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Most of us grew up in a world that dedicated a tremendous amount of time and focus to the Annual Marketing Plan. I still have nightmares about the months spent developing such plans with Brand Managers in preparation for an intimidating 3-hour presentation to Senior Management. For the Brand Managers (and me) these presentations were a little more like the Spanish Inquisition.


I vividly remember once such presentation for a nationally distributed food product. We had gone over the overall marketing objectives and strategies and had articulated how we were going to grow the brand. We had taken into account competitive influences, anticipated pricing swings, category consumption trends and virtually every other factor that would conceivably affect brand performance.

We were two hours into the meeting when the CMO, who looked like he’d slept through most of the presentation, stopped us. To our utter shock he asked, “We’ve been having some sales problems with the Food Cities account in Kingsport, Tennessee. What plans do you have to fix it?” The Brand Manager turned green and almost fainted on the spot.

Ok, so much for the good old days. That type of rigor applied to the planning process served us well. It trained us to think strategically and forced us to pay gut wrenching attention to how marketing dollars were invested and deployed. In retrospect though, the annual plan didn’t necessarily take into account changing forces (or consumer perceptions) in the market that might render the original course of action less effective. This planning model was more about the brand speaking to the consumer rather than today’s emphasis on a dialogue between the brand and the consumer.

With the two-way line of communication that has taken hold between brand and consumer, we believe the annual plan is becoming increasingly obsolete. The old annual plan assumes a predictable world for the next 12-months, and that marketing initiatives established for the year in January will still be relevant the next Fall. In today’s digital world, especially in the social media landscape, the consumer can and does instantaneously let the brand (and fellow consumers) know how he or she feels and wants to be treated. This calls for a total rethinking of the annual planning process in favor of an approach that recognizes the real time dynamic of the brand-consumer relationship.

We currently have quarterly planning cycles for most of our clients. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the overarching marketing objectives and strategies for the brand change quarter to quarter. It simply ensures that the methods/tactics we use to accomplish these goals remain viable throughout the year. Importantly, this approach enables us to keep the brand-consumer dialogue fresh and allows us to react to unforeseen threats or opportunities almost immediately.

Like any relationship, the brand-consumer bond is not static. It takes more than an annual re-crafting of the marketing message to maintain intimacy with the brands’ consumer. It requires a more constant and current conversation between the brand and the consumer to solidify that bond.

About Charles “Bubba” Cooper

Bubba Cooper is Senior Partner at On Brand Management, a diverse problem-solving firm offering local and regional businesses access to expertise normally reserved for global and national companies. Contact Bubba at On Brand helps clients navigate today’s dynamic market by providing performance-driven solutions to sustain an organization’s stability and growth. On Brand has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC and St. Petersburg, Fl.

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