as a marketing executive at American Express, Muze, Inc., and Lightningcast, Inc., and as a marketing consultant for Advantage Marketing Information.

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