The term backward planning is borrowed from the educational field, and it describes the best way to define objectives and develop instructional techniques. Instead of beginning with a first, second, or third lesson, educators begin with the goals of a particular course. They identify what students are expected to know, and then proceed “backward” to create lessons.
Lately, strategists have adopted this concept, applying it to marketing and other fields. The reason is simple: the method works. It allows marketers to propel their efforts forward, using the tools available to them, and reach more ambitious goals for clients. Here’s how.
Just as a writer can’t wait around for inspiration to strike, a marketer can’t assume that their audience will be engaged and interested every time they post something on Facebook. Especially if that something is a clever meme posted once every couple of months.
The problem with clever ads or posts is that they’re not sustainable. You don’t catch lightning in a bottle every time. You have to have a purpose behind your marketing efforts. That’s the necessity behind backward planning.
It takes planning with the end in mind—a benchmark teams need to reach, a value proposition their target audience needs to understand—to plan a variety of content across channels. Not all of the blogs, emails, or social media posts will be brilliant, but they’ll all be leading toward something; they’ll have a purpose that potential customers can understand.
As our team develops strategy, we use a tried and true procedure. Together, we get to know our clients. We develop big goals and benchmarks. Then, we plan out how we’ll measure our progress and make adjustments going forward. Doing so gives us a solid framework to get creative while understanding the purpose behind it all.
We aren’t chasing after that next bolt of lightning; we don’t have to. We have the tools, we have a plan, and we can easily measure what’s working and what isn’t.
In marketing, we take a message and we disseminate it to the public, in hopes of getting a big win for our client. But what happens when that message is muddled? What happens when what the client is asking for isn’t really what they need?
Another skill that’s vital to a good marketing team is the ability to listen, and to listen to the questions behind the questions. Sometimes a client’s frustration has to do with a key marketing concept or strategy they’re missing—certain vocabulary that must be learned. In other words, many of our clients are just familiar enough with marketing buzzwords to be dangerous.
When you work with clients, accept feedback on a project, and adjust your marketing strategy, you have to listen with all three of your ears. That is, you have to use your background knowledge, your intuition, and your communication skills to understand what they really need. Then, you have to deliver.
One way to deliver is by giving your target audience some scaffolding. You start with something they already know and understand. You evoke an emotion they’ve felt before. Then, you use that base and build upon it to teach them something new.
So much of marketing is about educating the public, and doing so in a way that meets them where they are. You wouldn’t talk down to someone you wanted to win over (at least, you wouldn’t if you wanted your pitch to work!) and you wouldn’t lecture them to death either!
Instead, you speak clearly. You give them information they can use. You inspire. That’s the real heart of marketing.
Marketing, like education, is as much art as science. After all, you’re dealing with messy humans and their very messy feelings. You have to have a plan, and you have to have a heart, too. You need that just-right balance of hard and soft skills.
Once you open your ears and focus more on strategy and goals, you discover that truly creative marketing happens almost naturally. Lightning strikes more often. Your client trusts you a little more, and your efforts are increasingly effective.
Learn more about the Seafoam process, and how we practice these tips day in and day out. Let us know if we can help your business.