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April 4, 2023

Food for Thought: Why Templated Marketing Plans Fail

written by

Brittany Silva

VP of Client Strategy

Our team is nothing short of innovative. From determining the best way to cook a sirloin steak in our #foodies Slack channel or creating a custom marketing plan for our clients, we’re all in. And we have fun doing it.

Marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry. Some people swear by templates and have seen success—but I’ve just never felt like I could fit what we need to do to drive results within a template of any kind.

Pairing creativity and strategy as we make decisions throughout every phase of a project ensures that we understand what’s working and where we could improve to help our clients reach their goals (or hopefully exceed them). That’s why templating a marketing plan is not only the wrong way to work through a project, but also the wrong way to build client relationships.

Templating is like a frozen dinner: not horrible, not great

Cooking isn’t baking. There are guidelines instead of steps and rules—that’s probably why I love cooking so much. Half of the fun is in finding a new way to do it, a better one. (And, of course, the other half is a delicious lasagna or curry.) Templating is like solely relying on a recipe versus incorporating the skills you’ve learned every other time you made a dish.

I’d suggest only using templates as a jumping off point, much like popular AI tools. Otherwise, they just end up interfering with the creative process. It too often leaves the creators and the clients wanting more, and can stifle the results.

I definitely fell into the trap of over-templating marketing plans early in my career because it seemed like the logical first step. Since there was a template for everything, I always knew what to expect. I got to cross things off my to-do list. But projects that focus on following step-by-step processes versus strategizing for specific results were never as powerful. And I’m not okay being just okay. :)

Eleven years later, the best marketing plans I’ve produced are strategic, unique, and genuine. We as a team strive to stay true to our clients’ missions, which ultimately yields better outcomes. Innovation—aka, really thinking beyond a formula and seeing what you can learn from other industries—is at our core. In doing so, we come up with new ways to achieve our goals while avoiding parodies with competitors.

With that said, there is one thing you have to do at the start of every project—and it’s rooted in our company culture: Ask a ton of questions.

Uncover the meat & potatoes of the project

I’ve always been the kind of person who loves to understand something completely, who wants to figure out how to contribute. It’s easy to get wrapped up in taking what companies want at face value. (Maybe you want a Super Bowl ad because a big competitor did it, but if your goals are revenue-generating leads and not broad public awareness, maybe we can find a better way to get there.)

We can and should go deeper. What does success look like? Who do we have in place in different roles to support this effort? Where do you want the company to be in 3 years? The goal is to go beyond the surface to create the most impactful project, from branding to a creative campaign to ads.

If you’ve read any of our case studies, you’ll know our discovery phase kickoffs every project. We prepare questions that guide our conversations and inform our strategy. Once we understand what the full picture looks like, we ideate our plan of attack to get to the outcomes we want to see.

A Stellar partner

The Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) came to us in need of a digital strategy for Stellar, an open-source, decentralized payment protocol that allows for fast cross-border transactions between any pair of currencies using blockchain technology.

They had unique circumstances in which they were a B2B organization, but also a nonprofit; instead of selling a product or service, they wanted to promote the adoption of their technology. The strategy we built with them focused on adoption versus leads. At that point, we needed a way to measure this and prioritize objectives.

There were a few pieces to this:

  • Testing channels to see where our audience really engages
  • Testing ad creative to see what catches their attention
  • Developing attribution strategies for meaningful insights
  • Creating new content to attract B2B audiences as well as developers
  • Then continuing to pivot, shift, test, iterate, and test again

Our partnership with SDF has continued to develop, grow, adapt, and find success over the years. Check out our Stellar case study to take a deep dive into their marketing plan and results.

The ingredients are key

Here are a few more suggestions when developing a solid marketing plan:

  • Research, research, and more research. Explore beyond the particular industry your client is in to spark ideas they might not have considered before.
  • The rule of three. I often provide my clients with three options plus their likely outcomes: one that gives them exactly what they want and two that stem from our team’s strategic recommendations. One of my favorite quotes was said by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I think about this and plan beyond what’s in front of me—to what’s possible.
  • Keep your client in mind. Structure the plan in a way that makes sense to the client as they’ll be the ones reviewing it and who have the final say. Align with the way their business is structured and who needs what. Discuss high-level details important to the plan’s overall success.
  • Transparency & collaboration are key. Can’t say collaboration enough! Use project management tools that help, and never work in a silo. I prefer Google Workspace and lots of face-time for cross-divisional collaboration and organization.

The final bite

Communication can be tricky, but creating a marketing plan doesn’t have to be. Remember to ask questions, solidify goals, and provide options when in the early phases of this process. While it might be easier to opt for templates when you’re working through your next client’s new strategy, refrain!

Innovation is the fun part of building something new, and honestly, it’s why we’re all in marketing! (The Santa Maria Swirl Machine is a good example of this.) Don’t throw that creative planning and problem-solving away to save a few extra minutes in the early stages. Strive for more—you’ll be happy you did!

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