On a marketing listserve to which I belong, the subject of having, or not having, a marketing plan has been the subject of much discussion. In addition, a few of my clients over the years have asked my firm to prepare a marketing plan for them. I am not very comfortable with the request, perhaps because personally I hate planning (don’t ask me what I’m doing a week from now, because I have no idea), and tend to favor inspired improvisation. In other words, the rationale that follows may be nothing more than my attempt to justify what is simply my own temperament. But here is what I had to say on the listserve:
The military theorist Von Clausewitz said of war that while planning is essential, all plans are useless. He meant, I think, that while it’s good to have some idea of what you are trying to do, it never turns out the way you thought it would.
Lawyers have a tendency to dither while indulging in endless analysis and planning. And since I am tuned into the military channel today for some reason, George Patton said, “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
With most of my clients an hour long phone call pretty much suffices to determine a marketing plan: What are your long term goals? What are your medium term goals? What are your immediate to-dos? In what priority? Voila — instant marketing plan.
An article in The Economist noted, “Preparation is an art, not a science, which makes planning for the future of a business more complicated. Strategic business planning went out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s because it got bogged down in the mathematics of detailed business plans that might or might not be implemented. Jack Welch, the leader of leaders during that period, set the tone by shutting General Electric’s 200-strong planning department in 1983.”
Welch himself has written:
“Clausewitz summed up what it had all been about in his classic On War. Men could not reduce strategy to a formula. Detailed planning necessarily failed, due to the inevitable frictions encountered: chance events, imperfections in execution, and the independent will of the opposition. Instead, the human elements were paramount: leadership, morale, and the almost instinctive savvy of the best generals.
“The Prussian general staff, under the elder von Moltke, perfected these concepts in practice. They did not expect a plan of operations to survive beyond the first contact with the enemy. They set only the broadest of objectives and emphasized seizing unforeseen opportunities as they arose. Strategy was not a lengthy action plan. It was the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.”