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Marketing and the Schlieffen Plan – War by Timetable a Bad Idea?

July 6, 2011
Alfred Von Schlieffen

Alfred Von Schlieffen - rigid plans have a habit of coming apart...

British historian, AJP Taylor paints a convincing picture of the start of The Great War when he argues, in War by Timetable, that once war was declared, it became impossible to stop. Aachen formed the centrepiece of the Schlieffen Plan, an army mobilisation plan designed to sweep through France and Belgium; the plan centred on getting troops into and out of the town via its railway junction. Once started, the plan could not stop.

So, we may say, like a marketing communications plan. A marcoms (or marcomms) plan is a detailed planning exercise aimed at ensuring the successful launch of a project (or some other objective) among existing and potential customers – in a consistent, logical fashion:

  • What is the message?
  • Who is told first?
  • How are they told?
  • Are there different segments with different needs?
  • Will information have leaked out before they are told?
  • Is there a chance of a confused message?

The list goes on – and every element is important and needs to be addressed to avoid confusion and marketing failure. A marketing communications plan therefore needs to have complete “buy in” from all participants within the business:

  • Senior management
  • Editorial/Production teams
  • Sales and Marketing teams
  • Online Development teams
  • UX teams
  • Trusted customers for test roll-outs
  • Third parties (book trade/distributors/suppliers/press)

Yet, unlike the unmovable monster that was the Schlieffen Plan, a marcoms plan must prepare for something else: change. Any politician will tell you, as Harold Macmillan is attributed to saying, that it’s “events, dear boy, events” which conspire against success. Things happen – the project slips, a glitch appears via a focus group, an email mailing list suddenly doesn’t have permission, an anticipated product feature cannot be delivered at all…

In such cases, a marcoms plan can be rigidly German or more prosaically British: order and discipline versus maverick response. Yet neither approach is satisfactory. It is clearly nonsense to carry on with a pre-ordained plan if events are so transparently awry with the plan’s intentions. It is equally nonsense to respond to events on the fly without considering the response to the response.

In a strategic marcoms plan, every detail, every consequence, needs to be thought out even when events are happening thick and fast. As events unravel, considered responses need to be developed, their consequences thought through, and the plan restructured.

The problem is, in many cases, marketing is seen to be just the responsibility of the marketing department. Somehow, because it has the word “marketing” in it, the marketing plan is nothing to do with anyone else. But, as Professor Malcolm McDonald says, marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.

Marketing is everyone’s responsibility if customer delight is to be maximised and customer confusion obliterated.


Image: courtesy Wikipedia





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