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Five Marketing-Plan Pitfalls to Avoid

by Tim Calkins  |  
September 23, 2008

Marketing plans are essential documents for virtually any business; it is hard to do great marketing without a clear plan. Unfortunately, many marketing plans simply don't work very well; they add little value and end up on a shelf, collecting dust.

This problem spans industries and countries.

Over the past five years I've talked with senior executives from around the world about marketing plans and reviewed dozens of plans. My learning: Most marketing plans contribute very little. As one marketing executive I spoke with observed, "Five percent of marketing plans are good. Most of them suck wind."

My research highlighted five common pitfalls to avoid when creating a marketing plan. Marketing leaders need to be aware of these pitfalls and steer clear.

Pitfall 1: Too Much Data

The biggest problem for many marketing plans is that there is too much data; the marketing plan is so full of facts, figures, and findings that the document gets hopelessly bogged down and the heart of the plan—the recommendations—gets lost.

The role of a marketing plan is to lay out a course of action. A good plan should explain precisely what the business should do to build revenue and profits.

Unfortunately, too many marketing plans focus on the analysis and the data instead of the recommendations. The bulk of the plan is devoted to explaining what the team knows about a business. There is usually a SWOT analysis, a competitive assessment, a review of key market research findings and perhaps a pricing study. This section goes on, and on, and on.

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Tim Calkins ( is Clinical Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He is the author of the new book, Breakthrough Marketing Plans (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

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  • by Don Wade Tue Sep 23, 2008 via web

    Excellent and useful article. Anyone writing a marketing plan in the near future should print this out and keep it nearby.

  • by Alison Heath Tue Sep 23, 2008 via web

    So many of these types of articles fail to lay out a specific road-map. This was such a great article that I immediately opened my in-progress plan for next year and made some changes. Thanks!

  • by Tony Wanless Tue Sep 23, 2008 via web

    Hear hear!. I've seen the same thing more times than I remember. (259 pages -- OMG!)

    As a strategic and business planner, I've noticed that marketers often forget that a marketing plan is really a strategic plan, but related to one management function.

    So, instead of thinking strategically, they usually opt instead for tactics, which are more easily understood.

  • by Victoria O Wed Oct 22, 2008 via web

    I loved this article. It gave a specific outline of what needs to be done. It was quite helpful indeed.

  • by Shilpa Wed Oct 22, 2008 via web

    I have incorporated essentials from the article to my quartely was absolutely on time for me.

  • by Mark S Thu Oct 23, 2008 via web

    Couldn't be more timely to help a client understand the practical side of marketing strategies! Well done!

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