Your marketing strategy isn’t worth much if you don’t act on it. Yet, the Harvard Business Review shows that the majority of global companies struggle to execute on their strategies, which begs the question: why the high failure rate? Are leaders setting overly ambitious goals, or are tasks and milestones ill-defined? Is this a result of a failure to measure KPIs and performance, or is the problem simply human nature? In other words, what causes this gap between planning and successfully executing a marketing strategy - and what can you do to close it?

Most strategies deliver just 63% of their potential financial performance. The culprit? Failure to have “the right resources in place at the right time.” In other words, the strategy itself isn’t usually to blame — the problem lies with its implementation.

By investing in an action plan from the outset, you’ll generate more value from your marketing strategy. Let’s find out how.

1. Plan before you do

Before you roll out your marketing strategy, it’s important to check your plan for any potential flaws or barriers. Here’s a list that you can work through to ensure your marketing plan is set up for success:

Check your initiatives against your objectives

Your initiatives (the plans that mobilize your team) should get you closer to your objectives (the big-picture end results you’re hoping to achieve). It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how often organizations fail to link initiatives directly with objectives. Imagine you’re a B2B company, for example, and you want to sell into a new customer segment:

Review your goals and milestones

Look at your goals and make sure they meet each of the following “SMART” criteria:

  • Consider who’s involved, what they’re doing, when and where they’ll do it, and how each step will take place.
  • Whether you measure success in revenue earned, number of marketing-qualified leads, or digital marketing metrics, you must measure your progress.
  • It’s one thing to aim for the moon, but your team will get frustrated and burned out if your goals aren’t realistic.
  • Goals should be worthwhile and related to your main objective, otherwise they shouldn’t make the cut.
  • Give your team time to accomplish goals but create enough of a sense of urgency that they won’t slip through the cracks in favor of more pressing tasks.

You may also use Locke and Latham’s five principles of goal-setting to make sure your goals are appropriate and attainable. They are:

  1. Clarity. When a plan is unclear, people struggle to fulfill it — or fail to implement it altogether. Get your leadership team to weigh in on the goals you’ve set. Ask them if anything is unclear or unrealistic, from timelines to resources and budgets.
  2. Challenge. While your goals should be realistic, avoid playing it too safe or you may not get the results you’re looking for. One way to set your team up for success (while not setting the bar too low) is to set both a regular goal and a “stretch goal” to encourage employees to push harder.
  3. Commitment. Commitment to a goal is everything. However, it’s difficult for your team members to feel committed if they haven’t had a hand in goal-setting. Rather than dictating your goals to employees and expecting them to share your enthusiasm, involve them in the process so they can find their own reasons to commit.
  4. Feedback. Provide your honest feedback to stakeholders as each initiative unfolds. Don’t wait until deadlines are creeping in; make yourself available to answer questions and course-correct along the way.
  5. Complexity. Keep your goals as simple as possible or risk demoralizing your teams. As a rule of thumb, your objectives should be simple enough to memorize and repeat.

2.  Use leadership to mobilize your team

If your people don’t feel connected to your strategy, they can’t successfully execute it. Even though your leadership team may be the most involved in helping you execute your marketing strategy, you can better unify your team and keep up the momentum by making your strategy transparent to your whole organization.

One of leadership’s main roles is to inspire and motivate your teams. This starts with an effective communication plan. Post it somewhere that everyone can see, talk about it, and remind everyone of your vision throughout the year to keep your business unified and your goals on track.

Your team will need clear direction and a sense of the overall purpose of your strategy in order to deliver on it, so begin by helping them see your vision. If possible, use storytelling to convey your vision. Narrative has been proven to “stick” better than other methods of sharing information because it connects with emotion. Here are some key questions to consider, in order to better communicate your strategy to your team and uncover ways to tie strategy to emotion. Write down your answers and incorporate them into your strategy meetings to mobilize your teams:

  • What will be the end result of this marketing strategy? What positive effects will these efforts have on company culture, customer satisfaction, or your competitive place in the market?
  • How will the plan, if successful, impact my team? Look at how accomplishing your goals will affect each department or member of your team. The more relevant you can make your strategy to them, the more likely they’ll be invested in working hard to achieve your vision.
  • Are you planning your communications far enough in advance? Get your strategy meetings in the calendar early, whether they’re weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Your team is more likely to stay on-task if you’re regularly talking about and reporting on progress.
  • Who owns what? Record who is responsible for what, so everyone knows where they stand, and each member of the team is accountable for achieving the strategy.
  • Is communication two-way? Ensure your team has a way to provide constructive feedback on the strategy both during the planning and the execution phase.

3. Ensure accountability and measure success

Measuring success is difficult, error-prone, and absolutely necessary to the success of your marketing strategy. According to the Harvard Business Review, less than 15% of companies regularly compare results with forecasts, which hinders future strategic planning and makes it difficult to know what works - and what doesn’t.

So, what methods should you use to measure the success of your marketing strategy?

Track your KPIs. It's impossible to know if your team has been successful if you’re not tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). Define your KPIs in your marketing plan and ensure each goal has corresponding KPIs you can measure. Keep track of your progress in a centralized location so you can keep an eye on which initiatives are on track and which are falling behind.

Have the right tools and processes in place. If you use project management software for your day-to-day work, use that same tool to track your team’s progress on achieving your marketing strategy. Most project management software will allow you to input milestones and assign them to team members along with deadlines and status updates.

If you don’t have this type of software, request that key players regularly submit a short update describing the progress they made along with any important data and store it somewhere centralized so that everyone can keep updated on progress.

Regularly review your team’s performance and celebrate wins. Don’t wait until the end of the year to conduct reviews and celebrate successes — do it throughout the year to keep the momentum going. Whenever a team or individual hits a target or goes above and beyond expectations, reward them with a gift, recognition, or a party. At the end of the year, consider awarding bonuses, salary increases, or other perks to show them their hard work didn’t go unrecognized.

And finally, don’t rush to throw out the strategy if you’re not seeing results immediately. Although there are times when your strategy might be flawed, often, the reason you’re not seeing results is because there’s a breakdown somewhere in implementation. Before you discard your strategy entirely or adjust it, take a closer look at each projects and milestones to identify bottlenecks or other challenges that might be standing in your team’s way.

Final thoughts

Planning your marketing strategy is the easy part, but the real measure of success is your team’s ability to execute it properly. A well-executed marketing strategy can help realize your business objectives, raise awareness and even boost revenue, but it requires an upfront investment in planning, communicating and measuring your performance. By implementing the actions in this blog post, you’re likely to generate more value and better results from your marketing strategy in 2020 and beyond.