Approaching planning like a GPS

Credit: Wesley Tingey
Credit: Wesley Tingey

Why marketers need to ditch the annual planning cycle.

“Pivot” is a word that epitomizes the past 18-plus months. We pivoted from the office to WFH, from promoting tourism to, well, not, and from shifting media plans and repositioning communications to cancelling or starting from scratch.

Flexibility has never been more paramount. 

Let’s use this opportunity to put the rigid definition of annual planning to rest and function more like GPS platforms.

Decide on the destination

Keeping an eye on the long-term and setting parameters are still critical. Discuss what success looks like. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What do we want to achieve in one year, 18 months or 24 months from now? Are there necessary tools at our disposal? What level of investment can we make to get there? 

Talk about business challenges — from products and services, to loyalty and retention to opportunities for growth. These conversations are often bigger than advertising, but serve as critical context for deciding on the right route for marketing. With that context, if and when “the plan” changes — as this past year has shown us that can easily happen — there's a shared understanding of the end goal. Everyone needs to know where the goalposts are and commit to them — because when they  frequently change, chaos ensues. 

You rarely hit the road without a destination in mind, knowing which mode of transportation you’re taking, or what expenses you might incur. 

Map the routes

Strategy defines action. It guides, shapes and brings tactical plans to life. It should inspire ideas and solutions, but also open opportunities for different ways to achieve those goals. 

Rather than just assuming an ad, a campaign or any ‘fixed deliverable’ is the answer, let’s really think about how to unstick behavior or create change. What if the answer is a site update rather than an ad? What if it’s a product or service enhancement? What if it’s an activation? Or maybe it is a campaign. 

Vet all the options. Stretch to think radically about the paths your strategy could take you down. Then, prioritize the route that can help you make your impact most effectively. 

Embrace re-routing

The traditional planning model relies on built-out plans, upfront commitments, agreed scopes and a move (or often a ‘baton pass’) into ‘execution mode’. Set it and let it run. 

But understanding culture has never been more important. It’s no longer about finding the insight upfront. Success comes from mining for insights, trends and cultural moments every day. We have to continually look for opportunities to connect brands to culture and people. 

More importantly, we need to understand culture in order to re-route the best laid plan. Detours can often be creatively inspiring, taking us down unforeseen paths. They can optimize our journey in ways we couldn’t have known. 

Agility is key. A new route may mean slight changes, or it may lead to a total rethink with a new set of insights and circumstances. Understand what’s required of both sides and arrive strong. Navigating new routes requires quick decisions, collaboration and ultimately, trust, so partnership is critical.

The Navy Seals always have a goal and strategy from their superiors. But they are also trusted as a SWAT team and have the flexibility to adjust tactical plans based on the dynamics in the moment. By putting the annual planning to rest, we can push the boundaries and explore new routes. We can find energy in the unexpected. 

Whether Waze or Google Maps, GPS solutions have helped us all ‘see’ better routes. This is our opportunity to do the same. Because who wants to sit and wait in traffic? 

Britt Fero is CEO of PB&


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