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5 reasons why execution is more critical than planning

Ideas come dime a dozen. But why do we see so few ideas succeed? The answer is execution. Without great execution, no idea could achieve the heights it is supposed to reach.

Marketers love planning activities for brands. I love grand, elaborate schemes with the objective in mind and it gives me an extraordinary sense of purpose and a reason to wake up each day to see the plans to fruition. The results are another thing altogether when everything goes well as planned.

Planning well is important, we all know that. But do you know what really holds the key to success? Execution. If I am to put numbers to it, in my opinion and experience, success depends 80% on execution and 20% on planning.

Every year, we plan dozens of activities and we set KPIs to measure the success of the brand. The KPIs could be conversion to sales, or top of mind recall, or anything relevant to the business. Eventually, the better we perform in these KPIs, the healthier the activity is.

More often than not, the KPIs don’t go as expected. There are a lot of inefficiencies which creep up in large scale executions.

Lets start off with this funny clip from Comedy Central.

I found this video rather humorous from a marketer’s perspective. Sampling is a critical activity for new brands to introduce the product to users and to induce trials. Whatever this fictitious vegan bacon company invested into the activity went down the drain because they probably met with hardcore bacon lovers.

This is a classic example of an activation gone wrong, albeit in a humorous manner. This brings me to the first point on why executions fail.

Reaching the wrong target group

Brands need to pitch to the bull’s eye. When we decide a target segment we aim everything we have at that particular set of people. The decision is based on the type of people who are likely to see the most benefit in the product. They are the innovators and the early adopters who go on to influence early majority, the late majority and the laggards.
Product Adoption Stages chart

All marketing activities are most efficient if targeted at the Innovators. They are few in numbers and they will likely adopt your product more easily and even recommend it to others if they find the product delivering the promise it makes.

Many marketing activities fail due to the inability to reach the primary segment and instead spread themselves too thin, reaching the laggards or late majority demographics. This results in excess spend of the budget with little or no results.

Whenever you are planning any activity, keep in mind to narrow down the focus enough so that down the line when the execution takes place, you are likely to hit only the correct people. I can assure you this will give you better results.

If you have a fancy idea, ensure the message doesn’t get lost in execution

Fancy ideas never a brand make. Who said that? Me.

I see people often flaunt genius ideas. Especially if it involves technology, it excites young marketers. Technology wows people. Another thing that wows people is complexity of the ideas.

Lets look at this Volkswagen fun theory initiative.

I am not very sure about the true objective in this activity, but prima facie, this seems to be going tangentially to the brand communication. I am not clear about why Volkswagen, a car manufacturing company would want to talk to people about walking up and down the staircase.

They probably wanted to talk about how environment friendly their cars could be, or maybe fuel efficiency. I don’t know. At least this activity did not hit on the message and ended up becoming a convoluted, cryptic communication for people like me to study and dissect.

This idea would have gained traction with the creative team early on due to the innovative nature of it. But in execution, it just went somewhere else. Instead of pointing towards Volkswagen initiatives, it directs people towards exercising or towards doing something fun.

Maintaining Consistency

Ideas on paper can be controlled. But when it gets to the ground with hundreds of brand ambassadors running amok, it becomes as good as planning Chinese whispers.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Imagine a hundred promoters running around with a 100 different messages in their minds. You need to bring discipline and uniformity in the activity.

This can be avoided by training them well and rehearsing multiple times. Prepare a standard operating procedures (SOP) for all the teams. Prepare all the lines of communication of what to say and when to say. Make them practice again and again till they get it right before they leave for the field.

“Practice makes perfect”, they say. It rings true everywhere.

Check what your agency is doing

Till date, I have found it extremely difficult to locate agencies which is are perfectly committed to delivering exactly as expected. There are thefts, delays, miscommunications and thousands of other problems during execution.

I have known instances wherein agencies were caught red handed selling stocks which were supposed to have been sampled, or doing something which is not in line with the brand identity. How do you put a check on this?

In my experience, one needs to spend time on the field. One needs to go down to the ground and see how things are being done. If marketing managers become armchair managers and make fancy presentations and sit in office, they will seldom know whether their plans are actually being executed or not. Even if it is being executed, it might not be as per expectations.

Therefore, I always urge all members of my team to go to the field and spend time understanding the operations, understanding the team on the ground. Without a strong grip on operations, none of your plans will ever be executed properly, especially by the agencies.

Think through everything!

Ideas are often very grand. But often sitting in offices, managers might become myopic or shortsighted. It is very difficult to envision how things roll out exactly on the ground. Circumstances might go against your plan.

Check this attempt by Snapple to break the world record here.

So, as you can see in the video, Snapple had grand plans of having this massive popsicle out in the streets. They had the “perfect” plan to create massive waves in the news and other media. But it failed miserably when they couldn’t consider the atmospheric conditions properly. All the ice melted and the streets were filled with their waste. Imagine the negative PR they would have received due to this.

Bottom line, in my entire experience, planning is only one small bit of the entire strategy. Getting things done is the key to getting success. In all the above points, all plans failed due to poor execution. This, in my opinion, can be extrapolated to most instances in the history of marketing activation failures.

As usual, all opinions expressed here are my own, and I do not mind an occasional voice of dissent in the comments. So, feel free to fire away.


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