The Art and Science of Campaign Planning


Once it’s designed, you can just let it rip while you sit back and count the money. It’s a misunderstanding that pervades nearly every organization.  


This doesn’t just happen though. Perfect campaigns come about from an understanding of how to test and tweak the campaign before it rolls out, applying best-marketing practices to the information that the company has about its customers, and altering the campaign rapidly until it becomes a success. Most important, they come from not giving up on a struggling campaign too early.


Of course, you have to know what you’re looking for when you search for ways to adjust. Simply testing for anything creates far too many variables, which leaves you without any tangible results.


Since I started running marketing campaigns 20 years ago, I’ve found that most fall short for four different reasons. These causes — a poorly defined audience, the wrong activities executed, an incorrect choice of programs, or an underdeveloped offer — don’t often work in perfect harmony when you first launch. It’s when you fail to adjust these issues as the marketing campaign rolls out that can lead an otherwise well-designed plan into oblivion.


Knowing when to adjust, though, isn’t always easy. So here’s how you can tell when you need to tweak or when you should hold the course to turn that marketing campaign into an attention-grabbing, revenue-generating rollout that your customers will notice and remember.


We had treated existing customers like new ones, even though we knew much more about the exisiting customers’ needs. By differentiating the two audiences, we could provide a distinct solution to each group.


Audience Not Well Defined:

Not too long ago, I started working on a marketing campaign for a software company that pulls in about $700 million annually. They wanted a big push on a new product launch to attract buyers from a list of existing and new customers. The company expected strong results. But by the time we came onto the project, it was nowhere near living up to its forecast. So we dove into the data to get a closer look.


We could tell immediately that the campaign had achieved its desired target of reaching new customers. Existing customers, however, showed very little interest when the ads showed up on their screens or in their mail. But we couldn’t tell why.


To solve this, we asked existing customers why they weren’t interested in the new offering. It should come as no surprise that as soon as you ask for customer feedback, you get it. The customers said they didn’t understand how the service could improve their current circumstances. The company didn’t realize that they needed to address the issue the application solved for these customers. By uncovering that wrinkle, we then attacked the problem. We changed the copy that targeted existing customers, ensuring it explained why they could — and should — use this feature on top of the application they already had in place. It turned the campaign into a hit, far surpassing the targets.


But the reason for the slow beginning had everything to do with how we defined the audience. We had treated existing customers like new ones, even though we knew much more about the existing customers’ needs. By differentiating the two audiences, we could show how the application provided a distinct solution to each group. After that, sales followed.


Executing the Wrong Activities:

When launching a campaign, the tools you use to reach the audience can fall short in one of three ways. The problem typically falls either on the customer list to which you send marketing materials, the offer (which I discuss further below), or a lack of connection to the creative. But you won’t actually know what’s wrong with any of these three parts until you test it out. Then you can switch gears as needed.


Without knowing, you could be placing far too many social ads, as opposed to concentrating on email offers. Or you may spend far too much time developing content when it’s the offer that needs a better hook.


Let’s say I have a list of 25,000 potential customers that I want to target. I may select 2,000 of these customers and run a short pilot campaign. Short campaigns not only give me insight into how the design will function, but it also shows me how a campaign team works. If I need to make any changes, it’s better to do so before the main campaign begins.


As the mini-campaign finishes, we review the results. This allows us to adjust what worked and fix what didn’t. Then I’ll take another 2,000 customers and target them with the new strategy. This will likely continue three or four times, until we have a proven campaign that doesn’t waste any activity on unnecessary tools. After that, we can roll out the full campaign to the 17,000 or so customers who haven’t received any marketing materials, along with the customers who didn’t respond to the earlier campaigns.


This is an absolute necessity that must be incorporated into your campaign. Remember, not every industry works the same. There’s no such thing as cross-industry marketing in a box. So doing these test runs will ensure you’re targeting your customers correctly, without wasted effort on unnecessary tasks when the campaign is released to your entire list.


Wrong Programs Chosen:

A number of years ago, I worked on a campaign with Yellow Freight, a shipping company known for its small-freight transportation. They were adding a new service for full-truckload transportation, meaning larger shipping options. But the industry saw them as only a lightweight option. Attracting customers for truckload-size shipping proved difficult because of these preset opinions.


But marketing to new customers proved very tricky because of Yellow Freight’s perception. What we needed had less to do with name recognition and more to do with solving a problem, since potential customers were fairly happy with their current truckload provider. For them, we came up with the idea of flexibility. A company doesn’t always know if it needs a truckload-freight or small-freight shipment. This causes problems when loads fall in between the two. That’s the value proposition we focused on, which proved to connect with new customers. We found the program that worked for them.


To solve this, we first turned to existing customers. We knew we had a good chance with them since Yellow Freight’s name recognition was so strong with this group. We came up with the tagline “Moving mountains just got easier,” which proved very successful with existing customers, as they understood what Yellow Freight did in the past, and the copy made it clear that we could now help move larger loads.


This value proposition wasn’t necessary to spell out for existing customers because they already trusted Yellow Freight. But in order to get new customers, highlighting flexibility proved to be the only way we could convince them to try the service over their large-freight provider. It allowed them to test out Yellow Freight while they continued to use their large-freight company for loads they knew would warrant it.


Offers Not Well Developed:

Too often, marketers treat the offer as an afterthought. It’s the last thing done before the campaign launch. But that’s not how it should work. Instead, I advise clients to think about it from the beginning — because different offers only work with specific campaigns. Plus, knowing how the offer helps entice customers defines the rollout.


For instance, when working with B2B clients, offers that include a reduction in price won’t convince a customer to purchase something they wouldn’t already consider. It’s just icing on the cake that entices them as their fingertips itch to buy. To attract latent customers though, content can draw in a prospect. Offering a solution they don’t already know they need — infused with the product as the answer — can lure a buyer. But your offering will differ based on the situation.


You also have to think about the customer. While giving away a $100 Amazon gift card may encourage consumers, when someone shops for business purposes, personal gift cards aren’t usually the best way to go. Instead, you want to link it to the business solution you are offering and the problem your product answers. Say you’re selling a supply-chain product. You can offer a free consultation with an industry expert. This will resonate with the target audience since supply-chain optimization is constantly changing and education is highly valued.


But in your testing you should see if your offer aligns with the right stage in the buying process. That way you know when the freebie will have the most impact, ensuring it’s an offer they can’t refuse.


Developing a winning campaign isn’t just about planning. It’s about testing and prototyping any of the key areas that could cause your campaign to fail after it goes live. Some of these things — the audience, activities, programs, or offer — may not be formulated correctly for your campaign, and you may not know before the campaign launches. So plan to adjust, test, adjust, and test some more. Pretty soon, you’ll land on a winning combination — and a campaign that shines so much, there will be no whispers that someone could have done it better.


How to Slay Your Number in 2016

Are you going to make your number in 2016?

If you are not sure but would really like to know, turn to page 46 and read our feature titled “How to Make Your Number in 2016.” Here, we summarize the primary findings from SBI’s ninth-annual research project, which captures what the best of the best are doing to exceed their revenue targets.


Vince Koehler

Brings deep marketing expertise to help clients make brands successful and drive strong marketing return on investment.
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Prior to SBI, Vince served as the VP of Marketing for Integer and led e-commerce Agency of Record account teams at VML, a full service digital marketing agency. During his tenure, VML became a market leader, growing from 72 to more than 700 employees. Prior to VML, Vince was the President of Propeller Interactive, a digital marketing agency with clients such as Koch & Sprint.

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