Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Knowing Is Believing

Now that 2008 budget season is upon us, it’s time to identify knowledge gaps in the assumptions underlying your marketing plan – and to lay out (and fund) a strategy for filling them.

We recently published a piece in MarketingNPV Journal which tackles this issue. In “Searching for Better Planning Assumptions? Start with the Unknowns” we suggested:

A marketing team’s ability to plan effectively is a function of the knowns and the unknowns of the expected impact of each element of the marketing mix. Too often, unfortunately, the unknowns outweigh the hard facts. Codified knowledge is frequently limited to how much money lies in the budget and how marketing has allocated those dollars in the past. Far less is known (or shared) about the return received for every dollar invested. As a result, marketers are left to fill the gaps with a mix of assumptions, conventional wisdom, and the occasional wild guess – not exactly a combination that fills a CMO with confidence when asked to recommend and defend next year’s proposed budget to the executive team.

Based on our experience and that of some of our CMO clients, we offer a framework to help CMOs get their arms around what they know, what they think they know, and what they need to know about their marketing investments. The three steps are:

1. Audit your knowledge. The starting point for a budget plan comes in the form of a question: What do we need to know? The key is to identify the knowledge gaps that, once filled, can lessen the uncertainty around the unknown elements, which will give you more confidence to make game-changing decisions.

2. Prioritize the gaps. For each gap or unanswered question, it’s important to ask how a particular piece of information would change the decision process. It might cause you, for example, to completely rethink the scope of a new program, which could have a material impact on marketing performance.

3. Get creative with your testing methods. Marketers have many methods for filling the gaps at their disposal; some are commonly used, others are underutilized. The key is determining the most cost-effective methods – from secondary research to experimental design techniques – to gather the most relevant information.

Don’t let the unknowns persist another year. Find ways to identify them, prioritize them, and fund some exploratory work so you’re legitimately smarter when the next planning season rolls around.

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