The first two weeks before we began writing marketing plans were a magical theoretical time where there were no bad ideas and anything was possible with enough spunk. We filled a wall with a multitude of product ideas, all ranging from realistic to the fantastically impossible. Even though we soon narrowed down our choices to two, my mind was still couch-surfing in theoretical land. And in theory, writing a marketing plan didn’t sound too hard: Know what your product is, figure out who wants to hear about it and find the best way to tell them. We had ideas. We had arguments. We had spunk!
Actually, we had assumptions.
As I sat down in front of a blank Word document, I realized I had no idea how to organize the ideas we were so confident in, or even how to back them up with fact. In my first attempt I clung onto the only form of organization I had, the separation of three clear market groups. Then I dumped every assumption I had about those three markets in their appropriate sections, sprinkling in a few numbers here and there.
Looking back now, I think the reason I felt like I was floundering is because a lot of our data is based off of conversations and qualitative research. This is fine if it’s the best way to serve the product, but it can’t just be spit back out on your marketing plan. I’ll take a phrase another Reese News Lab member used to describe the lab itself: “It’s like the science of words.” Interviews can be just as credible as numbers if they are supplemented by data and presented like evidence.
After reading our first drafts I think our leaders, Sara Peach and John Clark, could tell we felt lost and provided us with some guidance. We were tasked with reading an actual marketing plan and answering specific questions about it, subsequently giving us a skeleton for our plan. It wasn’t a skeleton based on commands, but rather one based on questions that we could then build around our specific market.
For example: What is this about? How do you define your overall market/community? What are the various segments/groups in your market? How big is the market(s)? What are the pertinent characteristic of the group(s)?
Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I soon learned that this approach worked with most duties involved in our product. It’s a form of self-interrogation: Ask all the questions you can think of to poke holes in your broader ideas, and then answer them with evidence.
Thus came the research.
As I work on marketing plan 2.0, I’m encouraged because so far the research hasn’t killed any of our original main ideas. I’m also frustrated because I realize that one question stems into three questions which then each stem into four more questions. Words like revenue stream and Excel spreadsheets (shudder) are being used, so we’re definitely in the thick of things. But strangely enough, even though I’ll always be fond of theoretical land, I’m happy working on the logistics. This past week was probably the first time I felt as if I was accomplishing something definable and working towards a viable goal.