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In Modern Marketing, Plans are Nothing, But Planning is Everything

By Jake Sorofman | September 23, 2015 | 2 Comments

Before he landed his gig at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue., Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was a five-star US Army General and, during World War II, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.

It’s fair to say that Ike knew a thing or two about planning.

You probably associate Eisenhower with what now feels like a decidedly ancient time in American history, with the clipped cadence, the barking oratory and the monophonic, echoing tones of mid-century television broadcasts, now delivered in Technicolor.

But his perspectives on this topic are anything but dated.

“In preparing for battle,” he said, “I have always found that plans are useless.”

But planning itself? “Indispensable.”

What’s the difference? It may seem like splitting hairs, but the differences are actually quite vast.

Plans are nouns; to plan is a verb. Plans are static; planning is dynamic.

Plans are artifacts; planning is a continuous process.

Ike’s view on planning, now over half a century old, should really inform modern marketing.

Battlefields and marketplaces are dynamic, subject to changing circumstances and shifting assumptions. In campaigns both marketing and military, static plans are rendered obsolete with the opening salvo.

The act of planning, however, never gets old.

Leaders should focus on goals and outcomes, not tasks and directives. They should embrace the agile discipline of open communication, continuous measurement and test and fail to learn and scale.

They should instrument the process to collect data—lots of it—understanding performance against goals and objectives, and treating progress as achievement of the same, not just the completion of tasks.

This last part is particularly insidious. A task orientation, while powerful with accurate direction, can lull us into the false comfort that we’re actually making progress. But don’t confuse busy with productive. Sometimes what feels like progress is actually just a fool’s errand.

Today, too often, we rely on static artifacts to inform the prosecution of a fundamentally dynamic campaign. We spend untold hours creating elaborate charts and spreadsheets, perfecting our ivory tower instruments of delusion which, more often than not, prove to be only vague reflections of front line realities.

The truth is that many planning tools and methodologies haven’t exactly helped. Most still treat the act of planning as the construction of top-down plans, which we preciously perfect and piously pay out with prescribed precision. The reality is that the world is far too dynamic for this level of preordination. (please pardon the Ps)

So, when leading your marketing organization, be like Ike.

Toss the plans, but never the planning.

Comments are closed


  • This could not be more true. The clear perspective that we may now have not just upon our marketing, but in many cases upon our very markets, will simply not hold true 8 months from how. The walls will have moved, boundaries reshaped and priorities changed (that is IF we are doing it right). The new world in this sense is one of continuous assessment and planning – along with the guts to make changes along the way. It is a matter of planning for the unpredictable.

    A great article Jake.

    Jeff Nicholson

  • Mikeee says:

    This is a great post – thanks