Building an Execution Plan for Your Marketing Strategy
Why is it that developing a strategy with a great looking presentation is relatively easy but actually executing against that strategy is extremely difficult? That is a question I have often asked myself throughout my career and, despite some success, creating a fail-proof system for execution is never easy.
Businesses often align at a high-level but fail to see results because everyday execution and tactics are often not directly tied to the strategy. Building an execution plan for your marketing strategy takes time (upfront) but it is the best solution for the challenge of achieving results and progress that many businesses face.
Before we get too deep, let’s define some key terms:
Goal: A broad, primary outcome.
Example: I want to drive to California within 10 days.
Strategy: The approach taken to achieve the goal.
Example: We’ll get to California within 10 days by only taking major highways and avoiding big cities, we’ll increase speed and fuel efficiency even though total mileage may slightly increase.
Objective: Something aimed at or sought after (think of these as mini goals).
Example: I want to stop less than 3 times a day in order to get to California ASAP.
Milestone: A specific achievement, event or checkpoint that can be used to measure progress against.
Example: Get to El Paso, Texas by day 6.
Where do we start?
The best place to start is with clearly defining the high-level strategy.
This is where you would ask questions like:
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- What actions are we going to take – and not take – to help get us there?
- What is our BHAG and how does this project help us get there?
- What unique approach can we take to differentiate ourselves?
You may be thinking “Really? But my team knows what we’re trying to achieve”.
That may be true but it is best not to assume… effective communication of the purpose and strategy behind a project will pay dividends throughout the project timeline. The military practice of Commander’s Intent takes it a step further and relies on all team members to understand and act in a way that upholds the intent of the mission.
Clearly defining the strategy solidifies the project further instead of it just being in a single person’s brain.
Without a clearly defined strategy, you are flying blind and risk steering your business in a direction that you have not fully thought through or worse; a direction that you actually don’t want to move in.
View this process as an opportunity to create a “vision” or a “mission” for your team to keep at the top of mind as they’re executing every task. It’s much easier to struggle through a task (or stay motivated) when you understand why you’re doing it… It gives you and your team a reason for their actions.
Create A Plan
Define Objectives, Milestones & Timelines
At this point in the process, you probably feel like you beat the strategy to death so much that you already know exactly what needs to be done. Good!
A great approach for creating objectives is to use the S.M.A.R.T. approach:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely.
If you aren’t familiar with SMART objectives, do yourself a favor and spend some time reading this how-to guide for creating SMART Goals.
For a digital marketing strategy, we typically categorize our objectives into the following categories:
- SEO / Content Creation
- Paid Advertising
- Social Media / Email
- Design / Development
Within each category, we will have a number of deliverables that we’re working towards with guidance from the underlying strategy. This enables easier reporting and can also align with specific individuals and their responsibilities for the project.
Let’s talk about milestones.
Milestones are often overlooked because they add a layer of complexity to the process but they also add the ability to effectively measure progress. Outlining milestones for each objective is basically like establishing “checkpoints” or “progress reports” throughout the project timeline, in which you can clearly assess your performance up until that point.
As the execution plan is filled in and becomes more and more granular, due dates and timelines become a critical piece of the puzzle. With a firm understanding of each objective and how they are related (or dependent), due dates can be assigned. For example; if you know that you want to publish an Ebook and then host a webinar on that same topic, you need to assign due dates accordingly. If you’re running behind on publishing your Ebook, you may end up pushing back the date of your webinar by the same amount of time.
Assign and Measure
Now that we have our goal, strategy, objectives, milestones and due dates, we can begin to get more specific as action items become clearer. It is important to use some level of refrain and not get deep “in the weeds” too early on – you won’t know exactly what task needs to be done three months down the road as a lot can change during the life of a project.
The key is to task out the knowns, allowing regular discussions and milestones to fill in the gaps as you go. With that said, you don’t want to leave everything too open-ended to where everyone is moving in different directions, or worse; not moving at all. A good best practice is to task out “placeholder” ideas that can be changed as the project progresses (any idea is better than none).
As you move through the planning process, you will identify deliverables and owners of those deliverables. Don’t assume it is obvious who will own each deliverable.
This “step” in building an execution plan is the most tedious and will probably take the longest as it entails detailed forethought, anticipation of roadblocks, and regular discussion throughout the project.
Every industry, organization, team, etc. operates differently and with all that nuance I won’t spend more time giving detailed insights but I will offer some recommendations for tools that can enhance your execution plan:
Asana for assigning tasks and coordinating with team members.
There are plenty of similar tools available but Asana is an industry-leading software that combines some of the best capabilities for coordinating effectively on projects.
Google Sheets or MS Excel for project/goal/milestone management.
Unless you’re a trained project manager or have a lot of time to really study and learn a PM software, it’s hard to beat the customization capabilities of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets might take a bit more time to set up initially but once you have your execution plan mapped out, it becomes very easy to manage.
It is natural to not want external pressures to perform but the best teams accept responsibility and welcome the challenge. They understand that holding themselves accountable to the tasks & responsibilities will lead to the successful completion of the project.
If you want results, you have to get comfortable with the pressure and reject excuses.
The best leaders will create a system (like the execution plan outlined above) to objectively measure progress and hold their team accountable when they aren’t performing.
True accountability requires trust which is gained through transparency, clear expectations and open communication throughout the project.
Building an execution plan for a marketing strategy (or any strategy) is complicated; it takes a lot of thought, planning and coordination. The key is to get started and try new tools/tactics until you figure out what works best for you.
We see a lot of agencies that are good at planning and creating strategies but don’t actually get their hands dirty. At OM Performance Marketers, we are a strategic execution agency and take pride in our love for being the “workhorse” that gets stuff done.
Creating the execution plan is just the beginning… now it’s time to EXECUTE!