The Sameness Trap

A marketing plan is an essential part of any business. But all too often, organizations fail at crafting one that has a real shot at success. What are the pitfalls and how can you avoid them? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Drifting towards sameness is a persistent problem in business in general.
  • The job of creating difference often falls on marketing, even when the products themselves are very similar.
  • Yet the marketing world isn’t immune from the sameness trap. It happens in visual design, copy and messaging. And can even happen in the foundational piece that comes before all of these: the marketing plan.
  • Tom Fishbourne puts it bluntly: “Marketing plans too often sound alike, even for completely different brands with completely different objectives.”
  • The sameness trap can be easy to fall into for a few reasons.
  • For one thing, we humans have a tendency to imitate others.
  • It might also be because we marketers spend so much time fighting budget battles that we have little energy left for new ideas.
  • Or it could have something to do with not having a clear strategy to draw on.
  • So how can we craft a marketing plan that doesn’t look like a repurposed template we found online?
  • Our very own Peter Petralia offers some sage advice: take a step back from the plan itself.
  • “What should happen is you set your strategy—which includes the big choices you are making in terms of where you’re heading. This should articulate what you are trying to achieve in a defined timeframe and with KPIs. When I say ‘trying to achieve’, I do not mean every single job. I mean the bigger outcomes you want.”
  • Peter goes on to explain that once the strategy is defined, the marketing plan maps out how that strategy will be carried out. It’s the “how” to your strategy’s “why.”
  • What goes in the plan will vary. But there are certain things that should always be considered.
  • Let’s begin with the time horizon. Mark Ritson recommends you aim for a single year rather than three or four. Then review and revise the plan as the year unfolds and when unexpected events occur.
  • For research to inform the plan, look to fresh data for up-to-date insights. But avoid presenting a lot of survey results or focus group quotes in your plan. As Ritson puts it: this isn’t an insight session.
  • Once you define your segments, prioritize the ones you want to focus on—setting an objective for each.
  • When it comes to tactics, split them per target and avoid choosing them with an internal lens. Like placing ads in publications that your leadership reads rather than your customers.
  • There should also be a place in your plan for the channel choices, cadence of activities, and major content and/or messages.
  • As for how the plan is packaged, there isn’t a single correct format. But if you choose to go with a deck, make sure you can walk through it in an hour—with time for questions.
  • Last but not least, involve your team from start to finish to encourage buy-in. We suggest creating a RASCI chart to make it clear who’s responsible for what.
  • Ultimately, creating an impactful and non-same-y marketing plan is about treating it as an extension of the strategy.
  • Both should be built on the corporate and brand strategies. And maintained and updated to stay relevant.
  • For the final word on the topic, we like this quote by Alistair Robertson: “Stop wallowing in the sea of sameness, and start making some waves.”
Issue #164
Mar 19, 2023

Further Reading