Marketing and advertising can be tricky business because often there’s no one “right” way to do it. Your company philosophy and target audience will steer you in the right direction, but there are many paths that can all lead to a successful marketing campaign.

However, many “right” ways to do it doesn’t mean there’s no wrong way. Over here at TQS, we strongly believe that every right way includes creating and sticking to a marketing plan. That means that two surefire wrong ways are to not have or not stick to a marketing plan. We call it chasing butterflies, which doesn’t sound so bad because butterflies are pretty and chasing them probably means you’re running around outside in the sunshine. But it is bad. What happens if you catch one? Probably, you kill it. Because butterflies are fragile. Killing butterflies sounds awful. What did they ever do to you?

We can’t speak for any marketing agency except ourselves, but we’re fairly certain that you’d be hard pressed to find any marketing professional who recommends making marketing decisions as they present themselves. Oh, that high-traffic billboard just opened up on a main commuter route? Quick, come up with a pithy message. Hey, there’s a special on radio time at the lowest price the salesman has ever seen. Let’s take money from another project, and buy up some radio spots!

The key to marketing success is a thoughtful, strategic, well-defined plan. A plan with a consistent message that homes in on a target audience. A plan with predetermined goals and a clear path to reach them. A plan with a well laid out budget.

Creating a marketing plan is like buying a house. At first glance, it seems somewhat straightforward. Find a house you like in your price range, and buy it. But when it comes down to it, there’s a lot to consider. Location. Property taxes. Does it have a backyard? Is it in a good school district? What are the neighbors like? How much work needs to be done? How close are you to a grocery store? A hospital? How does it affect your weekday commute? How safe is the neighborhood? Why is the house for sale? Is it a fair price? Buying a house is a major investment. You don’t want to leave anything up to chance or be surprised because you didn’t ask the important questions.

Like buying a house, creating a marketing plan requires many considerations. At first glance, it’s easy. Tell people what’s great about your company. But when it comes down to it, truly successful marketing  takes a lot of planning, research, targeting and disciplined messaging. What does your company stand for? What makes you different? Who wants what you offer? How do you reach them? What’s the main message you want to deliver? What’s your budget? How should you spend it? If you don’t take the time to create that plan, chances are your message is going to get muddled a little bit more with each decision you make, and you’ll get a little further and further from success. You can create a long term plan, a short term plan or a plan that includes several shorter campaigns that all complement a larger one. But a plan is your first step. Decide what you want, and cultivate a path that will get you there.

So you have a plan with a defined, itemized budget and a singular message for your target demographic. Then your local TV station rep calls to tell you about a great opportunity, but you have to make a decision now or you’ll miss your chance. And you don’t want to miss this chance.

One of the best advantages to a well-defined marketing plan is that you’re able to make decisions based on whether or not they fit the larger goals of your campaign. The TV opportunity may be cheap, but if it’s not enhancing your brand or if it doesn’t fit the message you’ve established, it’s still a waste of money.

Too often, we see companies allow salesmen to make marketing decisions because they don’t stick to a marketing plan. You see something pretty, so you try to grab it. Then something shiny pops up over here, so you change direction. Before long, you can’t remember where you were going in the first place. So you never get there. You spent a bunch of money on a bunch of different marketing methods, and a lot of people heard a bunch of different messages, which promptly got lost in the barrage of ads heard on a daily basis.

Successful marketing campaigns don’t happen by accident. They happen through defined goals, strategic planning, creative execution and sticking to a singular path toward your goal. So stop chasing butterflies and stick to the path you laid out. You’ll probably just kill them, anyway.

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