Though it’s often looked down on by consultant types, I’m a big proponent of planning, especially when it comes to web strategy and public relations. In mathematical terms, execution without a plan results in a vector that’s all magnitude and no direction – in other words, it takes a lot of energy to go nowhere. In many ways, marketing is part science, part creativity and a big of old-fashioned good luck. So, while planning is important, with all these variables, the danger is to get stuck in a plan that ends up taking you in the wrong direction when the world changes around you.
This is especially important for startups, who have to focus as much on the here and now as they do on the long-term. I recently had coffee with a friend who had recently started his own firm, and he told me about a concept that really resonated with me. He told me that he didn’t have a marketing plan – he had a marketing hypothesis.
When I asked him what he meant, he told me that they had a marketing plan, and they stuck to it, and soon realized that it wasn’t getting them any results. The predictions and assumptions they had made about what how their customers would use their product turned out to be wrong, so they changed what they were doing. He said that from then on, they didn’t stick to a “plan” per se, but rather to constantly try to prove their hypothesis.
As much as marketing is part science, it’s important to remember that science is, for the most part, about observation. Because they are constantly observing and testing their hypothesis, they are able to change course quickly and improve results.
Especially when it comes to social media, if you’re marketing your product on the web, you’re operating in a sea of variables, not the least of which is human nature. Plan where you want to go, but keep in mind that the roads aren’t paved yet, and subject to change without notice. Work with a marketing hypothesis in mind means that you’re constantly measuring and readjusting, rather than sticking to an all-knowing plan. If your plan doesn’t work, you’ll always find out. The only question is whether you’ll find out soon enough to change direction.
Hugh MacLeod is fond of saying “all business models are wrong.” If that’s the case, testing your marketing hypothesis is the best way to make sure you’re less wrong than your competitors.