Traditional Marketing Planning Is Wrong for Your New Venture

October 25, 2012

By Peter Whalen and Samuel S. Holloway Harvard Business Review

Traditional marketing planning (TMP) activities have been a mainstay for the past four decades, but the theories behind them have limited relevance for new ventures facing extreme uncertainty. The old routine of analyzing existing markets, predicting an optimal outcome, and then designing marketing plans to capture that outcome is too slow and cumbersome for today’s startups.

To be successful, new ventures must eschew these theories and instead rely on effectual marketing planning. This strategy uses a different set of management processes focused on speedy action, learning through failure, and a premeditated approach to market experimentation that creates instant feedback. It can help new ventures be more successful, more informed, and more fully understood.

We saw firsthand how effectual marketing planning can be put to use when, earlier this year, we worked with a startup struggling with its marketing plan (or lack thereof).

Glassboard is a social media mobile application created by Sepia Labs of Denver, Colo. Like many current technology companies, the startup was conceived, designed and developed by a team of engineers — not classically-trained business professionals. Marketing’s role was thought to be limited to communication, and best addressed after the app was ready for launch.

Not surprisingly, they found it quite difficult to market a mobile app. Despite their inauspicious market entry, the team was convinced that mobile apps successfully gain market acceptance through organically-derived, viral activities. For them, using TMP seemed as archaic to them as mainframe computing. In its place, they slipped into an all too common practice of not planning, but reacting. So we recruited Sepia’s CEO, Walker Fenton, to test a term that we call hypercycle planning.