For all the comic book fiends, you know that every superhero has an arch-villain. Superman vs Lex Luthor. Batman vs The Joker. The X-Men vs Magneto. Cartman vs Professor Chaos. For marketing directors and their agencies, the nemeses to good, sound strategies are urgent, short term tactics. In a perfect world, we would plan ahead for months, and no external forces would allow us to deviate from our brilliant content plan, editorial calendar, or organic growth strategy. However, we all know that such a vacuum doesn’t exist. We all get peppered with last minute requests, backed by pressure from bosses, shareholders, and others, most well-intentioned, but with unrealistic timelines and oversized expectations. The start of a new year is a great time to look at these root of these ill-time marketing problems, and to plan out how to combat and overcome them.

How is this arch-enemy born?

Like the arch-villains in comic books, last-minute marketing problems have their own storyline of how they came about, and the reason for their existence in the first place. Short term tactics usually are initiated for a couple of different reasons:

 

What do they look like?

Arch-villains usually start out looking like normal, everyday people. Lex Luthor wasn’t bald to begin with. Butters is, well, Butters. But due to tragic events, they turn into hideous monsters. Much like these arch-villains, marketing problems stemming from quick tactics start out as normal scenarios, and the intentions for implementing them are well-intentioned. But combined with events, like those above, these tactics get ugly. Quickly. An innocuous, but ill-planned, Facebook contest turns into a flat campaign that nets few followers, flat engagement, and an expensive drain on resources and prizes (if there are any). Relevancy to your audience is predictably low, and the results make you and your team look bad. Everyone is frustrated, you look bad, and so your team starts two things: the blame game, and the reactionary, let’s-try-this-again-but-this-time-raise-the-stakes follow-up campaign. Which is sure to be another dud. Before you know it, a month has passed, and you are looking in the rear-view mirror at a monster of a multi-campaign month, will little to show for it but an expense line on your quarterly budget.

 

What to do with the villains?

Most comic books try to extend out the storyline by making the arch-villains undefeatable, or by making circumstances so out of control that the superhero has to fight a long, prolonged battle, only to meet the arch-villain again 53 issues later. For marketers, though, these last-minute marketing problems can be largely avoided with some planning and expectation setting. A couple of things we do with our clients include:

 

What does this accomplish?
Each of these planning sessions, which rarely go over two hours, accomplish a couple of things. First, they communicate goals and expectations, both on a long and short term timeline. Second, they keep us focused on the larger issues at play, without ignoring the realities of external pressures and hot-button items that naturally come up in business. Finally, they keep us integrated with our clients, and help us be a partner, rather than a mere vendor (which we hate to be). The end result is that we minimize the last-minute monsters that come up, and when they do, we address them with the appropriate balance of urgency vs importance. Yes, we all have fire drills from time to time, but you should strive in 2013 to keep them at a minimum, and to prevent these common marketing problems into becoming recurring arch-villains to your marketing team.

How did you plan for 2013?  What are aggravatingly short-term marketing problems for your team, and how do you plan to minimize them? We’d love to hear your thoughts!