The hidden benefits of long-term planning
Editorial

The hidden benefits of long-term planning

Long-term planning is all in your head. But you should do it anyway.

Trying to plan more than a few months ahead in an uncertain world can feel pointless, but there are benefits you may not have considered.

Where were you five years ago?

Not watching Netflix, that’s for sure. Or riding in an Uber cab. At that time they were still just things Americans talked about.

Back in 2011, small children didn’t know the words to Let It Go, and nobody knew what Snapchat or Tinder were. The big supermarkets were convinced that the growth of Aldi and Lidl was a blip, and the big political parties were convinced that they could safely ignore anti-EU campaigners. Not that any of it would matter if the Mayan apocalypse came to pass.

A lot can happen in five years, and in today’s fast-changing and uncertain world, where new digital trends continually appear from nowhere to disrupt entire industries, planning more than a few months ahead can feel like folly.

But maybe things aren’t as uncertain as they seem. In fact, the ability of marketers to prepare for the future is better than ever, says independent marketing strategist Sophia Ahrel, because digitisation has made activity more concrete, more measurable, and easier to plan.

Ahrel says: “Technology is speeding everything up, but I think, in a way, it’s now easier to plan, because we have access to tools and data that allow us to forecast more accurately, whereas in the past we could only look at what was successful and build on that. Now there’s much more forecasting and trend analysis that marketers have access to. So it may be more complex now, but you’re more likely to get it right today than you were 20 years ago.”

The growing influence of consumers on brands has had an impact here too, Ahrel believes, forcing companies to take a more evidence-based approach. “The relationship between brands and consumers has changed dramatically – consumers are very influential in your decisions, and marketing is more customer-led,” she says.

Marketing planning has other, softer benefits too. As well as guiding your activities, a plan is about setting out your vision and communicating it to your team.

Ahrel says there are clear benefits to implementing a marketing strategy beyond its actual aims. A good marketing strategy will get everyone in the company engaged and involved, which is a good thing in the long term. “I see a lot of impact on talent retention in the teams I’ve worked with,” she says. “The tension between marketing and sales tends to be eased, you see people more empowered, organisations more focused, and these changes are sustained. You leave behind a team that understands that they’re not just there to make money or get the biggest market share – they’re more aware of what it is that they’re building, and they value what they do. That’s what strategy can do: cutting back politics, making people work together for a common goal. That has huge benefits.”

To marketing professionals trained on metrics and measurability, some of these extra benefits of planning ahead might seem a bit fuzzy and intangible. But as Professor Dumbledore once advised Harry Potter, just because something’s happening inside your head doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Robert Bain Freelance Writer and Editor CPL
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