One of my all-time favourite facts is that the Apollo 11 moon landing—the very first manned lunar landing—was partially improvised.
The landing spot they’d been aiming for turned out to be more treacherous than they’d thought, so Neil Armstrong made a last-second adjustment and landed long.
Oh, and more than that, the astronauts knocked off the knob of a vital circuit breaker inside the lander, and they had to depress it with a felt-tipped pen to take off again.
Because nothing ever goes as planned.
But that’s not a problem because we don’t need to predict what’s going to happen. We just have to prepare.
As Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said after returning from the International Space Station, “Nothing went as planned, but everything was within the scope of what we prepared for.”
And yet we as marketers often pretend that we can predict.
We produce 100-page marketing plans with detailed descriptions of tactics and timings for the next year.
We make rigid decisions about what we’re going to do, what we’re going to spend, and where we’re going to spend it.
As if we can predict what will work, what will be most effective and efficient, a whole year out.
They got all the way to the moon, and they kind of had to wing it at the end.
I’ve met a lot of marketers in my day, and most of us aren’t smarter than astronauts. We just pretend to be.
We pretend with spreadsheets and charts and decks and funnels and dashboards.
And we pretend that we know the best place to spend our money, and the most efficient way to reach our ideal customers, months into the future.
But something always happens that changes things.
Someone knocks a circuit breaker off of the wall.
Or the landing spot you picked is rockier than you thought it would be.
The world is a torrent of change—it can’t stay the same for long. But rigid marketing plans do.
That’s why I think marketing plans shouldn’t be about prediction—they should be about structure.
They should be about knowing what your boundaries and constraints are, and how to make decisions, so you know what’s worth spending money and time on. So you can be flexible, adaptable, and agile. Able to seize opportunities and avoid crises—because you’re not locked into a rigid plan, or flying blind because the plan wasn’t helpful.
Marketing plans should be guides for what to do when things change. What to increase, what to decrease, what levers to adjust and what to leave alone.
They should focus on how to reinforce your marketing position in every interaction with ideal customers, based on principles, not prescriptions.
A robot or an automation script could blindly execute a prescribed marketing plan—and essentially do in many organizations.
But that’s not the way to set your business apart. That’s the way to get lost in the crowd.
We can plan out our next year in painstaking detail. We can create an intricate plan of everything we’ll do for the next 12 months.
And we can plan to change everything once everything inevitably changes.
Or we can create the structure for our decision-making progress.
We can keep updating and adapting as we learn new information, and test and experiment with tactics and techniques.
We can get better every day, instead of once a year.
That’s strategy. That’s planning.
Not predicting, but preparing for whatever happens.
Because the only way to succeed for the long-term is to be around for a long time.
Which means accepting that nothing will go as planned.
And being prepared for anything.