The sage Kenny Rogers was full of great advice. But none was better than “…know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” That bit of knowledge is crucial in nearly every aspect of life. Whether you’re gambling with men packing pistols, running a floundering NFL franchise or assembling a marketing plan.
Knowing how long to stay with your plan is part education, part experience and part luck. What percentage of each depends on the endeavor. But in any case, you stand the best chance of a good outcome with solid planning, clear goals, defined milestones and good execution. In the case of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler, his protagonist knew the value of all of these steps. In the case of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, perhaps he had skipped a few steps on the way to hosting a Super Bowl for his team. With a marketing plan, it’s best to follow each of these steps or you risk being derailed by well-meaning managers or clients.
Here’s how it happens. A Director of Marketing comes up with a plan to market the new model of widget to an as yet untapped market through direct mail. The creative is on target. The market is well-researched. The timing is perfect. The cost is significant. But the possible returns make the risk acceptable. The CEO gives the green light to the project and the first wave of the plan is executed. Three days later, a nervous CEO pulls the plug on the project under pressure from his Board of Directors.
Why did this happen? Our Director of Marketing neglected to clearly define the milestone for the CEO. If our mailing was going out in waves of 20% every 10 business days, no return could be expected for at least a week. But it could have been tied to a sales forecast based on the cumulative return of each mailing. Milestones for reaching certain sales benchmarks could have been tied to specific dates. This could have been a great plan. But because a step was missed, we’ll never know.
As marketers, we cannot expect our bosses and clients to fill in the gaps in our initiatives. Due diligence rules the day. But you must also include the “Kenny Rogers clause” in your plan. Know when to fold ‘em. Identify the point in your plan where you have to cut your losses because it did not perform as projected. This may not save the project –or even your job. But it’s much better than being fiscally irresponsible and waiting until it’s too late. And it has the added benefit of discouraging a supervisor with an itchy trigger finger from not allowing the plan to develop.
Jerry Jones set expectations too high, underperformed and had nowhere to go. The Gambler, on the other hand, was able to die in his sleep instead of in a gunfight. As marketers, the best we can do is to have solid planning, clear goals, defined milestones and good execution. And don’t forget to know when to fold ‘em. If you can do that, you won’t win every hand. But maybe you’ll live long enough to give advice to some aspiring marketer someday. On a train bound for nowhere…